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Scrabble tile shortbread cookies

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Scrabble tiles which say Happy Everything.jpg

If you’re reading this on Wednesday, there’s a good chance we’re 30,000 feet in the air pretending like there’s more than a paper-thin carpet and a giant floating body of aluminum separating us and the ocean beneath us. Aluminum. The thing which can barely contain hot dogs and hamburgers when they’re fresh off the grill! I should’ve never googled “what are planes made of.” I was better off not knowing.

I’m a bit of a nervous flyer, and after an especially turbulent (and teary) flight last month, I’m crossing my fingers that our flights throughout the next week are a lot smoother! Or at the very least, that I fall asleep for every single one. Knowing we’ll soon see geysers and waterfalls in Iceland makes boarding the plane a lot easier. Plus I’m hoping I can drown out all the weird plane noises with some Jonsi! If I listen hard enough, I’ll better understand Icelandic by the time we arrive, right?

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I’ve been anxiously anticipating this trip for many reasons, but mostly I’m excited to feel very small! I can’t wait to consume the news from a different viewpoint, to lay off the social media, and to meet new people from all over the world! There’s nothing like time away from home in a new place to make you realize how much is out there.

To say nothing of all the food and sights! And audio tours! All the audio tours in the land!

Who am I kidding. I’m way too excited to sleep!

Scrabble tiles spilled from the bag.jpgBunch of scrabble tiles.jpg

I wish I could take these Scrabble tiles (and all of you!) with me for an on-the-go game! The best part is, the set I made has neither a Z nor Q because I ate them. I also drew an exclamation point which I promptly ate before Kevin could see it and remind me that exclamation points aren’t regulation tiles. But wouldn’t scrabble be more fun if punctuation was allowed? That sounds like a game I’d like to play.

I used the same sugar cookie recipe as the softball cookies, and I’m happy to report the recipe made about 150 Scrabble tiles to scale. I took these photos in a bit of a hurry before a game night at a friend’s, and at the very least I’m glad I noticed I originally spelled “Congrats” as “Congarts” before I took the picture. Phew!

Scrabble cookies spelling Congrats.JPG

These cookies are the perfect addition to game night, and I guarantee if you eat two dozen while you’re icing them, you’re in good company 😉 They’re incredibly snackable and instantly recognizable, and as a result, they won’t last long!

Scrabble cookies spelling Game Night

Shortbread cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Cube the butter and put it in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar. Combine until fluffy and well incorporated.
  3. Add the flour and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium for 5 minutes.
  4. When the dough begins to stick together or to the sides of the bowl, dump it onto a well-floured surface for rolling.
  5. Place a wooden spoon on either side of the dough (but not wider than your rolling pin), so the roller stops flattening the cookies after a certain height.
  6. Flatten dough. Cut desired shapes. For these tiles, I cut strips of dough and then cut the strips into smaller squares.
  7. Place shapes on cookie sheets and place in the oven. Decrease the oven’s temp. to 325.
  8. Rotate cookies after 10 minutes and cook for another 5-6 minutes until golden brown on the edges, but mostly the bottoms.

Tip: When I make cookies, I take them out of the oven just before I think they’re fully done so they can cool on the pan for 10 minutes before I transfer them to a cooling rack.

Royal icing recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • A pinch of salt
  • Food coloring

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients until well-incorporated.
  2. If you want to make black icing for writing, I set aside about 2/3 of the royal icing for white icing and then combined the remaining 1/3 with equal parts of red, blue, and green food coloring until the desired color was achieved.
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If my family was dessert: my sister Madeline

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Cardamom fairy cakes with icing.jpg

Today is my sister Madeline’s birthday. Happy birthday, Madeline! I’m capitalizing on her birthday to share my new series: If my family was dessert. (Although our Dad is always getting the short end of the stick. His birthday was in February when I was doing Whole30, so poor guy’s going to have to wait until 2018.)

Don’t some people have personalities which remind you of certain foods? It’s kind of like how dog owners look like their dogs. If Madeline was dessert, she would be cardamom fairy cakes with chamomile buttercream frosting!

When I was thinking of flavors which Madeline personifies, I was looking for something savory, but a little sweet. She’s the funniest person I know, and a damn mean cook (both she and her fiance!), so I was a little nervous to make her in dessert form first. Madeline bought me these silicon baking molds for my birthday last year, so it seemed fitting that my first time using them was to celebrate her!

