Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Peanut Toffee

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was pretty quiet, which was good because all three of us got sick, one after the other – always a great way to spend one’s vacation. We have this week left to try to get as many things crossed off our to-do list as possible. We’re not holding our breath that they’ll all get done, but we’ll do our best.

In the meantime, here’s a quick little toffee recipe to help you combat those mid-winter blahs. I doubled the recipe, which I would not recommend, because the toffee sets so quickly it’s hard to get both batches flattened out on the pans fast enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put it aside for a bit.

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In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water.

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Attach a candy thermometer to the side and heat that over medium until it reads 300°F. Try to avoid stirring as much as possible, and if you do, don’t use a metal spoon – wood or silicone will prevent premature crystallization.

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Next to the pot, place a little container of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and another of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. You’ll need to have those handy at short notice later on.

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While you’re keeping an eye on the sugar, crush up about 1 1/2 cups pretzel twists.I also had some salted peanuts on hand so I crushed and dumped those in as well – probably about 3/4 cup salted peanuts.

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And gather up 1 cup chocolate chips. I mixed mine with some dark chocolate for flavour.

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When your sugar has caramelized and gotten to the hard crack stage (that’s 300°F), remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Try to resist screaming as it fizzes up and gets all terrifying. I promise that will pass.

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EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Toss in the pretzels and peanuts and stir the toffee quickly.

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Then tip it out onto your parchment sheet and flatten it down as much as you can before it starts to set.

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Sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee and let it stand for a few minutes while the chocolate melts.

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Then smooth out the melted chocolate with a spatula.

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Sprinkle the top of the chocolate with fleur de sel and let harden in the refrigerator for about an hour.

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Once it’s hardened, break it up into chunks and eat it all by yourself! share it with your friends and family.

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PB & J Gooballs

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These are a great little snack when you’re on the go and need some protein. Or when you are pacing around your house with a small baby and have only one hand to get sustenance. Also good for children as a wee treat when they come home from school (although if you’re going to feed these to children under 1 year of age, replace the honey with maple syrup or something else, because botulism ain’t a joke). They were called “snack bites” on the website where I got the original idea but I think GOO BALLS is a way better term. So gooballs they will be. These ones taste like a peanut butter and jam sandwich, but you can pretty much customize these however you would like.

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Your basic ingredients are as follows: 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup peanut butter (or sun butter, or whatever), and 1/4 cup honey. The rest is up to you.

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I added in a few tablespoons ground flax, for health reasons.

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And a handful of Reese peanut butter chips, for non-health reasons.

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And some freeze-dried raspberries, because I had them on hand and they’re tasty as heck. Any dried fruit will do, provided you cut it up pretty small.

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Assemble all your dry ingredients. I crumbled the raspberries in my hand so they were smaller.

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Tip in the wet ingredients.

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Stir!

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Chill that for about 30 minutes, then take it out and roll a couple tablespoons’ worth of it into a ball. Repeat until you run out.

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Store these suckers in the fridge to keep them firm and less sticky. ENJOY!

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Home Made Watercolour Paints

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This is a great gift for the artist in your family, young or old, or a neat thing to have on hand for any young visitors over the holiday season. They can be made with materials you probably have in your cupboards, which makes for a cost-conscious addition to your holiday crafting.

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And because it’s all easy-peasy and non-toxic, I’m sure that kids will enjoy making their own colours – provided you don’t mind a little mess! This is a rather time consuming project, with all the stirring of tiny pots of colour, so if you do it with smaller children be prepared to finish the job once they get bored.

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In terms of hardware, you’re going to need two plastic ice cube trays. I picked these up in the clearance section of Target. You can also use silicone trays, and then pop the solidified paint out to use somewhere else. You will also need some disposable stir sticks (one, or one side, for each colour).

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And lots of food colouring. You can use both liquid and gel paste for this. I also added some metallic powder pigment to the mix.

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Now grab a couple measuring cups. Scoop up 1 cup baking soda, and plop it in large (~4-cup) measuring cup or bowl with a pouring spout.

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Pour in 3/4 cup white vinegar.

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Keep stirring until all the fizzies are gone.

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Next dribble in 2 tablespoons lily white corn syrup (the darker stuff will discolour the paint).

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Then dump in 1 cup corn starch.

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Mixy-mixy. You want this as smooth as possible, as it will settle quickly.

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With everything mixed up, distribute the white liquid evenly amongst your trays. I found the given recipe to fill each section a little more than 3/4 full, but it depends on the size of your trays.

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Now start colouring! Dip the end of a stir stick into your colour and drop a little bit into the tray.

