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What’s On My Mind:

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  • Over the April long weekend we took a gorgeous drive along the Copper Coast from Tramore to Dungavan. I’ve been hearing about The Moorings‘ outdoor patio for some time now. As every Canadian knows, there’s nothing better than beers on a patio on a beautiful, sunny day. This patio didn’t disappoint (and neither did the food or beer).
Scrummy fish chowder & zingy chicken wings at The Moorings

Scrummy fish chowder & zingy chicken wings at The Moorings

  • Breathedreamgo is one of my favourite travel websites. It specializes in travel – mostly to India but also to other areas – and focuses on solo women travelers. Even though I’m married with a bebe I still like to travel alone and I enjoy following the author, Mariellen, on Twitter to see what she’s up to. There’s an amazing giveaway on her website right now: a 14 day food adventure to India, in partnership with Intrepid Travel. You can enter here.
  • I know Maeve’s only 8.5 months old, but I think she may have a promising future in hip hop. She poo-poo’s Raffi but goes crazy for Wu Tang. I’m both proud and slightly scandalized.

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  • The World’s 50 Best Restaurants was announced last night and I wasn’t surprised to see there are still no Canadian restaurants making the cut. As chair of Vacay.ca’s Top 50 Restaurants in Canada I know there’s some pretty amazing stuff happening in Canadian restaurants, from old-school Newfoundland cuisine to fine dining with Aboriginal flair. Maybe more 50 Best judges should visit more often.
My favourite Huevoes at Mildred's Temple Kitchen, Toronto

My favourite Huevoes at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, Toronto

  • I ate at La Bohème again last Friday. They have some great value prix fixe menus – an early bird for €29 and a Market Menu, which is four courses for €35. The Market Menu had more interesting selections so we went for that. We also indulged in a kir royale made with the chef’s own creme de cassis – amazing. So many fine dining restaurants fail to hit the mark for me – trying to be creative, they get lost along the way. Chef Théze sticks to his French roots and doesn’t mess around when it comes to flavour.
Waterford Lamb Rump with Almond Cream at La Boheme

Waterford Lamb Rump with Almond Cream at La Boheme

  • I have been loving the spring-time weather in Ireland! Warm, sunny and beautiful. It puts you in a great mood. Hope you all have a wonderful week!

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A Very Nutty Nougat

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Well folks, I can’t believe it, but it’s been a year since we moved into this little house in Waterford. A whole year. So much has happened, and yet it’s gone by in a flash. Our cat sadly died, our beautiful girl was born, we got a new puppy (who I threaten to get rid of on a daily basis – she won’t stop stealing food from the kitchen counter!), members of my family came to visit and went home again. I remember this summer seeming so far away back in September when I had to say good bye to my parents and brother.

But I shouldn’t have been so dramatic. The past six months have flown by. In a few weeks we’ll be welcoming one of my best friends to Ireland for a long-planned visit. In mid-June, the baby and I will be boarding a plane (Westjet now fly from Dublin to St. John’s!) and taking the four hour trip home to Canada. Yup, just four hours. It took my parents longer to fly to my brother on the other side of Canada. It’s a small world, really.

In between, there are first communions, a few fantastic food festivals, and lots to see and experience around the country. In Canada, we’ll be welcoming a new baby boy into the family. Good things are on the way.

A Beautiful Cape Breton Summer

A Beautiful Cape Breton Summer

This summer, I’ll be freelancing, blogging and cooking in Cape Breton for a good 2.5 months. I can’t wait to swim in the river, to pick wild blueberries, to taste the wines of the Annapolis Valley and visit the beautiful beaches we boast in Nova Scotia. I’m going to eat donairs, garlic fingers and poutine til I’m fit to burst. I’m going to really enjoy lobster season. But mostly, I can’t wait to see my family and introduce them to my baby, who have, mostly, only seen Maeve via Skype or Facebook.

I was in a celebratory mood yesterday. In one year we’ve come a very long way. This blog is almost a year old, too! I’ll be commemorating that in a different post. Yesterday, I wanted to make something indulgent.

French nougat is one of my favourite confections. It’s chewy, sweet and versatile. You can mix in whatever combination of dried fruits, nuts or sweets you want. My favourite way to have nougat, though, is with lots of toasted nuts to add a bit of earthiness and cut through the sweetness. Adding a handful of dried cranberries will add a bit of tartness which blends well with those toasty nuts. You can flavour it with citrus rinds, vanilla or spices. I chose cinnamon this time.