Daisy silicone mold

Silicone molds adjacent

We’re all having a blast helping Madeline prep for and celebrate her wedding (think a woodland theme with paper flowers everywhere), but some of my favorite memories I have of me and my two sisters are from when we were younger.

Our mom used to throw us the most elaborate tea parties for our birthdays! I can still remember them like it was yesterday – down to the designs on our teacups. At the end of the school day, we’d leap off the bus in our starchy plaid uniforms and run inside to find the entire kitchen strewn with crepe paper streamers. Small cakes and sandwiches on the fancy glass (!) dishware dotted the table, and each person would have a party favor at their spot at the table, even if it was just us four girls celebrating. I’ll never forget how excited I was when one year my favor was a brand new pack of crayons.

We all loved Mom’s tea parties! So when I stumbled upon fairy cakes – miniature sponge cakes – in the Great British Bake Off cookbook, I knew these would be the perfect thing to represent the sister who is as obsessed with small felt animals today as she was with finding Calico Critters as her tea party favor.

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If Madeline is a combination of flavors, however, she’s without a doubt more exciting than vanilla. I thought cardamom would be the perfect balance of sweet and savory for one of the smartest, most well-read women I know. And what cake is complete without a frosting? I finally settled on chamomile buttercream frosting.

Just like I’ll remember Mom’s tea parties forever, there’s nothing quite like a mug of chamomile tea to make me think of our Dad. He makes the best cup this side of California (aka no one in the entire country makes a better cup, I’m sure of it) and no matter how long we’ve been away from home, it’s one of the first things my sisters and I request after we’ve dropped our bags. I suppose this recipe is as much a homage to our parents as it is an attempt to capture Madeline as a dessert! It goes without saying we wouldn’t be half the women we are today without them.

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I hope you have the best year yet, Madeline! Wish we could celebrate together with a tea party and fairy cakes 🙂

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Cardamom Fairy Cakes, adapted from the Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking | Makes 12 mini cakes

Ingredients

1 stick of butter

1/2 cup of white sugar

1 tablespoon of milk

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1/4 heaping teaspoon of cardamom

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12 silicone liners and set aside on a cookie tray.
  2. Combine 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk. The mixture will look almost like a soup. Every time I do this step, the butter never mixes in completely, but it always does once the flour is added. So don’t fret if your butter doesn’t look well incorporated.
  3. Sift the 1/2C of flour and 1/4t of baking powder into the liquid mixture. Combine.
  4. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1/4 heaping teaspoon of cardamom. Combine.
  5. Fill each mold to the top. This cake expanded very little for me, so you don’t have to worry about spillage like you might with a cupcake or muffin.
  6. Bake for a total of 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.

Chamomile buttercream frosting adapted from A Cozy Kitchen with the addition of an extra tablespoon of buttermilk 

Ingredients

1 stick of butter

4 bags of chamomile tea (I used “Sleepytime” from Celestial Seasonings)

2 cups of powdered sugar

A dash of salt

3 tablespoons of heavy cream

Directions

  1. Melt the butter on the stovetop. Cut open the tea bags and add the tea to the melted butter. Turn off the heat and let sit for at least ten minutes.
  2. Strain the butter, removing the tea leaves from the mix. Place in a container in the fridge. Leave it until it’s no longer liquid but also not hard, about 30 minutes.
  3. Combine the butter, powdered sugar, salt and heavy cream. I found I needed nothing more than an extra tablespoon of heavy cream to make the icing more spreadable.

I thought about adding mint leaves or icing leaves to these fairy cakes, but the more I stared at them plain, the more they grew on me. If you’re going to decorate them, I recommend powdered sugar, a sprinkle of cinnamon, or a mint leaf. 

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Berry summer salad

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Summer salad on a side table.jpg

Has a car ever passed you on your walk home and they’re blasting instrumental tunes, and the sun is shining perfectly through the trees, and everyone has a pep in their step because it’s Friday? This exact scene happened to me today, and it was delightful! For the three seconds someone else’s BMW drove past me, I felt like I was in a movie. And if you’re wondering if I was waiting for Alec Baldwin to round the corner or for a flash mob to break out in front of me, maybe Alec Baldwin in a flash mob? The answer is yes. Yes I was.

I also discovered we live next to a Labrador Retriever who walks around the block with a teddy bear in its mouth. Saw that little fella duck into his basement apt. right next door! If that wasn’t the most endearing thing I saw all week, then I don’t know what was.