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Stir, stir stir!

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I added a bit more because this was my black one, after all, and I wanted it to be dark. Again, make sure to scrape up the bottom as you stir, because all the powders are starting to settle.

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With the gel paste colour, as you can see here with my red and brown, you will get little solid pieces that float while you stir. Don’t worry about them. Stir in as much as you can, then leave them alone for a few minutes and let the liquid get into the colour. They’ll dissolve if you go and stir them again a little bit later. I promise.

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The liquid food colouring was much easier to mix in. Don’t forget you can easily create your own colours!

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I did find that some of the colours kind of settled and separated, so I ended up re-stirring them a few times. I needn’t have worried, however: as the water in the liquid evaporates they will all come back together again.

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I cleaned up the edges of the trays with a damp cloth after the mixes were starting to settle and dry. It was super quick. I ended up leaving these alone for a whole week just to ensure they were dry all the way through, but you may find you have dry paint within a couple of days.

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To test the paints I created a colour guide. I had fun with the names.

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I’m actually really pleased with how the metallic ones turned out. All I did was add the plain metallic powder to the liquid, without any other pigment.

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And added some brushes to complete the gift.

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Gluten-Free Fig Bars

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Fussellette and her Hurler are in town again.  Hurler is staying for good and Fussellette will be along permanently in January.  Currently they’re staying with us so I decided to whip up some gluten-free fig bars from Serious Eats to feed to my guests and to take to my biweekly meeting at work.  These cookies have a few more steps than a regular cookie, but none of them is particularly difficult or time consuming, so it’s worth it.

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Start with your figs.

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Take about 14oz dried figs and soak them in water for at least an hour.

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Here is the underwater view of the figs starting to soak.

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And the after-soaking underwater view.  I just like taking pictures underwater.

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Especially considering that this was going on outside.

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Now let’s get on to the dough. In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup white rice flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum, and 1/2 teaspoon table salt.  Set that aside and haul out your mixer.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream together 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar.

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Beat in 2 large eggs, one at a time.

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Grate in a few teaspoons of orange zest.

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Tip in your flour mixture and beat on low until well combined.  Continue to beat on a higher speed until a nice cohesive dough forms.

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Shape the dough into a patty, wrap it up and refrigerate it for at least two hours.

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Now you can make your filling.  Drain your soaked figs and tip them into a food processor.

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I ripped off all the tough stems, which was an easy job with the softened figs.

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Add in the juice of half a lemon and about 3 tablespoons light corn syrup, a dash of salt, 1/4 cup water, and pulse until your goo is uniform and you can pipe it like icing.  You may need to add some more water if it’s not squishy enough.

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You can store your fig goo in a piping bag but I scooped it into a Ziploc instead.

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And then the sun came out.  Briefly.

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When your dough is ready, preheat your oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set out another piece of parchment paper on your work surface and dust it with some brown rice flour.  Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.

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Roll out each segment into a rough rectangle about 10″ by 4 1/2″ and trim the edges (save the trimmings).  Use an offset spatula to gently separate the dough from the paper.

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Cut a 1/2″ hole in the corner of your Ziploc bag and pipe a few lines of fig goo down the centre of the dough rectangle (I piped three lines on each and ended up with a LOT of leftover fig goo, so be generous).

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Fold the edges of the dough over the fig goo and seal the seam.

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Place your fig/dough log seam side down on your baking sheet.  I rolled out the trimmings into yet another rectangle and ended up with 7 logs in total.

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Bake the fig logs for 15-20 minutes, until they are a light brown.

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Slice them with a sharp knife into 2″ pieces while they are still hot, then seal in a lidded container overnight so they can sort of steam themselves until they’re a bit softer.

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The next day you get lovely, cake-y, gluten-free figgy goodness!

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For the Birds: Edible Holiday Ornaments

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Merry Christmas to everyone!  I hope you are all enjoying the winter holiday season, whichever tradition you celebrate.

Today we’re going to celebrate by feeding our backyard birds.  Both the Pie’s parents and my parents are supremely fond of the feathered creatures that appear outside their windows, so we thought we’d make them a little holiday treat, courtesy of Design Sponge.

First, I’d like to show you a little behind the scenes shot of my office during my Christmas gift-making chaos.  I made these on a tiny patch of floor I’d cleared specifically for the purpose.  It’s amazing what you can hide in a close-up shot …

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Aaaand the closeup.  You will need these things: waxed paper, a spoon, a giant bowl, a tablespoon measure, corn syrup, flour,

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and a honking hunk of birdseed.

