Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Collaboration makes better pie

I've previously mentioned that Hiromi's pie crust is far superior to mine. Hers is closer to a rough puff than the standard American pie crust, but she pulls it off rather effortlessly. On the other hand, my attempts at rough puff generally turn out to be slightly inferior to the basic pie crust that I can produce with far less concentration..

During Hiromi's short stay, I wanted to take advantage of Hiromi's crust-making skills for a more savory application.


I worked on a simple thick lentil dish made with garam masala, probably a few potatoes, onions, garlic, and ginger, some fresh tomatoes, and turmeric. As I recall, I only had split urad daal handy. These are black lentils which have lost their shells and become a sort of drywall white.

While I was taking care of the filling, Hiromi set out making the pie crust. She cut in the butter and prepared the first turn, and finished a second one before the lentils were done.

We wanted some kind of sweet-savory accompaniment, so I planned to make a chutney. Fresh figs looked nice that day, so we used them as the foundation. I prepared the chutney after the lentils were started, using a little fenugreek and fennel as the dominant notes, a little extra sugar, and a few additional spices. I think I added enough chilies to make the chutney more spicy than necessary, but they didn't hurt.

I'm already fuzzy on the details, but I think we had some other afternoon plan that day and we wandered off for a few hours, then came back to assemble everything. I think Hiromi did one more turn before we filled the pastry in small springform pans, baked, and then were treated to this nice pie.

The only thing I'd change is which fruit to use for the chutney. I think apricot, peach or tamarind would be a better compliment to the heavy lentils, especially on a fairly warm day. The chutney itself was very pleasing, but perhaps it would work better with a less rich accompaniment.

Nettle soup with horseradish sour cream

The first time I knowingly ate anything involving stinging nettles was a jarred salsa sold by a Tibetan immigrant family in Seattle. I haven’t seen their products for years, so I’m not really sure what happened to them, but I guess they haven’t single-handedly pushed the bottled stinging nettle sauce industry past the tipping point.

Nettle soup with spanish paprika, horseradish sour cream

Every spring, I see some forager offering stinging nettles at farmer’s markets, but so far I haven’t been convinced to take any home. Last spring, Hiromi and I had a late night snack at Poppy, where we had an overly salty, innocuously flavored nettle “risotto” which was interesting but seemed not to do much for the nettles or the rice. I was fairly convinced there’s just not much to the nettle but the sting.

But then, a few weeks ago, Hiromi and I decided to have dinner at our neighborhood Basque restaurant, Harvest Vine, which featured a simple sounding nettle soup on the menu. We decided to go for it.

Wow. It was surprisingly deeply flavored. Served chilled, it came with a side of crouton and not much else, but it totally redeemed the nettle for me.

Granted, I suspect that cream and Spanish paprika pulled more weight than the nettles themselves, but we figured that if that’s all it took to make the nettle great, we could pull off something compelling on our own. A few days later, the guys at Sosio’s told me they had a stash of nettles in the back, and I was an easy mark.

I took some of the same basic inspirations as the Harvest Vine version, complete with the smoky paprika, but I wanted to make it my own. When I got home the night we made this, I spent a few minutes stinking up our home grating fresh horseradish root. Hiromi started tearing up the second she got home. I used some of the root for an oil-based vinaigrette that I reserved for other purposes, but I also whipped some of it into some sour cream.

Dinner: nettle soup, ramp and morel omelet, coconut blackeye peas

The sour cream topped the nettle soup when the soup was ready to go. It added a great pungency and a refreshing contrast. Apparently, this particular approach is fairly common in Scandinavian and Northern European preparations of the nettle, but I didn’t know any better.

A dirty secret about stinging nettles: they need to be cooked fairly aggressively to remove their, well, sting. They do have a flavor, but it’s not a really intense one; it’s essentially vegetal. More robust than spinach, not as earthy and chewy as lacinato kale, they seem to respond well to being pureed, but they need a little special treatment. I soaked them in warm, but not hot, water for just about 10 minutes. Then I rinsed them, and cooked them down in a pressure cooker for a few minutes. Not only that, but one of the little stems stuck my finger as I was trying to push down the leaves that were in the way of me closing the lid. For the next twenty-four hours, my finger had a strange tingly sensation.