Summer salad on a towel.jpg

I’m also not ashamed to admit this salad was another highlight of my week. Tell me you’ve never gotten excited over a meal, and I won’t believe you. I packed this bad boy for lunch three times, and if we’re being perfectly honest, I will likely eat it for at least two meals this weekend.

My secret with kale salads (please just skip this part if you and the whole world already know this) is to put your dressing directly on the kale first and foremost. If I’m packing it for work, I layer all the toppings on the bottom followed by the kale and then the dressing. If I’m at home, then I put the dressing on while I make the quinoa and cut up the fruit. The extra time the kale and dressing get to know each other softens the kale just enough to make even the world’s most avid kale naysayers ask for this recipe!

Happy weekend, friends. May all of us enjoy cars blasting instrumental music and the perfect amount of hair-blowing breeze all weekend long!

Half eaten strawberry held in the air.jpg

Summer Salad | Serves 1

Ingredients*

Handful of kale with the stems removed

1/2C of cooked quinoa

4 strawberries

Handful of blueberries

Sprinkle of walnuts

1/2 chicken breast

1/4 avocado

2T of honey mustard dressing

Directions

  1. Mix and enjoy!

Summer salad peeking into view.jpg

*I specified the exact amounts of each item, but it feels so silly telling you to only throw 4 strawberries on your salad. Put as much of each item as you want! Swap the walnuts for almonds! Or the honey mustard with balsamic! Whatever your heart desires! And also, don’t bother to wait for the quinoa to cool. This salad is best served with quinoa at any temperature.

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Softball shortbread cookies with royal icing

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Close-up of a cookie cluster.jpg

We had five glorious day of sunshine and warm temps before the cold rolled in today. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to come home while it’s still light out! Spring, you are anxiously awaited around here. This past week, the softball team at work had a bake sale, and I contributed these shortbread cookies with royal icing.

They were meant to look like softballs, but I got the color of the royal icing all wrong and they ended up looking more like Mike Wazowski. Or watermelon tennis balls. Paul Hollywood would be appalled. Although I would hope he’d approve of the flavors at the very least if not the design. I’m sharing these here as a benchmark for improving my sugar cookie icing skills. Truth be told, I was avoiding using royal icing like I’ve been avoiding my taxes.

Close-up on an icing drip in the cookie stack.jpg

Would it slide off the edges of the cookies and turn into a puddle (the icing, not the taxes)? Would the cookies melt and stick together on my walk to work? Would anyone know what these were supposed to be? I somehow convinced myself that the “royal” part of royal icing was meant as a warning sign to all of us non-royals to run for the hills and avoid this icing like the plague for it’s too difficult to handle with peasant hands!

Not to mention, according to Instagram, everyone and their mom has already perfected the technique. It seems as if there are thousands of videos of bakers “flooding” the icing: creating a barrier and then filling the inside with icing. There’s something about naming a technique which is more or less as simple as spreading some schmear on a bagel that intimidated the hell out of me.

Cookie stack with cookies in the background.jpg

But if I always let other people doing things first (or weather-related technique names) stop me from doing them myself, I’ll never get anywhere or do anything and that sounds exhausting. While I really wish these had been more yellow and red, they were a fun first attempt at icing designs. I hope they’re the first of many decorated cookies around here!

I thought about manipulating these photos and claiming I aced the color on the first try, but I’m not that kind of lady. Who can trust a dishonest baker? No one. That’s who. So for fun, I included a before and after manipulation of the colorful icing below.

Before

Cookies laid out on top of each other.jpg

After

Super-edited softball cookies.jpg

Crazy, right? Just craziness. I used a shortbread cookie for the base and a simple royal icing both of which are listed below. The cookie recipe is manipulated ever-so slightly from Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love cookbook which I can’t recommend enough!

Shortbread cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Cube the butter and put it in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar. Combine until fluffy and well incorporated.
  3. Add the flour and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium for 5 minutes.
  4. When the dough begins to stick together or to the sides of the bowl, dump it onto a well-floured surface for rolling.
  5. Place a wooden spoon on either side of the dough (but not wider than your rolling pin), so the roller stops flattening the cookies after a certain height.
  6. Flatten dough. Cut desired shapes.
  7. Place shapes on cookie sheets and place in the oven. Decrease the oven’s temp. to 325.
  8. Rotate cookies after 10 minutes and cook for another 5-6 minutes until golden brown on the edges, but mostly the bottoms.