Any combination of nuts will do – yesterday I had some almonds, walnuts and cashews, so that’s what went into my nougat. Pistachios and hazelnuts are also good options (and the green pistachios look really pretty against the white). Kids might like their nougat with some caramel or chocolate chips added in, but for me that’s a bit of a sugar overload. At least the fruit and nuts give the illusion of it being a healthy snack!

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Nutty, Fruity Nougat

Ingredients:

1 egg white, room temperature

pinch of sea salt

pinch of ground cinnamon

1 1/3 cups white sugar

1/2 cup honey

2 Tbsp tap water

1/2 cup each walnuts, cashews, almonds & dried cranberries

Vegetable oil

Directions:

  • Toast and roughly chop the nuts. Set aside.
  • Grease and line a cookie sheet with plastic wrap. Then, cut two pieces of parchment and lightly grease those as well. Make sure there’s plenty of overhang when you line the cookie sheet with plastic wrap.
  • Add the sugar, water, cinnamon and honey into a saucepan. Heat to dissolve the sugar and then turn on high. Boil this mixture for 3-5 minutes. You can use a candy thermometer here but its really not necessary (if you do, it should register around 120 degrees Celsius when finished). You want the sugar and honey to reach the soft-ball stage of cooking – that means, if you drop a bit into a glass of cold water it turns into a firm, but soft ball.
  • While the sugar mixture is boiling, beat the egg white and sea salt until soft peaks form. Once the sugar mixture has reached the right consistency, gradually and slowly pour the mixture into the egg white while beating on med-high.
  • As the sugar mixture is absorbed into the egg white, you should notice the meringue becoming stiffer and glossier. This is what you want. When all of the sugar syrup has been poured into the meringue, continue to beat for 8-10 minutes until you’ve got a firm, but still pliable and mix-able meringue.
  • Now, you can add the nuts and dried fruit to the mix while it’s still pliable. Use your hands (the mixture might still be pretty warm, so be careful!) like I do or a strong wooden spoon. If using your hands, grease them with a bit of vegetable oil before working the nougat.
  • Once the fillings are mixed in, move the nougat to the lined cookie sheet. With one greased parchment sheet on the bottom, press the nougat into the corners and flatten it out with your hands. Put the other greased parchment sheet on top to smooth and even it out over the cookie sheet.
  • Allow to set for at least two hours before removing it from the cookie sheet. When you move it, use the overhang from the plastic wrap to lift it up.
  • Use a knife dipped in boiled water to portion the nougat. If you think it’s too sticky, you can coat the nougat in icing sugar. That will make it easier to handle. It will store in an airtight container for a week.

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Visiting Porto: The Mighty Francesinha

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Every city has its quirky signature dish that sets it apart. Chicago has deep dish pizza, Halifax has donairs, Osaka has okonomiyaki and Shanghai has xiaolongbao (you know, those awesome steamed dumplings filled with crab soup). Porto has the Francesinha, a sandwich of epic proportions.

The Francesihna is bad-ass. It’s not a sandwich for sissies. It’s disgustingly massive, full of any kind of meat you could conjure up in your mind. It’s really, really bad for you, which means it tastes amazing. The idea of it leaves you flustered – there’s no way it makes any logical sense.

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Whoever invented it (some say it was a guy named Daniel Da Silva who wanted to make a Portuguese-friendly version of a croque monsieur) just threw every kind of available meat into a sandwich with cheese and then smothered it in a tangy, rich sauce.

In other, more simpler words: it’s heaven.

As a Canadian, the best way I can describe a Francesinha is as such: it tastes like poutine, Swiss Chalet sauce and a Montreal smoked meat sandwich had a delicious love child. Any Canadian will agree: this is the best combination of things, ever.

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In actuality, the sandwich usually consists of beef fillet, mortadella, cured ham, regular ham, roast pork, cheese and two kinds of sausages. The bread is unremarkable, especially for a country that boasts delicious, crusty loaves, but that said, the bread isn’t supposed to be the star of the show. It just holds all the other, more awesome bits together.

When the sandwich is assembled, it’s covered in more cheese and then broiled to allow the cheese to melt. Then, the whole thing is smothered in a sauce that is usually made with a combination of beer and tomatoes, though each establishment has their own recipe and will never divulge exactly what goes into it. Honestly, it tastes exactly like Chalet sauce.

