Bites of the Vendy’s

2015 marked the Vendy Awards’ 5th in Philadelphia, and my first time attending. It was one of those events I had always wanted to go to—being both a lover of food trucks and a huge supporter of The Food Trust and the PMFA—but the timing never worked out. This year the stars aligned and I was thrilled to attend for Geekadelphia. Check out my recap for some highlights.

To summarize, I was really impressed. The Vendy Awards are a fantastic event with expert planning and wonderful food.

Speaking of food, I wanted to share some of the bites I got to enjoy. I was able to sample almost every truck, and below are a few of my favorites.

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Hello Daiquiri

Making cocktails has been an interest of mine dating back to my early twenties. I was fascinated by drinks that tasted great but weren’t simply masking the flavor of the spirits involved. While throwing some vodka in twelve ounces of juice certainly makes a drinkable drink, it lacks something in the romance and presentation department. Making a drink can be a soothing ritual. When I made my first Long Island–at a time when I abhorred both gin and tequila–with just a splash of soda and touch of lime I was hooked.

How could something that was basically just booze be so delicious?

That said, I am not a mixologist and have never tended bar. I am however, an engineer, and I live for improving things where I can. I get to make drinks for Michelle and myself at home and enjoy striving for perfection as well as keeping things interesting. Otherwise, we’d probably just drink negronis or whiskey all the time. While there are worse fates, it’s easier to keep an appreciation for your favorites when you toss in a martini, daiquiri, aviation, or martinez every once and a while.

So about daiquiris…

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Blog changes, a hiatus, and a hoagie.

In retrospect, I should have probably written this before the busiest two months of my life began but unfortunately it did not work out that way. I just couldn’t help but spend the weeks leading up to the busiest two months of my life being as lazy as possible. It’s not my fault, I have HGTV for the first time in like 5 years.

This blog has been a bit of a struggle for me conceptually. I started it last year thinking I’d just create a food blog. And I tried that, but it just didn’t ever feel like the right fit. I know I’m not a chef. I’m a home cook who is in a constant state of learning. So, rather than creating blog that tells people how to do things in their own kitchens, I wanted to share what I learned—for better or for worse.

For example, I still need to give that gnocchi another shot.

I also wanted to represent Philadelphia. I love the restaurant scene in the this city, and I feel like it is so criminally underrepresented that I couldn’t past up a chance to gush about my dining experiences and share them.

Please note that I said share.

I am not a food critic. I am a person with who loves to eat, and while I have my own opinions I have no desire to use my site to criticize someone’s business. That’s why I only share what I loved when I’m writing about a restaurant I visited. I’m not an authority in the culinary world, I just want to snap some pretty photos and share some awesome food with you.

And speaking of photos.

I am also not a photographer. I am a person with a camera who enjoys taking pictures. Some of them come out really well and I become giddy with excitement about my happy little accident. This is all a learning experience.

And that brings me to the blog changes. I may not be a chef, a food critic, or a photographer. But I am a writer. And I wouldn’t be true to myself or my writing style if I didn’t let my life inspire me to change the direction of my blog.

Kevin and I are currently combining our homes as I move into his place in South Philly, and our list of projects is… out of control, honestly. We’re in the process of planning out the garden in the yard as well as a container garden on the deck to grow veggies. I don’t have a green thumb, but he certainly seems to. So, while he’s primarily the one spearheading this initiative, I’m really looking forward to documenting it and sharing what I learn about gardening in a urban space. I’m crazy excited.

Oh, and speaking of Kevin—you’ll be seeing a lot more of him soon. Our blossoming home bar has inspired him to join me in my blogging pursuits, so stay tuned for a lesson in why daiquiris are infinitely more badass than you think.

I guess what I’m saying is that my blog has a mind of its own and it’s going to expand in scope over the next few months. I want to share our garden experiments, our decorating and DIYing adventures (we’re building an outdoor bar and it may be a disaster—stay tuned!), and just see where this thing takes me. If this site starts to fall under the genre of “lifestyle blog”, so be it. I’ll do my best to not follow too many cliches.

Which, in an incredibly roundabout way, brings me to my hiatus.