I did ice-water shock them after the pressure cooker to keep them from turning into something unrecognizable, but right after that, they went straight to the blender. Because the puree is a bit rough, I pushed the remaining greens through a sieve to keep the result smooth, and seasoned them with salt and the paprika before adding cream and vegetable stock.

We served the soup with some little crostini brushed with basil olive oil, topped with mozzarella and scallions.Ramp and morel omelet

We also had some black beans seasoned with some chilies, lime and coconut milk, and maybe the Indonesian spice blend that we’ve been using from World Spice, if memory serves correctly.

Finally, we had a really nice buttery omelet with wild ramps and morels, similar to this frittata I made a few years ago.

Nettles are probably done for the year in the Seattle area, but you may still have a little luck left. Let me know if you manage to track them down.

It was perhaps overkill for a weeknight dinner, but it worked out really nicely and the only hard work was preparing the nettles for use.


Sunday crullers, Saturday scones

This is why, given a choice, you should either learn to cook or find someone to spend your weekend mornings with who can cook.

Crullers with cinnamon sugar

Crullers with Cinammon Sugar

Crullers have nearly disappeared from the shelves of most donut shops, mostly due to the fact that they’re seen as a bit more labor intensive than ordinary donuts. I find it hard to believe that there no machines exist that could reduce the burden, but the fact that they’re now so hard to find presents opportunities for the industrious home cook.

And here’s the thing: They’re not really that much work. Perhaps they pennies don’t work out when you’re making them on the scale that a bakery would need to, but I was able to go from nothing to having them on the table in about 35 minutes. I only made six, but I’m sure I could have scaled up the recipe to about 24 pieces without adding more than a few minutes work.

This is just a classic pâte à choux with a little added vanilla. I added salt and sugar in roughly the same ratio I would use for cream puffs, with perhaps a bit more salt than usual. I pipe the dough out onto waxed paper. There are a few ways you can pipe them, depending on the visual effect you want; I piped small stars in six segments. An alternative would be to use the star tip, twisting gradually, making one continuous round shape.

After piping, I stuck them in the freezer for just about 10 minutes to firm up, which makes them easier to drop into the fryer. They could have easily been kept in the freezer for a week or so. This time, though, I took advantage of the simplicity of the ratio and made just the amount I thought we’d need, which was about 60 ml water, 30 grams. butter, 30 grams flour, and 60 grams eggs (about 2 whole eggs). This makes slightly more than 6 crullers.

Last winter, the first time I made these, I underestimated how much they would expand in the fryer. The steam pressure causes them to blow up into about four times their original size, so make sure you keep that in mind when shaping them. Think small.

I fried them for about 5 minutes total, flipping them about half way through to let them brown evenly. They continue to darken a bit after they’re pulled from the oil.

This time, I dusted them with sugar mixed with cinnamon and a pinch of salt. They could have just as easily been glazed, or chocolate dipped.

What I really like about crullers is how sweet they aren’t, even after they’re dusted with sugar.

Blood orange scones

Blood Orange Scones

Not that long ago, I posted about some very basic scones served with blood orange jam.  Hiromi was craving scones for breakfast yesterday. I remembered that I had recently prepared a pseudo-marmalade of blood oranges meant to serve over waffles not that long ago. The leftovers contained only a little liquid, and a lot of blood orange peel.

So I thought I might make good use of them by incorporating them into the basic scone pastry. I placed the peels on a cutting board and chopped them a bit more finely than I had them originally, then added them to the dough just before the final splash of milk that holds them together.

The result? Success! The scones needed only the slightest splash of milk since they still had a little residual liquid from the blood oranges. The blood orange added a great aroma and a little bitterness. I was worried that they’d get a little tough since I was adding another step to the process, but they turned out tender yet crisp, just as I wanted.

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A rare braised pork dish

Rare only for me, of course. As regular readers know, I’m as close to vegetarian as possible for someone who travels to Japan on a regular basis.