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The best place in Porto to get a Francesinha, we were told, is at Café Santiago on Rua Passos Manuel. The portions here are massive: large triple decker sandwiches surrounded by a sea of crisp French fries. They smother the sandwich in the perfect amount of sauce – nothing is soggy, per se, but everything is covered (and there’s enough sauce left to dip your fries).

A regular Francesinha with fries cost €9.25, while the Francesinha à Santiago (topped with an egg) cost €9.50. It’s good value considering the amount of food you’re getting, but Café Santiago is also one of the more expensive Francesinha joints in town. You can get one at nearly any snack food restaurant for around €5.00. It just won’t be as good.

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Francesinha are usually washed down with copious amounts of Sagres or Super Bock (the Portuguese beers of choice). We had our baby with us, so one beer each sufficed. A cold Super Bock with the meaty, salty sandwich is really a match made in heaven.

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In the end, the sandwich defeated me. I just couldn’t eat all that meat in one sitting. Pat, on the other hand, seemed like he’d been eating Francesinha all his life and gave me a good smirk over his empty plate.

You win this time, Francesinha, but I’ll be back.

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Tipperary at Dusk

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I was staying at my father-in-law’s house while Pat was away on business. One evening, a few days after daylight savings, I looked outside and saw the most beautiful sky. It was at around 7:30 pm and Maeve was just about to go to bed, but I strapped her into her sling and instead of sleeping we went out to enjoy the beautiful evening.

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There’s a ruin of an old glebe on my father-in-law’s land. It hasn’t been a ruin for a very long time – you can see the different rooms and how they were wired with electricity – but it’s all made of stone and the trees have begun to grow through the cracked walls. A glebe would be the home of the parish priest back in the day – now, our priest lives across the street from the church, which is much more convenient.

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This is my favourite time of year in Ireland. The lane to my father-in-law’s house is lined with blooming daffodils and the trees are starting to turn green. The days are getting longer, extending twilight til well into the evening. The days are a bit warmer; the wind less bitter. For me, Ireland (and Tipperary in particular) personifies springtime.

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The Whole Duck, and Nothing But.

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The other day, I was doing a quick shop in Lidl when I saw they had a special on whole duckling for roasting.

Now, if I want a good duck, I’ll get it from a local butcher. It’s worth the money because the bird is meatier and fattier – better for roasting as you’ll end up with much more of the succulent meat. But these whole ducks at Lidl were €8.00! For an entire duckling. I couldn’t pass it up. I mean, we are a family on a budget.

So I got this duck and wasn’t sure what to do with it. The thing about roasting whole duck is that the different parts are at their best cooked different ways. I like roast duck. The best I ever had was in an old restaurant called Hua’s on “Ghost Street” in Beijing – it was expensive, but the duck at this place was so good, my friend and I ended up ordering two. But I prefer a nicely seared, pan roasted duck breast and slowly confit’d duck legs.

So when I got home, I got out my sharpest boning knife and broke the duck down completely. I used every single part, getting four meals out of one bird. Here’s how I did it and what I made:

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  1. Make sure the bird is right side up. That means, the breasts should be facing the ceiling and the legs should be facing you, the butcher.
  2. With a sharp knife, slice down either side of the breast bone (or the back bone). It’s found at the very top and goes vertically from one end of the bird to the other. Give it a good slice on either side.13868049975_2e415afcc4_z
  3. Once you’ve done that, choose a side to work on. Now’s the time to remove the breast meat. You probably won’t be very good at this the first time you do it (I would practise on some chicken first, since there’s less breast meat on a duck and you wouldn’t want to waste any). Using your knife, lightly scrape (don’t slice) down the side of the duck, leaving as little meat on the rib cage as possible. Once you have enough of a cavity made, you can use the tip of your knife to scrape down the sides. Once the breast is nearly severed, slice through the remaining skin and fat to remove it completely.13868047445_cf2acbbcca_z
  4. Now, do the same thing on the other side to remove the other breast.13868422344_09f927e03f_z
  5. Once the breasts are removed, it’s time to take off the legs. Use your hands to move the leg around. Once you feel where the hip joint is, give the leg a good twist to dislocate the joint. Once the joint is dislocated, use your knife to slice through. First, hold the leg to one side to tighten the skin around the joint, then slice through it. Once you’re through the skin, you can see where the leg joint naturally separates from the body. Use your knife and slice through the hip joint.
  6. Again with your knife, slice through the skin above the leg to see where the thigh meat is located. Once you see it, scrape down the rib cage until you’ve removed the thigh meat.13868420284_f26983f7c4_z
  7. Repeat this on the other leg until both are removed.
  8. Once you have the major joints removed, take off the wings. I just, again, find the main joint, give it a good twist to dislocate, and then slice through the joint with my knife, removing the wing.13868066933_766f5efd49_z
  9. Now it’s time to remove all the skin and fat from the duck. There will be a lot of fat in the skin and a lot of fat in between the skin and meat and, also, just inside the cavity. Remove all the skin and fat from the bird and, also, clean the joints and breasts of any excess fat. Save all the skin and fat.13868038265_56b61ff328_z
  10. You should be left with the carcass (the body cavity). You can use a larger knife to chop through the bone or, if you have a big enough pot, leave it whole. Congratulations, you’ve just deboned a duck.