If you know me, you know I’ve been in school forever. From art school to massage therapy school to bartending gigs, event planning, cafe jobs, and finally, my writing career. All the while I took classes when I could afford them and fit them into my life. Several years ago I switched from attending Drexel on campus to an online curriculum so I could spend more time working. This really slowed down my degree. The good news is, I’ve finagled a way to graduate from Drexel this term instead of at the end of the yearThat means the beginning of June. That means in like two months.

I am finally graduating from college at the age of 27 in TWO MONTHS.

Unfortunately in order to do that, I’m going to have to work my ass off. And I have been. That’s why I haven’t been around. Between my full time job, my full time classes, my Geekadelphia responsibilities and maintaining my sanity, the blog has to be put on the back burner for now. If I find some free time, I’ll post. But I simply can’t force myself to keep with the once-a-week theme when I have so much else going on. Even writing this update was hard to squeeze in. On the positive side, come June I’ll have a lot more time to devote here. So it all works out.

I will leave you with a lunch I can’t stop thinking about.

Last week was Chickie’s Deli’s final week, and Kevin and I snagged our first (and last) veggie hoagie. Being new to South Philly, I had only recently heard about this miraculous sandwich. Kevin on the other hand has lived two blocks from the place for six years, so he has absolutely no excuse. But we’ll forgive him anyway.

After three separate sandwich attempts in which Chickie’s had run out of bread, we had given up and I decided to go for a run to drown my sorrows. As I jogged past the deli I overheard an employee say he was making a Sarcone’s run, and our lunch fate was sealed.

Veggie and Chickie's special. Be still my heart.

Veggie and Chickie’s special. Be still my heart.

I’m so glad we got to try this iconic Philly hoagie at its original location, and was relieved to hear owner Henry George say that he plans to re-open at another location at a later date. Let’s hope whatever takes over this space does the Chickie’s proud and that they open again soon.

Welp, that’s it for now. I’ll still be around on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook so you can keep up with me there. And you totally should because next weekend I’m representing Geekadelphia in DiBruno’s 2nd Monger Games and you’re going to want to see all that cheesy goodness.

Until next time.

-M

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Noshhh: Local Food & Drink Vendor Showcase

We were pretty close to going to Philly Cooks this year. I’ve always wanted to go but it was always almost a little too cost prohibitive. This year it was possible, but we had so much else going on that we missed out on the early bird tickets, then the regular priced tickets, and pretty soon the event had come and gone.

“Oh, well,” I thought, “there’s always next year.”

And then Noshhh came along.

Billed as a smaller scale Brewer’s Plate (another event I’ve been lusting after attending for years), Noshhh brought together local vendors and bartenders for a night of bites, brews, and craft cocktails set to the musical stylings of Ensemble Novo. The evening was organized by Spirit Forward, Home Brewed Events and Brew Crew Events in United By Blue‘s gorgeous cafe/shop and there was a huge turn out.

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The most exciting thing about events like this is discovering vendors and artisans that you hadn’t heard of before. In my experience, I find that I’m generally at least someone familiar with the vendors at events like this, but at Noshhh I was overwhelmed with the how many I had never heard of before. For instance, did you know there is a local coffee roaster out of Lansdowne that serves cold brew on Nitro? I sure as hell didn’t. They’re called Backyard Beans and their cold brew is fantastic. This stuff should be on tap at every bar in city.

 

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Pure cold brewed coffee on nitro. <3

 

Another vendor that seriously impressed me was Manatawny Still Works out of Pottstown. I’m pretty ashamed to say I had no idea that we had a small batch whiskey purveyor so close by, and their stuff is great. Aside from the standard aged stuff, they also sell a fantastic un-aged variety that reminded me of tasting white dog on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. It’s also described as being reminiscent of tequila—a little fruity, floral, and surprisingly light.

 

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Locally distilled whiskey, gin, vodka, and rum.

 

Noshhh lived up to its name with edible treats as well. Chocomo Cookie Cups served delicious little cocktails inside cup-shaped, chocolate coated cookie vessels that impressed me despite my lack of a sweet tooth.

 

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And speaking of sweet, Beat it Betty!‘s mini cupcakes had me circling their table trying to decide if I should just try one of each or eat three red velvets because they were blowing my mind.

 

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Yes, that cupcake bacon on it.

 

The main event, however, was easily the bar. Dan Lan Hamm of One Tippling Place and his cocktail-centric event company, Spirit Forward, graced Noshhh with their presence and spent the night slinging gimlets with fresh fruit, herbs, and of course, one’s choice of Blue Coat gin or Tito’s vodka.