Hiromi’s doctor said she’s got somewhat low iron levels. We’ve been mitigating that a bit with supplements and with a heavier use of beans and darker greens, and Hiromi’s been consuming a fair amount of orange or tangerine juice to help absorption. But it’s a lot easier to deal with this kind of challenge by incorporating more red meat and liver in to a diet than to rely on vegetarian sources of iron, and Hiromi only practices vegetarianism when I cook, and I’m far from dogmatic. So we’ve made some little adjustments.


Cooking is usually my job, though, and since Hiromi usually cleans up after the aftermath of my food, I don’t mind making the occasional carnivorous dish for her benefit.

I took some aniseed, coriander seed, allspice, black pepper, some dried smoky chilies, and the seeds from a couple of cardamom pods and ground them in my spice grinder, then mixed this with a bit of salt. I rubbed the pork with this mixture and some olive oil, then I added the seasoned meat to a hot pressure cooker. I let the meat brown a bit, then turned each piece to brown on at least two other sides. I pulled the browned meat out of the pan and let it rest while sauteeing some onions with some young ginger.

I tossed in some quartered mushrooms  with a bit more salt. Finally, I added some rolling-cut carrots and a stick of chopped celery to the mix, completing the mirepoix trinity. Then I added a half cup of read wine and a half cup of water, and restored the meat to the pan. I put the pressure cooker’s lid in place. Once it reached full pressure, I let it cook for 10 minutes.

Hiromi discovered it wasn’t quite perfectly tender when the valve released, so I brought it back to pressure and reduced the temperature to the lowest possible setting that would keep the pressure up. I’m not quite sure how long we let it cook, but it was probably about 25 minutes total.

When the valve released the second time, it seemed ready to serve. When Hiromi tasted it at the table, she reported it was surprisingly tender. We only served about half of it, and it was more than enough with the other dishes we had prepared, so she had a bit leftover for lunch the next day or so.

It was pretty easy to pull off, apparently satisfying enough, and probably no more complicated than anything else we made that night. Braised pork. Pressure cooker. I can work with that.


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Green beans and unseasonable caprese

Hiromi always says that when I’m trying to use up ingredients, the results are often more exciting than when I do something more planned. I think that’s been the case since I was in college, when I would sometimes change course after I started cooking if a particular whim struck me as a good idea.

Usually on weeknights, I’ve got a few ingredients in less than ideal condition that have been sitting around too long. The purple mashed potatoes from my previous entry were in that category, and the ton of bell peppers in that Pope’s bean dish were also completely driven by excess.DSC_0668

I don’t know how many times I’ve made some variation of this simple side, but we always like sautéed green beans. This one had onions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, garlic, and smoked paprika, and was made with those skinny so-called French style green beans sometimes called haricots vert. “Green beans” apparently sound much more sophisticated when rendered literally in French.


Normally I don’t attempt to make anything remotely like insalata caprese this time of year, but we had some better-than-average-for-this-time-of-year strawberry tomatoes, which are slightly larger than cherry tomatoes and a bit more flavorful. If I were a little more industrious, I might have roasted them a bit first, but this was still pretty good for a completely out-of-season dish. I’d be a little embarrassed to serve this for company, as the tomatoes were a lot more tart than they were sweet, but they beat anything you’d find in a supermarket this time of year.

Pope’s beans and purple mashed potatoes

These Peruvian beans, called fagioli del papa in Italian, have a robust flavor and a dramatic color. This was just a quick-and-dirty weeknight preparation, so I don’t even remember exactly how I seasoned it, but I know I used za’atar, onions, garlic, and a mix of bell peppers, along with a touch of tomato. I boiled the beans themselves with a few allspice berries and bay leaves, just enough to make the beans a bit more mysterious but not so much as to compete with the final seasoning.

Fagioli del papa, Pope's beans

Anyway, we liked the results, even with fairly odd combination of ingredients.

I rescued a few lonely purple potatoes that had been sitting neglected, almost forgotten, in a brown paper bag. After boiling them, I pressed them through a potato ricer, and brought them back to my smallest sauce pan to cook them with a little butter and salt. I stirred in milk gradually, then I finished them off with an unhealthy dose of medium-aged gouda.

Purple potatoes pureed on the stove

I don’t know how to make mashed potatoes look interesting, but this version was fun, and like with any other version, butter does most of the work. Milk softens the color quite a bit, so the result leaned a bit lavender.