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Here’s what I did with the different parts:

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The Breasts:

  • Lightly score the skin of the breasts with a sharp knife or razor blade. Season well with salt and pepper – rub it into the scoring marks. Leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Heat a frying pan on medium-high. You want the pan hot enough to render all the fat from under the skin of the breast, but not so hot that you burn the skin in the process.
  • When the pan is hot, do not add any oil or butter. Lay the breasts, skin side down, onto the hot pan. The fat will render almost immediately and will begin to crisp up the skin. Let the majority of the fat render from the breast – cook it on the skin side for the majority of the cooking process.
  • When the fat is mostly rendered and the skin is crispy and brown, turn over the duck and immediately transfer the pan to a hot oven (about 200 degrees Celsius). Depending on the size of the breast, cook for 7-12 minutes for a nice medium-rare.
  • I served the duck with green beans amandine (made with lemon, olive oil and toasted slivered almonds) and a buttermilk mash.

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The Skin and Fat:

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  • When all the skin and fat was removed from the carcass, I transferred it to a Dutch oven and immediately put it over a medium- low heat to slowly render all the fat.
  • As the fat rendered, the skin got extremely crispy. When the skin was completely crisp and golden brown I knew all the fat had been rendered.
  • I strained the duck fat into a container to save away and seasoned the crispy skin with some sea salt. I squeezed some sriracha chili sauce onto a plate and Pat and I had a delicious snack of crispy duck skin to eat while watching Game of Thrones (the best way to spend an evening, in my opinion).

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The Carcass and Wings:

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  • I could have kept the wings and fried them for some crispy duck wings, but I didn’t really feel like it. I added them to the carcass, put the carcass and wings in a stock pot, added a chopped carrot, two chopped onions, some chopped celery, a few peppercorns, some whole star anise, some coriander seed, some lemongrass and ginger, a bay leaf and fresh parsley and coriander.
  • I covered it all in cold water and gently simmered for 2 hours. It made a beautifully aromatic broth.
  • I put the hot broth in the fridge overnight. As it cooled, the fat collected at the top of the container and I easily scraped it off the next day.
  • I made pho with rice noodles, rose oyster mushrooms, crispy fried cod, scallion, basil, fresh coriander and sriracha. I seasoned the duck broth with lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, sriracha and some tom yum paste I had in the fridge. It was amazeballs.

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The Legs:

  • I saved this for last because I haven’t actually cooked the legs yet. They’re in the freezer. The duck fat is in the fridge. This Friday night I’m making duck confit with lentils and Toulouse sausage. Traditionally, you’d have duck confit with cassoulet but that’s a bit too much work for a Friday night!
  • I’ll season the duck fat with bay, peppercorns and juniper berries before scooping it (cold or room temperature) over the legs. Then I’ll cook them in at a low heat in the oven for a few hours, until tender.

Say what you want about Lidl, but €8.00 for a whole duckling is a steal. They’re Irish ducks, too and they’re still available.

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West Waterford Festival of Food

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Most non-Irish don’t realize this, but Ireland truly is the land of festivals come spring and summertime. When you’re planning a trip to Ireland, you’re thinking you’ll spend your days drinking in quiet pubs and seeing the Cliffs of Moher. You should definitely still do those things, but also, take a minute and check out festivals.ie. More than likely, there will be some kind of food, music or art festival happening during your visit.

Posing with Mr. Blaa!

Posing with Mr. Blaa!

