Lego Castle Adventure COSI premiere

Yesterday, I got to spend the day in Columbus at COSI (The Center of Science and Industry) for the preview of the Lego Castle Adventure. As a family, we love COSI and visit every chance we get. At our last visit, I saw the poster announcing the arrival of the Lego exhibit, and mentally marked it on my calendar. When I got an email a few weeks ago with the invitation to attend, I was sort of excited estatic.

We arrived this morning bright and early with Liam and my nephew, Bradley. The boys and my husband were practically running into the building to get to the exhibit. The boys loved that there were building stations set up all over the exhibit and Matt loved that there were replicas of historical castles built from Legos throughout. I really liked that not only were Lego replicas and opportunities to build (and with a few different sizes of Legos), but there was a castle set up, costumes and even a little jousting set.  It was really well done and fun for all of us!

We checked out a few of the other exhibits including the Gadgets, Life (where I got to meet Tiffany of the Nature Moms Blog!!!)and Progress. We don’t usually go to the Gadgets exhibit because it’s not really something that Sylvi has been able to participate in, so it was neat to see this through the eyes of a 3-year-old.

All those photos? Made from jelly beans!!

COSI not only has this fantastic exhibit right now, they also upgraded the Little Kid Space.  There are new activities for the little ones (including a great new train track!), but the Big Kid Space also has new activities and even some experiments to occupy their brains while the little ones get the chance to do something exactly on their level.

If you live in Ohio, or within a fair driving distance to Columbus, COSI would make for a great weekend trip. There are so many fun exhibits I haven’t even told you about, but I figure you’ll just need to make your own trip there to discover them for yourself! I’m very appreciative to COSI for the opportunity to come and view this exhibit before the rest of the other Lego fans out there. In case you weren’t aware, if you have a reciprocal membership with the Association of Children’s Museums, you can get in for free (although you’ll have to pay for parking since the lots are not owned by COSI, but it’s only $5).

Fall and a simple side dish

With the arrival of Fall, I find myself craving foods with deep color.  It’s as though the trees I can see changing subtly tell me that I need carrots and cranberries and spinach. I experimented with a few options for side dishes and while I like all my recipes, this one is by far my favorite.

You can change up the veggies according to your taste. The first time I made this dish, I used carrots, apples, onions and spinach. Since then, I’ve added in a parsnip as well. It amazes me how when you take the time to cook root vegetables slowly in butter and allow them to caramelize, they are so sweet and tender. Once the vegetables are cooked, the addition of red wine vinegar and soy sauce just finishes the amazing flavors and makes it so you can’t stop refilling your plate.

Autumnal Orzo

  • 1 cup dry orzo pasta
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cups vegetables, diced (carrots, parsnips, apples, spinach, kale, squash; any combo that you like!)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
Boil a stockpot of water and add the dry pasta. Cook for about 7 minutes and taste for doneness.  Drain the pasta and set aside.
In a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions and veggies. When they start to get tender, add the garlic,black pepper, dry mustard and paprika. Stir to toss and then lower the burner temperature to low and let the pan contents caramelize.
Add the cooked pasta to the pan and stir to combine.  Pour in the vinegar and soy sauce and stir again.  Serve as a side or cold the next morning as breakfast… if there’s any left, of course!

 

Pin-spiration

When Pinterest first burst on the scene, I remember reading everyone’s Facebook posts and thinking it was so silly.  Why on Earth did I need another social media site?  And then, the posts of jubilation over the latest craft/recipe/trend switched ones moaning about how they wasted so much time online already and Pinterest was such a vortex for them with all the pretty pictures and ideas and recipes… And yet, somehow, I started an account against the warnings.  Why?  Simple. There are pictures.

Go Reds!!!

On Friday afternoon, it was dreary and chilly and I needed pumpkin.  Badly. During quiet time, I flipped on the computer and started my list. First up, cookies!!

I made of batch of Pumpkin Snickerdoodles and a batch of Oatmeal Butterscotch cookies. Pennies on a Platter, I tip my hat to you. The oatmeal cookies were the perfect amount of sweet and I took the snickerdoodles with us yesterday on a trip to see the Cincinnati Reds play with friends. In an effort to not devour 4 dozen cookies in a weekend, I froze half of each batch.