Purple potatoes pureed with butter, milk and 1-year-aged gouda

The puree, while not especially pretty, was surprisingly smooth. I usually don’t stir mashed potatoes much after ricing them, for fear of turning them into glue, but I must have gotten the temperature just right, because they were almost impossibly creamy. Despite the suggestion of the little pat of butter on top used to finish them, I used only a couple of tablespoons of butter in the puree itself, for about a half pound of potatoes. Good and simple.

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Gobodoki in roasted gobo soup

Ganmodoki, a deep-fried tofu dumpling, are kind of a staple of Kyoto-style tofu cuisine, and find their way into nimono, among other things. I’ve made them before, but this time, I took a slightly different route.

Roasted gobo soup with burdock ganmodoki


Inspired by a crazy cheap deal on burdock root at Rising Sun Produce in Seattle’s International District, I decided to emulate a soup Hiromi and I tried years ago at Del Cook, a French restaurant in a rural extension of Osaka in the Nose valley, made with Japanese burdock root, called gobo.

I took bunch of burdock roots and roasted them in the oven with a bit of salt until the burdock softened up a bit, probably around 20-30 minutes. Then I broke out the blender and busted up the roasted roots with some milk and vegetable soup stock. The process took a bit longer than I would have liked, but even after all that pureeing, I discovered that the texture of the mixture was far chewier than I’d want in bisque-like soup. At first, in denial, I tried pressing on, seasoning the liquid with salt and some “Balinese Seasoning” that I first discovered at World Spice Merchants a few months ago, cooked in a bit of butter. But I realized chewy wasn’t going to work for this, and I needed to find some workaround.

So I pushed the liquid through a sieve, extracting as much as I could manage. I realized I had a lot of burdock fiber that might still be put to good use. If we eat all this roughage in kimpira-gobo, there must be some way to make it edible, right? That’s when ganmodoki came to mind. I got myself a block of momen-doufu, medium-firm tofu, broke it up, and mixed it with the solids from my sieving efforts, along with black and white sesame seeds. The ratio was probably about 1:1 burdock fiber and tofu, without considering the seasonings. Even before I fried them, the mixture tasted pretty nice, so I had some confidence that things would work out. The chewy texture that had caused me consternation in the soup was nicely mitigated by the custardy texture of the tofu, and in a solid form, whatever fiber in the texture remained was far less disconcerting.

Roasted gobo soup with burdock ganmodoki

Using a couple of spoons, I made small balls out of the solids and placed them into the deep fryer.

I was surprised at how deeply the ganmodoki browned. There’s a touch of sugar in the spice blend I used, and probably a reasonable amount of sugar in burdock root itself, but I have never had this kind of result when making more conventional ganmodoki. Even deeply browned, the little balls were pretty tender inside, and just barely held together.

I modified the soup from my original plan, incorporating some pureed cannelini for protein, so in many ways, save for my use of burdock root in place of the cheddar in the version of the soup that was recently featured in Seattle’s Japanese newspaper, Soy Source, it was not a huge departure from that. The roasted burdock totally transforms the flavor from rich to earthy, so they’re certainly not identical. Certainly, the little tweaks are proof that you can make very small changes to a dish and turn it into something nearly unrecognizable. The white beans contributed protein and some iron to a dish that would otherwise best serve as a small side dish, making it a more substantial part of dinner.

To serve, I ladled the liquid into onion soup bowls, and placed three pieces of the “gobodoki” (half gobo, half ganmodoki) on top. I was convinced Hiromi would groan at my bad Japanese wordplay when I unabashedly mashed two unrelated words together, but she embraced the name unreservedly.

To finish, I topped the soup with deep-fried, salt-sprinkled burdock root. We served it with some gnocchi alla romana, which I’ll try to feature in a future post. A little bread and a nice green vegetable side dish would make a nice alternative.

I really like the Balinese seasoning spice mixture that in my cream-style soups. I have no idea if it even resembles anything actually used in Indonesia, but that’s beside the point; the dishes I’ve made with it so far simply aren’t indigenous to any particular country, so I feel free to do whatever tastes good. I dig the shallot, lemongrass and peanut base notes that it provides in anything creamy. There’s a little cinnamon, white pepper, and chili in there, and a hint of dried ginger, so it adds a little magic to anything it touches.