 

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I love a good gimlet and gin was my first love, but as you know I’m primarily a whiskey drinker. I had made a mental note from the event listing about The World’s Best Old Fashioned™ making an appearance, so for our final drink we decided to see if we could order one despite seeing very little brown liquor in other’s cups around us. Before we knew it we were—much to our surprise and initial terror—whisked behind the bar for a hands on lesson with Dan himself. Turns out we’ve been making old fashioneds wrong this whole time. Thank you, Dan, for enlightening us. And thanks to everyone behind us in line for being patient while we got our impromptu lesson—we were as confused as you were.

 

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The fruits of our labor.

 

The next Noshhh is coming up in June, so if you missed out on the premiere soiree I implore you to keep an eye out for tickets to the next one on Homebrewed Events’ Facebook page. There are few better ways to spend $15 and an evening out in Philly.

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Key Lime Pi Day

What do you do when you have a Pisco sour party and wind up left with an extra bag of adorable little key limes*? Obviously, you make a key lime pie. And what better day than 3/14/15 to share this incredibly simple recipe? This was not only my first time attempting a key lime pie, but it was also my first time making a graham cracker crust and a meringue, and it came out as close to perfect as I can imagine a key lime pie being. This recipe is legitimately fool proof.

*We found our key limes at Huong Vuong in Philadelphia.
Bottled key lime juice works just as well, or you can tart-up some Persian lime juice with lemon juice.

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Key Lime Pie

Adapted from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

Ingredients

Crust

10 graham cracker rectangles (5 1/4 ounces)
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest (from Key or Persian limes), preferably organic
1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

3 large egg yolks
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup freshly squeezed Key lime juice (from about 20 Key limes), or 1/2 cup fresh Persian lime juice (from about 4 regular limes) plus 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 about lemon)

Meringue

3 large egg whites
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Crust assembly

God, this recipe is so easy I can’t even stand it. Okay, so first things first. Make that crust.

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C)
  2. Pulse your graham crackers in a food processor until finely ground. Don’t try to mash them up in a plastic bag like I did. Just get out the stupid food processor and accept the fact that you’re going to need to clean it later.
  3. Add the butter, sugar, lime zest, and salt until combined.
  4. Press into a pie pan, flatten with the bottom of a clean glass, and pop it in the oven for 10-12 minutes.

Filling assembly

  1. While that’s baking, beat you egg yolks with a hand mixer or immersion blender until they lighten a bit.
  2. While mixing, slowly pour in the sweetened condensed milk and beat until it thickens.
  3. Add lime juice.
  4. After the crust has cooled a bit, add the filling then put it back in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until set. It’ll have a slight jiggle but will retain it’s shape.

Meringue assembly

  1. Get out your stand mixer. I really don’t recommend doing this by hand, your arm may fall off.
  2. Beat the egg whites with salt until they start to get foamy.
  3. While mixing, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time and beat until you have stiff, glossy peaks. Add the vanilla around medium-peak time.

Assembly-assembly

  1. Scoop the meringue onto the pie and smooth with a spoon. Get creative here if you want. Mound it up in the center or make it all the same height. You can even pipe the meringue on in designs. Just remember, the rougher the top the more yummy brown bits you’ll have when you broil it.
  2. I did this in a toaster oven so I could keep close tabs, because once this stuff starts to brown it has about a two second window before it burns, and a 5 second window before it flames up like a piece of paper. Keep an eye on it and when it starts to brown and smell like toasted marshmallows, you’re done. If you want to pretty it up even more, hit it lightly with a brûlée torch.

Happy π Day!

Set list

Rob Marzinsky’s Demo Tapes

Whenever my friend and farmer Jack Goldenberg alerts me about a pop-up dinner, I take it seriously. Regrettably, I recently haven’t been able to check out most of them, be they his own or dinners hosted by his friends. However, when I saw Rob Marzinsky‘s Demo Tapes pop-up upstairs at Barbuzzo, I was lucky enough to have that Wednesday evening free so Mel of Squirrelly Girl Bakes and I set out for a lady’s night.

Marzinsky recently embarked on a world tour of sorts (he’s currently in Australia, I highly recommend giving him a follow on Instagram), but before shipping out he, designer Ian Chapin, and Birmingham-based bartender Steva Casey came together for one last project. And, oh man guys, it was so good.