While I was baking cookies, I threw a pound and a half of raw almonds in the slow cooker with 10 Tbsp melted butter and 2/3 cup powdered sugar. I kept seeing ideas for sugared almonds all over Pinterest, but didn’t want to tie up my oven for hours, so I cooked them in an uncovered slow cooker for about 2 1/2 hours. The kitchen smelled heavenly between the butter and sugar in the slow cooker (bonus: caramel on the bottom of the cooker!) and the cookies in the oven. When I took the almonds out of the slow cooker, I placed them on a lined baking sheet and sprinkled a mix of cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and cloves over top and then mixed them up with my hands. So. Good.

I also made a smaller batch with chili powder, salt, pepper and paprika for Matt. I’m trying to jazz up those packed lunches he gets from home. Do you feel like you pack the most boring lunches? Gosh, I do! I bought Matt a new lunch box and that didn’t even help me feel like my lunch skills were very good yet. Perhaps I should try the Bento box thing?

Today, we started with pumpkin pancakes.  It was supposed to be Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, but we got home from the game past my bedtime and I couldn’t imagine starting dough at 1030pm… I’ll save it for another day. We ended with meat loaf, fried potatoes and apple pie. It was a great weekend, but starting tomorrow morning, I’ll be at the gym working off all these calories. And then cleaning my house. Amazing how quickly chaos accumulates when Mama is in the kitchen. Amazing.

Happy birthday, happy memory

Seven years ago, I made a lasagna, salad and fudge marble cake for my mother’s birthday. Sunday night, I made it again. As Liam gets older, he’s started to ask questions about why I don’t have a Mama. Everyone he knows does and it’s really a very fair question, don’t you think? Although I know how to help a child deal with a death, I’m a little intimidated with my own child.

I’ve been aching over how to have a healthy memory of my mother and tell my children stories about her for the past three years. I knew the day was coming when he looked me in the eye asked why I’m alone. I’m not alone, I want to tell him. I want to remind him about “Paca Mike” and tell him for the 1000th time that’s my daddy. But when you’re only three, Mama is your world and the concept of being without one is just beyond you.

This year, instead of spending the week of my mother’s birthday immersed in misery, I decided to celebrate her. If not for my parents, I wouldn’t be alive to have the opportunity to be who I am now. If not for my mother, I wouldn’t have the skills I do to run a house confidently. And if not for my mother, I don’t know that I would love being a mother as much as I do. My mother always made a huge deal out of birthdays, so it seemed fitting to celebrate a life instead of mourn a death.

The first cake I ever baked my husband was a marble cake. I used boxed mix and because I wanted to make it a double layer cake, I bought 2 mixes, made them separately and poured them into 2 cake pans to bake. Did you figure out my mistake yet? For those of you who don’t read directions before you do something, 1 box of cake mix = 2 layers of cake. Incidentally, 4 layers of cake do not fit into 2 cake pans. There was a fire. And then I panicked a made another cake. It also was a disaster. Mom asked me to make her a marble cake for that last birthday and I also made it from a boxed mix. That cake was gorgeous, perfectly swirled and 100% gluten free.

This cake, however, is loaded with gluten and not from a box. This is a recipe from the Joy of Cooking, but I do not use melted chocolate as it is written. I prefer to use about half a cup of cocoa powder. This makes the chocolate portion set more solidly on the white batter and makes a cleaner swirl. I iced my cake with a cream cheese icing and mixed in a handful of melted chocolate chips so it had a little bit of a fudge-like flavor, too.

Chocolate Marble Cake

  • 3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. dark cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 375. Cream together the butter, vanilla and sugar. Add in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then add to the creamed mixture.  Your batter will be very stiff at this point, so start streaming in the milk until all the batter is eventually mixed and smooth. Remove about 1 cup of the cake batter and whisk in the cocoa powder.  Split the batter between 2 buttered 9-inch round cake pans.  Drop the chocolate batter by the spoonfuls on to the top of the vanilla batter and then using a clean butter knife swirl the chocolate batter through the vanilla. Don’t over-mix so the colors stay clear. Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
I love the recipe from Pinch My Salt for cream cheese icing and I use it almost exclusively. I made a full batch and stirred in the melted chocolate chips. (I used about 1/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.)
So the reason for this post that is absurdly long and perhaps the most uplifting is to tell you that in the case of a loss, you don’t have to spend the passing birthdays in misery. I will always miss the fact that I won’t get to share moments of my life with my mom. And I will probably always wish at least a dozen times a day that I could call her to tell her something the kids did, or ask for advice or share a new recipe. By celebrating her life with my kids I get to remember her as the woman who taught me to celebrate every birthday as though it were your only one.