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Plop 2 cups bird seed in your bowl with 3/4 cup all purpose flour (we doubled our recipe, hence the enormous amount pictured).

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Give that a stir, then drop in 3 tablespoons corn syrup and 1/2 cup water.  Stir that up too.  It’s gross.

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Prepare your moulds.  You can use cookie cutters on top of waxed paper, but I used these cake moulds I picked up at the Superstore.  If your surfaces are non-stick, that’s cool, but if not you might want to spritz them with a bit of cooking spray first.

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Spoon your sticky birdseed into your moulds and pack it down with a spoon.

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I had extra (obviously), so I made little pucks of bird seed in a muffin tin as well.

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Use a paint brush or straw or pencil to wiggle a hole at the top of each of your bird seed packs. Don’t make it too close to the top of the ornament, as you’ll need enough dried birdseed there to support the weight of the thing.

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Let them dry overnight and then tip them out onto waxed paper.  If they’re still wet, leave them longer to dry or, if you’re in a hurry, bake them for an hour at the lowest temperature in your oven.

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See, it kind of looks like a Christmas ornament …

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I used butcher’s twine to string up my ornaments.

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Then I wrapped them up in waxed paper and tied them with string to give as gifts.

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For the bird lover in every family.

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Pecan Pie

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Phew.  This is the last of my backlogged posts.  I made this pecan pie, an adaptation from Epicurious, way back in October, for Thanksgiving.  Instead of the whole wheat crust, I used my new favourite recipe from The Joy of Cooking, the same one I used back when I made the two processor pies.

So, assume you’ve made one batch of dough, and you have two discs of dough to use.  I made one into a pumpkin pie, but saved the other for this recipe.  Roll it out and stuff it in the pan and whatnot, like you normally would.

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Chuck that in the freezer to stay cool and grab yourself a small saucepan. Pitch in 3/4 cup pure maple syrup, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup light corn syrup, and 1/4 cup butter.

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Melt that sucker over medium heat until it’s all dissolved.

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Increase the heat and boil that for a minute, then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes.

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In a small bowl, whisk together 3 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

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Whisk in the cooled maple mixture.

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Then stir in 1 1/2 cups pecan halves. Mmmmm.  I love pecans.

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Pour the filling into the crust.

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Bake that sucker for about 55 minutes, or until the filling is slightly puffy around the edges and the centre is set. Mine took less time for some reason (so you see it burned a bit), but it might have had something to do with the pumpkin pie I was cooking at a slightly higher temperature.

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Serve at room temperature, with a dob of whipped cream!

Chewy Molasses Squares

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These were a consolation prize the Pie found after the disastrous experiment with s’mores cookies last week.  And they turned out to be an excellent way of depleting our more esoteric baking supplies.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter an 8″ baking dish.  I went with the extra precaution of lining it with parchment and buttering that, too.  Now I doubled my recipe and plopped it in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish because the recipe got its math wrong and there is no way that an 8″ square pan leaves you with forty 1 1/2″ squares.  It just ain’t so.  I only ended up with twenty-four, and that’s in the bigger pan.

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Anyway.  Don’t fret about the math for now, and whisk together 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and set that aside for now.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1/3 cup unsalted butter (room temperature) and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until they’re pale and fluffy, a couple minutes.  I used half white and half brown sugar here because I ran out of molasses so  I needed to boost the flavour a bit.

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Separate out 4 egg whites and use the yolks for something else.  I’m sure you could get away with tossing them into this mix, but it would make for a much denser cake.  I might try it next time.  Huck those into the mixer and beat to combine.

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Grab yourself 1 cup molasses.  I ran out of molasses halfway through and discovered that my Golden Syrup had corroded the tin it was in, so my only recourse was lily white corn syrup, which made my squares quite a bit more pale than they were supposed to be.  Your squares will be much darker.

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Anyway, pour that in as well and give it a stir until it’s all combined.

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At this point, the Pie remarked that this was one of the grosser-looking things I had ever made, with maybe the exception of banana bread.  He has no appreciation for the science of things.  Then of course I added in the flour mixture and whipped that around and he was all like, “ooooh, it’s so pretty and smooth!”  Figures.

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Anyway, smooth that lovely pretty substance into your prepared pan and chuck it in the oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of it comes out clean.  For the doubled recipe, this took about an hour.

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Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then tip it out and cut it into as many squares as you like.

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Grab a bowl and dump in about 1/2 cup icing sugar, and roll each square in that just before serving (if you do it in advance then the icing sugar will be absorbed into the square and it won’t look as pretty).

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Then you eat them!

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