With that in mind, this past Sunday Pat and I packed up our baby and headed to Dungarvan for the West Waterford Festival of Food. The festival began last Thursday and ended yesterday, featuring demos from some of Ireland’s most iconic chefs, a massive farmer’s market with hundreds of vendors and lots of great discussion events about food and food culture.

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It’s safe to say the weekend was successful. When we arrived yesterday afternoon we were extremely lucky to find a convenient place to park. Grattan Square, in the centre of town, was absolutely chock-full of people, vendors, dogs, babies and stuff.

What kind of stuff? Well, some people were selling plants. Others were selling their baked goods and confections (my favourite were the homemade marshmallows from Cloud Confectionery – Pat tried their lime and ginger crumble while I stuck with vanilla bean). There were entire pigs being roasted on spits, two trucks churning out Butler’s Ice Cream on different ends of the square, a Belgian frites truck (only my favourite all-time kind of frite) and lots of hand-made crafts and art pieces.

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Some familiar artisanal products being sold included Badger & Dodo Coffee, Corleggy Cheese, Ballyhoura Mushrooms (I spent all my money on shrooms; I don’t see these guys enough!), Tastefully Yours Chutneys and Wild About Foods (their nettle syrup is one of my most favourite things). We had a great time eating and buying things at the market; it was crowded but still relatively easy to navigate (I was so glad we had Maeve in her sling instead of the buggy).

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There were a few events this weekend I really wish I’d been able to attend. There were seaweed foraging walks on Clonea Beach and hikes out into the Comeragh Mountains. There were so many great kid’s programs that we’ll be taking advantage of when Maeve is older. There was a Middle Eastern Feast hosted by Eunice Power. And there was a Sunday Demo with Rachel Allen featuring the new generation of Irish chefs – all fabulous women (Jessica Murphy, Aoife Noonan & Grainne O’Keefe, to name a few). Next year I’ll have my priorities straight and arrange for some childcare!

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As we drove back toward Waterford City, Patrick and I agreed that there couldn’t have been a better host town for a festival featuring County Waterford cuisine. Dungarvan is a hotbed of great restaurants, pubs and people and the festival was all the more special for that reason.

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I’ve said this a few times, but I can’t believe more tourists aren’t coming to Waterford during trips to Ireland – we’ve got the beaches, the scenery, the history and the food. Although if you come to Waterford from Newfoundland you may feel like you haven’t left home.

My Favourite Places #3: Peter’s Fruit & Veg, Templemore, Co. Tipperary

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March was such a whirlwind; I barely spent any time at our house in Waterford (where all the high speed internet is). Nearly as soon as we got home from Portugal it was time to pack up our clunker of a car and drive home to Tipperary, where Maeve and I spent nearly two weeks while Patrick was on a business trip in Boston.

In all the March Madness (as it were), I didn’t get a chance to post my monthly favourite place. That said, I visited my favourite place during the month of March (and was kindly allowed to take a few photos) so it isn’t too much of a cheat to be posting this now, in April. I’ll be posting another favourite place at the end of this month. I have no idea where it will be, but that’s part of the fun, too!

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When we’re home in North Tipperary, we love to buy our fruit and veggies at Peter’s. He’s run this little shop in Templemore for years and years, changing very little from what I’m told. He sold vegetables to my mother-in-law and always has nice things to say when Patrick or I are in there for our weekly produce.

He travels to Dublin and hand-chooses the sweetest fruit and the freshest veggies. They aren’t all Irish, but as many are as can be possible (he had some gorgeous Spanish strawberries last week, but of course he only sells Irish when they’re in season).

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I can always count on Peter to have juicy, sweet oranges (I hate sour fruit!), plump berries, shiny apples and ripe mangoes. His veggies rival any you could find in a farmer’s field. And he’s a really nice guy to boot – so are his daughters, who work there with him.

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Another thing I love about Peter’s Fruit & Veg are the flowers! Peter and I are kindred spirits. The first time I visited his shop he had gorgeous ranunculus flowers in little pots for sale. I asked him how much they were and he just gave me this look and said “You’re the first person I’ve met who knows what they are!”. We’ve been cool ever since.

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If you’re ever on the main drag in Templemore, Co. Tipperary it is so worth a visit to Peter’s to get your veg for the week. You won’t find him on Facebook or Twitter but that’s kind of nice, too. His shop is old school. He’s been doing the home-grown organic thing since long before it was popular.

Beautiful Templemore

Beautiful Templemore

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