Giveaway: Plastic Free Book $20 ARV {9.29; US}

This is a joint giveaway with Pug in the Kitchen and Natural Parents Network. You may enter at one site only. Please find the section marked “Win it!” for the mandatory entry and optional bonus entries.

My Plastic Free Life is offering our readers a giveaway of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, a value of $19.95.

In this book the author, Beth Terry, shares with us her discoveries on the road to a life independent of plastic.

From our reviewer, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen:

I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks on the road to my green and natural life is plastic. I feel like everywhere I turn, there it is. I’ve made choices in recent years that have eliminated a lot of the plastics in my home, like purchasing glass and stainless steel tableware for my small children instead of brightly colored, licensed character melamine sets. I use cloth diapers and proudly place my worn recycling bins on the street corner twice a month. Our bins typically contain papers or boxes, the occasional tin can or glass bottle, but only random plastics find their way in. We don’t buy soda, liquid creamer or bottled water. I should be proud of myself, right?

However, as I read through Plastic Free by Beth Terry, I became more and more aware of all the areas I’ve let slide in the last years since having kids. Beth has a wonderful style of writing that just energized me for my future. Prior to having kids, the amount of plastic consumption in my home was minimal . . . at that time, I would have gladly signed up for the challenge and taken photos of my puny bags of waste.

I was going to take a photo for you for this review, but it was just too overwhelming. And even counting all of the plastic that comes immediately to mind, I am sure I’ve missed many items. I’ve slipped back into the rut of not taking my containers to the grocery for my deli cheese. No, I’m not buying the individually wrapped kind, but even as they zip that pile of cheese into the deli bag, I cringe. I can be doing so much better.

One of my favorite things about Beth’s book is the tone. As someone who has been working at this lifestyle for years and has really made major changes in her life, she could very well look each of us in the eye and tell us to get our act together. She could be condescending and derisive, explaining how one can cut their plastic usage, but she isn’t. Instead, she has warm, inviting lists of things you can change in your own life. Things you could change but perhaps hadn’t yet thought of. I think my biggest take away from this book was that she mentioned specific companies that will take back their products to reuse or recycle them.

  • Preserve’s Gimme 5 Program: This company will not only take their own used products back, but they will also take #5 stamped plastic tubs, Brita pitcher filter cartridges, Tom’s of Maine deodorant containers and Seventh Generation baby wipe tubs.
  • HP’s Print Cartridge Recycling Program: Participating retailers will take used cartridges to be recycled into new HP products.
  • Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste Tube Recycling: Mail your used tubes back to Tom’s of Maine and they will be down cycled into packaging materials!
  • Electronics Take Back Programs all over the US and Canada

The beauty of Beth’s book is that it inspired me to action. Through all the helpful information, the tone, and the photos, I was challenged to sit back and reevaluate what I’m doing in my home. I even called our trash company to ask what happened to my recycling once it was picked up.

In chapter 4, Beth talks about the details of what recycling actually is here in the states. It made me wonder, so I asked. The poor woman on the phone was taken aback when I countered her scripted answer to my question on where the recycling goes, with another question digging for more information. I was put on hold for 10 minutes while she chatted with her superiors. In my town, the recycling is picked up and taken to a processing facility like the one described in the aforementioned Chapter 4. Now I know that our processing facility only sorts and then redistributes the plastics to buyers who then take the plastic and ship it off to China (primarily). You see, although I was curious, I wasn’t going to ask until Beth talked about it.

I think the book itself is just lovely to look at. Did you know that in all those glossy book jackets, covers and even the thread in the bindings, books are loaded with plastic? Skyhorse Publishing did a lovely job working with Beth Terry to make sure if there was any plastic in the book, it was as minimal as can be. The result is a book that is so eye-catching, I want to use it as decoration now!

Overall, I felt like I learned from Plastic Free in more ways than one. Some of the information that Beth provided as far as what you can do with your household cleaners and personal care products to reduce your plastic usage I felt I already knew, but I appreciated the reminders. The take back programs and some of the product links were new to me. Above all, I appreciated all her hard work and diligence to tackle a project so daunting. I’m inspired and challenged to look at my life and find ways to eliminate plastics and re-purpose what is already here.