Tip: When I make cookies, I take them out of the oven just before I think they’re fully done so they can cool on the pan for 10 minutes before I transfer them to a cooling rack.

Royal icing recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • A pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients until well-incorporated.
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Harry Potter cake and a buttercream frosting recipe

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A birds eye view of the pink cake.jpg

At the end of April, Kevin and I are headed to Iceland followed by an almost-week in London. I couldn’t be more excited so to celebrate the trip, I made an exact replica of the cake Hagrid gifts Harry when they first meet!

I would be remiss not to mention my heart goes out to the victims of this week’s terror attack on Parliament. “No act of terror can shake the strength and resilience of our British ally.” Sending my deepest sympathies across the pond.

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Conveniently, neither of us has ever visited London so we hope to check off quite a few tourist spots (hel-lo, London Eye) while also leaving plenty of room for exploration. Have you ever been? I would love to hear about your must-see places!

For starters, I signed up for a cookie icing class at Biscuiteers and am so excited I don’t know how I’m going to wait another month! I’m sure it comes as no surprise at all that we also snatched up tickets for The Harry Potter Studio Tour.

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An icing writer on top of the cake.jpg

I know true Harry Potter fans out there will tell me that this cake is more fitting for Harry’s birthday in July (have I hit my nerdy comments quota yet today?), but I just couldn’t help myself! You can see the cake from the movie here. Some friends pointed out it’s not quite accurate since I didn’t sit on it like Hagrid does. Haha! Maybe next time 😉

If only I could take this entire chocolate cake with us. I made Julia Turshen’s Happy Wife Happy Life recipe from her cookbook Small Victories. Once I saw that there is a full cup of coffee in the batter, I had to try it.

This turned out to be one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. The coffee makes the layers perfectly moist which you can tell from the photos above. I also accidentally added almond extract to the frosting and decided to still add vanilla extract (#yolo). Together they complemented the chocolate layers perfectly. The happiest of accidents!

A birds eye view of the cake with slices missing.jpg

Unless the author posts the recipe in full on their site, I don’t believe in posting the recipe in full on my blog. However, with a quick google search, you can find others who don’t feel the same (like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel here).

My reasoning is that recipes are special, and if the author wanted this online, they would share it online. If I had written a cookbook, I wouldn’t want other bloggers to copy and paste my work in a format where I might not have intended it to live without seeking explicit permission first.

Slices are missing from the cake.jpg

Julia’s recipe calls for raspberry jam sandwiched in between each layer, but I used a traditional buttercream icing. If anyone missed the jam, I didn’t hear about it!

This cake lasted all of two days in our house which is without a doubt the quickest turnaround of any dessert around here. I know it won’t be long before I make it again. Happy weekend, friends!

Buttercream Frosting Recipe

Ingredients 

3Cups of powdered sugar

1 stick of butter

1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk or whipping cream

Food coloring (optional)

Directions

  1. Mix together 3C of sugar and 1 stick of butter on low speed (or by hand) until it’s well incorporated.
  2. If you’re using a stand mixer, increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add 1/2 T vanilla and 2t milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add more milk until you’ve reached your desired consistency.

Claire-eating-cake.gif

Special shout-out to my friend Claire for letting me shoot in her apt., capturing some extra photos, and bearing the ever-important roles of taste tester and hand model! You can tell by the giant slices missing how much we hated it 😉 

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Homemade Milkbar confetti cookies and a DC guide

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Three cookie stacks.jpg

My sister is visiting DC! Wahoo! The only thing better than sitting on the couch all weekend eating Milkbar cookies is sitting on the couch all weekend eating Milkbar cookies with friends and family.

Just kidding. We’re not going to sit inside eating cookies all weekend. We planned our itinerary two weeks ago! What follows is a suggested itinerary for Someone Who Has Visited DC More Than Once But Still Wants to See A Few Things DC Has to Offer.

This guide is mostly food related (as the best ones are) with a few sights thrown in. I’m no D.C. Tour Guide so take all of these recommendations with a grain of salt. And a cookie.