Big and little changes

So I've been buried in things and mostly devoid of energy for a few months... sorry about that.

Life hasn't been all work... Hiromi and I made a little trip to DC a couple months ago to see a friend of hers, who cheers for the Washington Redskins. I came back just a few days later so that I could avoid taking extended vacation from work, and Hiromi stayed with her friend a few days longer. Unfortunately, at roughly the same time Hiromi was boarding the plane back to Seattle, I learned that my job at Zillow faced foreclosure, along with the jobs of about 35% of my colleagues. (The press release noted a 25% reduction, but that excluded a number of agency temporaries).

The economy is ugly, but apparently people with my background are still in strong demand. Phone calls started coming in the day the layoffs were announced, and I had my first offer about a week and a half later. My ambition was actually to switch to a more web development focused role, instead of remaining a Software Design Engineer in Test. But the manager for most promising lead for that went on vacation just as I started making progress on interviews, and I didn't quite feel comfortable waiting on that.

I ended up choosing between a Microsoft contract at a convenient location, and a contract-to-hire role at a luxury travel company. I chose the travel company because it seemed like a more interesting opportunity, though some of the details made me nervous... On the bright side, one of my ex-Zillow peers made the same decision, after struggling with some of the same things as me, so I was pleased to see a familiar face again.

The financial pain of the transition was pretty substantial, but I should be ok in a few months. Fortunately, Hiromi also found work as of today, so things should be smoother by March or so.

We've had the lofty ambition of moving to a nicer place since, well, before Hiromi even arrived. We've been torn between buying something minimalist with a tiny down payment from my now completely brutalized stock portfolio, and renting something a bit better than what we're in now.

After some disappointing tours of places all over the city, we were about ready to shelve our plans until sometime next year. Last week, Hiromi spotted a rental that looked like a potential fit on Hotpads.com, and we booked a showing Saturday morning. It turned out to be pretty close to what we were looking for, so, after five years in a cramped apartment meant to be a one-year experiment in extreme frugality during the early stages of my business, we're finally getting a little more space...

Our new home is a pretty, well-appointed side-by-side duplex in one of my favorite parts of Seattle, just a few blocks south of a cluster of nifty Madison Park restaurants. The kitchen has a really nice open layout, a nifty gas range, and somewhat luxurious fixtures, and will no longer isolate me from my guests when we're hosting dinner parties... There's also enough space to keep my YuzuMura.com stuff out of the way of the rest of my life.

Of course, the timing of our move isn't exactly the most convenient possible time... we'll be juggling an attempt to visit family in Idaho Falls for the holidays with packing too much stuff, loading and unloading a truck, and, well, work...

Doing the unthinkable in Tokyo

As a 6'3" tall American with a slightly larger than desirable waistline, there's one thing I've never been crazy enough to seriously undertake in Tokyo.

I've never gone shopping for clothing.

Sure, I've been in department stores, but usually in the food sections or the dinnerware and lacquerware sections. I've never been brave enough to look for clothing, on the assumption that sizes suitable for my frame would not be easy to find, and that prices would be stratospheric.

In desperation, I once bought a few pairs of socks in a department store in Seoul, but that's as close as I've gotten. (Note: if you have any antipathy toward being heavily branded, don't look for socks in Seoul).

In an attempt to be somewhat frugal for the last 8 months or so, I haven't bought any clothing. By "haven't bought any clothing," I mean precisely that: no socks, no shirts, no shoes, no service. Not once. Even my book-buying impulses had been mostly curtailed. My single pricy indulgence has been dining out for dinner once or twice a week.

The last time I bought any new clothing was when Hiromi was visiting in Vancouver, and I desperately needed a shirt to go with the suit that I had brought in anticipation of dinner at West.

The problem with not buying any clothing is that I had precisely two pairs of shorts suitable for use anywhere more public than the gym, and Tokyo is hot in August. Really hot. In Seattle, I can get buy on two pairs of shorts in the summer, as I tend to use them no more than twice a week.

So we went searching for shorts. I found some that looked decent at Muji, but the largest size available was, shall we say, snug. As soon as I lose 20 lbs or so, I can consider coming back.