BUY IT!

You can purchase your own copy of Plastic Free at BuyGreen.com (where your book is guaranteed to arrive in plastic-free packaging) or Amazon.com.

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For your own chance to win a copy of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, enter by leaving a comment and using our Rafflecopter system below.

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Information About Our Reviewer:

Laura is a stay at home mama to two spunky little ones. She’s learning day by day with her family as they strive to live as naturally as possible. She’s also cooking from scratch, hanging cloth diapers on the line (in full view of the neighborhood!), growing and preserving their food, breastfeeding, homebirthing, and spending lots of time in the great outdoors. Laura loves to learn and her family provides more than enough for her to draw from! She shares what she learns at Pug in the Kitchen.

Fitness Finale

The last 12 weeks have certainly flown by. When I started the Go Green Get Fit Challenge at the beginning of summer, I anticipated doing before and after shots. I was excited to share how much weight I’ve lost. I also miscalculated the length of the challenge and thought I’d be completing my sprint triathalon before we wrapped up. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted my goals to be and how I’d meet them.

I started out the summer enthusiastic and set lofty goals for myself. I pushed through sleep deprivation, hectic schedules, absurd heat and poor motivation. I ran with people and I ran alone. I cut calories and added so. much. water to my diet. I started biking again. I bought a swim suit and went down slides at a water park.

I decided to not weigh myself at the end of this challenge, because although there is a radical difference in my body, muscle weighs a lot more than fat and I didn’t feel like being bummed by a number. But here are a few details for you:

  • I bought a swim suit two sizes smaller than I bought just last summer.
  • A t-shirt of my husband’s that barely fit around my hips and rear earlier this spring, hangs off me now.
  • The Mommy and Me Fitness shirt that was tight on me this time last year, looks absurd.
  • The two-a-day workouts were so hard the first few weeks, but I really learned to like them… when it wasn’t still 97 degrees at 730pm that is!
  • I will have buy new pants to work out in, since my usual ones don’t even stay up now!
  • I catch myself loading the kids in the jogging stroller and then automatically stretching… even if I’m just walking and not actually running.
  • I think about how I get a greater workout out of doing everyday things. When I go downstairs to do laundry, I run up and down the stairs a few times instead of just schlepping back and forth. I am the crazy lady doing calf raises in the grocery checkout line.
  • I most definitely am the mom who races her children everywhere now, doing extra laps between the start and the finish so they can win.
My journey to Ernie fitness started in the early part of the year and the GGGF Challenge has only served to continue my rediscovered love of an active lifestyle. I say this because last October, I joined a weight loss challenge and lasted less than 2 weeks. A year ago, I wasn’t able to keep up in class and I didn’t want to go because I was so out of shape compared to everyone else there, never mind all those motivational posters about how great it was that I even bothered to get off the couch in the first place. So I gave up and quit. Because I felt bad about myself.
I wouldn’t say that I feel awesome about myself… I’m realistic. I’m pleased with how I look based on the quality/quantity of work I’ve put into my exercise. I also have continuing goals set. And I’m just fine with it that way!
Don’t forget the grand prize drawing for the Go Green Get Fit Challenge is going to wrap up pretty soon. You don’t want to miss out on this amazing prize package, so enter now via Rafflecopter!

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Yes, I’m still here…

So here we are… it’s Thursday and I’m still scrambling to pull myself together. Several years ago, I had reconstructive surgery on my sinuses. Actually, the surgeon made sinuses. Mine were 80% smaller than average and I was constantly sick or suffering from a drippy nose. Since the surgery, I’ve really only had minor sniffles here and there and 1 maybe 2 major sinus issues. And I can actually breathe. Which is pretty handy, you know.

Anyway. I haven’t been sick since last October with anything of note. At that time, I started getting regular chiropractic care and educating myself on homeopathics. I found myself wishing I had scheduled my chiropractic appointment for this week since I really did think it would relieve the pressure in my head, but I didn’t, so I got out my homeopathics. Wondering what’s in my “medicine” cabinet? I wrote a post for the Natural Parents Network recently that includes a wonderful shot of my 1950s powder blue bathroom tiling… let’s all pretend it’s a lovely, neutral Earth tone instead. Ahem. Anyway, I wasn’t sure what I should be taking right away, except that I felt so awful I thought anything would be helpful!