Sprinkles in batter.jpg

Batter dripping from the kitchenaid mixer.jpg

Places to eat and drink

  • Ghibellina – This Italian restaurant’s walls hold much sister gossip I’m sure. I’ve never not seen Ghibellina packed to the gills, but thanks to the loud music, tasty pizzas and open kitchen, you are likely the last thing your neighbors are paying attention to.
  • Le Diplomate – If you’re in the mood for a fancy brunch, this Parisian bistro on 14th St. is the spot. It’s like walking straight into Amelie!
  • DC Noodles – Get a double order of the pork belly buns. They taste like a delightfully soft cloud filled with sweet bbq pork.
  • The Pretzel Bakery – I have yet to visit, but this is the kind of place that makes people’s eyes roll into the back of their head when they talk about it. What’s not to love about a bakery full of pretzels!?
  • Toki Underground – This no reservations ramen bar is well worth the wait! The communal seating and big-head action figures around the room are the perfect atmosphere for a small group.
  • Baked and Wired – Don’t listen to TLC, this is the best cupcake in the city. I recommend the Uniporns and Rainhoes (Sorry, Dad.).
  • My house! Hit me up if you’re ever in the city. I’d love to bake with you.

Cluster of cookies sitting on a cooling tray.jpg

Three stacks of cookies with one in focus.jpg

Things to See and Do

  • Atlantic Plumbing Cinema – The stuff (contemporary, cocktail-loving, armchair enthusiast) movie lover’s dreams are made of!
  • Salt and Sundry – How I ever manage to leave Salt and Sundry empty-handed I’ll never know. The paper goods! The cake stands! The candles! My sister better leave room in her suitcase is all I’m sayin.
  • The Botanical Gardens – These gardens have something for everyone – even a tropical rainforest! Guaranteed plans no matter the weather.
  • The Renwick Gallery – Any description I provide won’t do the Renwick justice. Check out the hashtag on Instagram. And tell me these cookie stacks don’t at least remind you a little of the paper stacks?

Many stacks of cookies.jpg

The cookies pictured here are the Confetti cookies from the Milkbar cookbook. They have a similar recipe for the birthday cake truffles on their site as well which have almost the exact same components. Don’t let the directions intimidate you! It requires multiple recipes but the best part is, the ingredients all store very well. And let me just add that you won’t be the first one to use store-bought vanilla extract instead of the clear vanilla extract it calls for 😉

If you really have your heart set on these cookies but don’t want to buy the book, I recommend adding the birthday sand (pictured on the paddle in the third photo) to a standard sugar cookie recipe and throwing in some extra sprinkles for good measure.

And if all else fails, you can’t go wrong with the mix.

Safe travels, sis! I hope you’re hungry.

Confetti cookies cooling.jpg

DC friends, anything you’d add to the list for someone who’s visited before? I’m sure there are tons of places I’ve left out. I’d love to hear what your staples are!

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Smitten Kitchen’s whole lemon bars

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Whole lemon bars_1.jpg

Over the course of the past week I spent a lot of time in my own head thinking about the purpose of this food blog. Some of the (ridiculous and not so ridiculous) questions I asked myself included: Does the world really need another food Instagram to follow? What am I contributing to the food writing community? And what the hell am I doing anyways?

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This site is not the first time I’ve tried blogging. I’ve written posts more often than I should admit only to find myself leaving a site in the dust because it’s too much work. Or because I didn’t feel like I had anything new to contribute. Or because I was worried about what other people would think.

But eventually I came to my senses and realized that as long as I’m having fun, what do all of these questions really matter?

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In my favorite interview with Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, when asked what she would tell new bloggers she said, “First off, I’d tell them to just do it. Secondly—and more importantly—don’t worry about what everyone else has done or is doing. If you constantly think, “Somebody has already made this,” then you’re never going to make anything.”

So I’m doing the thing. I’m putting all my past attempts behind me and giving this whole food blog a try. I’m also making lemon bars (recipe here). Because heavens, if we don’t have desserts to get us through long days and self-deprecating nights, then we’re doing it all wrong.

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The recipe Deb posted on her site is slightly different than the one I used from her cookbook. Namely the one in the book uses an entire lemon – peel and all. The flaky shortbread base and crispy edges are like eating a cookie only to be delightfully surprised when you realize the soft lemon curd is more like a pie. I’m grateful we live in a world where we can have both. At the same time!

Other things I’m grateful for include time spent with old friends, plastic-wrapped library books which sound like you’re opening a bag of chips when you grab them, and safe, smooth flights, which trust me, is a post for another time. However you’ve found yourself here, I’m glad you did! I highly recommend getting yourself a lemon and whipping these up. You won’t regret it.

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p.s. If you want to collaborate on a project, I’d love to work with you! I’m excited to experiment and finally get out of my own head. And I wish I could send you a lemon bar for reading this far.