Set list

Set list

Soundcheck (Snacks)

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Starting at the front with the “lobster roll” and going counterclockwise.

“Lobster Roll” – lobster roe gougére, shrimp salad

Celery Root – black walnut, Birchrun Blue, apple butter

Fried Oyster – chicken salad, Rick Nichols’ pepper hash

Crispy Parsnip – “escargot butter”, parsley, black garlic

 

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Cocktail: Spending Warm Summer Days Indoors
(house-made rose vermouth, brandy and rosemary Demarara syrup)

 

Track 1 (First Course)

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Pierogi “Soupe à  L’oignon”
Caramelized onions, raclette, onion and soy broth

 

Track 2 (Second Course)

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Albacore tuna
Fried broccoli, tonnato sauce, peanut and celery leaf

 

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Warm day boat scallops
Browned butter, celery root and apple rémoulade, sea urchin and jalapeño

 

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Cocktail: Let the Broken-hearted Love Again (Sherry Darlin’),
(Bowmore scotch, sherry, Cynar and Byrrh)

 

Track 3 (Third Course)

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Roasted sunchokes
Glazed La Ratte potatoes, chive, smoked trout roe, potato skins and sunchoke chips

 

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Fried buttermilk chicken
Liver mousse, pickled carrot and mushrooms, sesame, buttermilk biscuit, jalapeño vinaigrette

 

Track 4 (Main)

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Golden Curry
Massaman Thai curry with North Carolina shrimp, sweet potato, lemongrass, served with Carolina Gold rice, and cabbage “som thum thai”

 

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Cocktail: A Jumped Up Pantry Boy,
(pisco, lemon carrot/turmeric shrub, Galliano, sparkling wine and Peychaud’s)

 

Outro (Dessert)

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Blue ice cream and black walnut tuile

 

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Vietnamese coffee

Bitter coffee pots de crème with soy milk dulce de leche and Carolina Gold rice pudding

 

Rob Marzinsky’s Demo Tapes ran from February 25th – 27th upstairs at Barbuzzo in Philadelphia.

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In Memoriam: Lamb Shack at Zahav

Every city has their must-have dishes. Quintessential bites that locals are excited to share with visitors. San Francisco has the Swan Oyster Depot’s Crab Louie salad. New York City has Russ & Daughter’s new Holland herring. And Philadelphia has Zahav‘s elusive pomegranate lamb.

Generally only available to parties of nine or more and only if you reserve it in advance, I spent a long time being certain I would never experience the unprecedented bliss of Solomonov’s 2-day brined bone-in lamb shoulder goodness. That is, until the brilliant team at Cook N Solo announced that in February, Zahav’s back dining room would be turned into an all-lamb BYOB. (From what it looked like, the front was undergoing some renovations. Like I said, brilliant.)

The $36 a person meal began, of course, with Zahav’s gorgeous salatim, and hummus tehina with laffa followed by the star of the show. The meal ended with chocolate kanafi, a crispy cloud of shredded phyllo dough with bitter chocolate and pistachios. I could go on about this meal for pages. The familiar nuttiness of the beets with henina, the kale tabouli I could have eaten a pound of, the deep pink center of the blackened lamb shoulder as it melted off the bone, the fact that I was stuffed beyond belief by the time dessert came by the kanafi was so delectable I couldn’t stop myself from devouring it.

No, I won’t go into all that. That would be bragging.

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Menu

 

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Glorious, glorius salatim

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<3

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Beets, carrots, tabouli, cucumbers.

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Hummus tehina.

 

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Did I mention no corkage fee?

Lamb of my life.

Lamb of my life.

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Chocolate kanfi.

I’ll miss you, Lamb Shack. I hope we meet again.

Sweet and sour salad with apple, yogurt, pickled raisins, pomegranate seeds, shallot, fennel, sesame, and mint

New Dinner Series: Meals of Antiquity, Babylonian Edition

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a preview of an up-and-coming dinner series gracing Lucha Cartel on March 1st—Meals of Antiquity. The first dinner features a menu painstakingly researched by designing cook and historian Colin Barth, and aims to recreate a hearty, seasonal meal that would have been served during the First Dynasty Period almost 4,000 years ago.