Most other department store options we tried were similarly impossible, including outposts of Seattle brands like Columbia Sportswear and Kavu. "Extra-large" corresponded to a 34" waist. I've had a 34" waist, back when I considered myself reasonably skinny. But it's been a few years.

We did find one suitable pair of shorts at the department store, but it was nearly $80. With only about 4-6 weeks of "shorts weather" left when I return to Seattle, I balked a bit.

So finally, I did something else I've never considered. I looked for something at the Gap. For mostly irrational reasons, I've never been motivated to look for anything there.

XL here was actually the same as XL in US shops, so I managed to comfortably fit into three of four pairs of shorts that I tried. Sale pricing reduced the sticker shock considerably, and Japan's lower sales tax made the price roughly equivalent to what I'd expect to pay for similar items at home.

It's rather sad that I've come all this way only to find myself shopping at the Gap, but you do what you've got to do. Plus I did find some plain T-shirts and socks for a reasonable price at Muji, which I've been going through at twice the usual rate thanks to the warm weather, so I've stocked up a bit.

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Okinawan Lunch at Yurakucho

Hiromi planned lunch with a few friends at Yurakucho yesterday, so we went a little early and shopped a bit at the Wakayama specialty shop and an Okinawan store to pick up some umeboshi, awamori, and various snacks and treats.

After browsing shelves full of tofuyo, Hiromi was in the mood to eat something Ryukyuan, so it was a fortunate coincidence that our group stumbled on an Okinawan restaurant in a nearby department store building.

Indulging my vegetarian habit in Japan is essentially impossible, at least with any degree of rigidity. But Okinawan food is even trickier. (More impossible?)

With a heavy reliance on pork wherever an excuse can be made to use it, even a basic noodle dish is served with hefty portions of tender braised pork belly (buta no kaku ni). Hiromi orders Okinawan soba as part of a set meal, and discovers that Okinawan soba is somewhere between ramen and udon in texture, and is made entirely of wheat flour, with poetic license much like "chuuka soba" or "yakisoba."

The buta no kaku ni is lighter in color than the typical Japanese version, thanks largely to eithered reduced quantities or the complete absence of soy sauce.

Normally, making substitutions at lunch is impossible, as it severely messes with the kitchen's mojo during the business lunch hour. But we came a little after 1pm, and the restaurant said they'd be happy to cook something off the dinner menu if I couldn't find something suitable from the lunch menu.

So we ordered the closest things to vegetarian dishes we could find.

First up was nigana no shiro-ae, made with a bitter herb indigenous to Okinawa. Nigana is a somewhat ambiguous term in Japan, but in Okinawa it seems to refer to one local species of plant. I was expecting this to be more of a vegetable dish than a tofu dish, but considering the intensity of the flavor, the proportion of tofu to herb made sense.

I can't quite place the flavor, but it would be somewhat fair to compare it to arugula or maybe dandelion greens.

Another dish, recommended by one of Hiromi's friends, was a soft tofu dish called yuri-doufu, somewhere between oborodoufu and kinugoshi-doufu in texture. It's quite similar to Korean-style soon-dubu. The soup it's served with is far from vegetarian, but was mild in flavor.

Nigana tofu and yuri doufu

I had another dish called hirayachi, an Okinawan-style pancake comparable to a the simplest Korean pajeon, but described in Japanese as "Okinawan okonomiyaki."


Unlike pajeon, the hirayachi I had did not contain scallions. The Okinawan dish is often made with nira, usually translated as garlic chives, an essential ingredient for making gyoza. I think there may have been a few pieces of tiny dried shrimp in the batter or maybe finely chopped kamaboko, and it's topped with katsuobushi, but I retain a sense of humor when dining out, especially in Japan.

The pancake is served with substantial portion of a mild soy-based dipping sauce, much less salty than the typical Korean equivalent. It's very simple, and since it's so thin, it probably just takes a few minutes to cook, but I like it.

We lingered long enough that it was already coffee hour when we finished, so we stopped and had some espresso-based drinks at some concept chain from the Illy brand. I ordered some odd (but actually nice) stuffed marshmallow concoctions, one made with tomato jam and the other flavored with coffee, as a little sweet thing.

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