At first glance, the menu may read like a standard, hearty winter’s meal studded with nourishing grains and gamey proteins. But a closer look reveals several less common ingredients like Emmer, nigella sativa, and cypress. The meal is also served with leavened Ninda, a deliciously dense bread the color of burnt umber.

Special thanks to Evi Numen for the beautiful photos.

Barth has been researching the menu since November with a goal of remaining as faithful to ingredients, which hasn’t always been easy. As it goes with translating ancient languages, sometimes meaning can be debatable. He learned this the hard way after a particular mistranslation resulted in a recipe test that failed in such a way he knew one of the ingredients must have been translated incorrectly. It turns out what he read as “pounded yogurt” actually meant “pounded locusts*“.

While I am calling this a “new” dinner series, that isn’t entirely true. A few years ago, special events and concerts group Dancing Ferret organized two sold-out Uyghur dinner events. They’re looking forward to re-launching the series and bringing a unique culinary experience to their attendees.

Tickets are just $45 and are selling fast, so snag your spot now if you want to part of this historic (pun fully intended) event. You can view the full menu here and find more info at dancingferret.com/babylon. Don’t forget to follow Meals of Antiquity on Twitter to stay up to date on future events.

*The Babylonian dinner menu does not contain pounded locusts. Unfortunately.

 

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Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Shakshuka

I’m really into eggs. Like, it’s borderline problematic. I am absolutely one of those people that goes ballistic when pretty much anything is topped with a soft egg, so the first time I had shakshuka a few years ago I instantly fell in love. Not only because it was delicious but because it seemed… attainable. And adaptable. After a few obsessive compulsive experiments I realized it’s also extremely forgiving, so much so that pretty much anyone with a standard pantry and a few eggs can whip up a big bubbling skillet of it in about 45 minutes. I tested this theory this week when I resolved to freestyle shakshuka for dinner without absolutely zero planning. The results were so good I’ve officially added it to our weeknight dinner rotation.

Ingredients

One 28 oz can of tomatoes, whole peeled or crushed
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups feta
4-6 eggs
cilantro, basil, or parsley for garnish (optional)
salt to taste

So, about that ingredient list up there—it’s just a base, and even the base is pretty flexible. The only things you *need* are tomatoes, onions, eggs, and spices. You can play with the spices as much as you want. Don’t have cumin? Throw in some oregano and make an Italian spiced shakshuka. No feta? Go dairy-free or crumble in some goat cheese. Try this recipe with meat (lamb sausage works beautifully) by browning it in the pan before cooking up the onions and garlic. Throw in whatever veggies you have hanging out in your fridge, particularly peppers and leafy greens like chard. Roast a jalapeño, dice it up, and add that to the mix as well. You are the master of your shakshuka destiny.

Okay, on to the recipe.

Recipe

  1. In a cast iron skillet (or any wide, deep skillet you have laying around), heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and add onion. Cook 10 minutes or so until soft, then add the garlic.
  2. Add your can of tomatoes, liquid and all. If you have whole tomatoes you can dice them before or simply break them apart right in the skillet with the back of a wooden spoon.
  3. Add vinegar, honey, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. I recommend adding the red pepper flakes a little at a time as some brands are hotter than others and everyone has their own heat preference.
  4. Let simmer about 20 minutes until tomatoes begin to reduce. Stir in feta.
  5. With the back your spoon, make a little nest in the sauce for each egg. Gently crack them into the pan, spacing as evenly as you can. Carefully drag a spatula through the whites a bit to help them mix slightly with the sauce.
  6. Keeping the sauce at a gentle simmer, cover the pan and let cook 8-10 minutes so that the whites cook through and the yolks remain runny.
  7. Top with fresh herbs and serve with crusty bread. Extra points if you bake your own.
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Un-Valentine’s Day Pizza

Kevin and I may not be big on Hallmark holidays, but we are big on pizza. So it seemed only appropriate that we un-celebrate with a homemade pie. Kevin was on dough duty, and after reviving an almost-botched tomato sauce, we added fresh basil and burrata. I am being perfectly serious when I tell you that this pizza refused to NOT be heart-shaped. I swear to you, I tried to make it round and that little dough wound at the top just would not heal. So we decided to roll with it, but in keeping with the Un-Valentine’s Day theme, got a little creative with the pizza cutter.

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Happy Un-Valentine’s Day!

 

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