I started out with local honey and lemon juice to coat my throat. And 156 oz. of water in 6 hours. I layered on as many clothes as I could stand didn’t wear deodorant so that when my fever broke, my body would be able to get rid of toxins without any pores being blocked (that I could help). I took as much zinc as I could stand chewing and drank a cup of hot herbal tea. And then, I caved and took some Dayquil since I was so miserable and it seemed that nothing was helping.

Here’s the thing with homeopathics: if you are taking the wrong treatment for whatever ails you, nothing will happen. By nothing, I mean, you’ll feel exactly the same. There aren’t side effects, so it will seem as though you would have been better off eating 2 pieces of candy, instead of the pellets. I often use this homeopathic site so help me figure out what I need to take. It’s similar to the symptom checker on WebMD, only it’s natural. And very detailed. If you looked at my homeopathics post, you’ll notice that I have a remedy for colds (Kali Mur) and one for thick yellow mucus (Puslsatilla), and you might wonder why.

Trust me when I tell you that the Kali Mur did nothing for me. Several doses and nothing. This morning, though, I woke up and realized that all the pressure in my head was changing and my sinuses were draining. I switched to the Puslsatilla and I can type coherently. Puslsatilla is also a key ingredient in the Earache Tablets from Hylands. My poor husband started with ear pain last week that wouldn’t go away. He actually looked like he was in pain. He started taking the tablets around lunch time and within 24 hours, the pain had completely subsided from one ear and the other was greatly reduced. It’s been almost 48 hours since he started taking the tablets and he’s pain free and feels normal once again.

Homeopathy is a science that is often ignored by medical professionals and 98% of my friends. Prior to having children, I had very limited exposure to homeopathic medicines, even though I grew up with parents who were very pro-natural healing. Liam had 10 ear infections during his first year of life. After his third antibiotic, I told his doctor I really didn’t feel comfortable giving him another round and I really wanted to try going to the local health food store to see if they had anything that could help. Now, I don’t even blink when I see symptoms cropping up in my children and pull out our bowl of remedies.

All this to say that while I’m not opposed to allopathic medicines, I’d rather take the natural options. For one thing, that Dayquil tasted awful and I couldn’t scrub the film off my teeth to my satisfaction. If you had seen my pathetic self yesterday, you’d be shocked at how I appear today. I’m not 100%, but I’m better. Considering yesterday, I’ll take better… even if you think homeopathics are just in my head. Lots of people do. Just not me.

What’s your favorite natural cold/flu/earache remedy? I’d love to hear from you!

It does cut the mustard

I’ve waited a few months since making this recipe to post about it.  I’ve been trying mustard for a few years now, but never knew that you may want to let it be for about 8 weeks before you start to slather it on sandwiches because it is wicked hot fresh out of the pan. But now… it is perfect.  Now I feel safe using it as my standby ingredient in recipes and am really pleased with the taste.

This recipe was unintentionally adapted from The Organic Family Cookbook. I say unintentionally because I wasn’t going to doctor the recipe at all, but I was unable to find brown mustard seeds, so instead of splitting the volume between yellow and brown mustard seeds, it’s all yellow here. The consistency is coarse, but it’s thick so I actually like it better than store bought since it sticks to the crevices of your bread and doesn’t ooze all over the place.

Simple Mustard (by Anni Daulter)

  • 2 Tbsp. dry mustard
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. white vinegar
  • 1 c. whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 c. water
  • scant 1/4 c. raw honey
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, mix the dry mustard, eggs and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat after 30 seconds and simmer until the mixture is thick.  (Keep a close eye on the pan as the mixture bubbles up and then pops, spraying out of the pan.) Cover and store in the fridge overnight.
In a glass bowl, combine the mustard seeds and water.  Cover and let sit overnight.
In a food processor, combine the two mixures after they have rested over night.  Puree until smooth, adding the honey, salt and pepper to taste (you may want to add more than I did.) Store in an airtight container in your fridge.
*Notes: This recipe make 4 cups of mustard, which is a LOT. I gave at least half of mine away.  Also the author notes that it will last for 4 weeks, but since I allowed mine to mellow for 8 weeks before using, I don’t agree.  In fact, I think the longer it has sat in my fridge the better it has become, but that’s my opinion only.  Adapt as you need!

Corny

I feel like the summer just flew by.  Not in a bad way and not really in a good way either.  I woke up this morning and realized that tomorrow the last school in the district starts.  I am starting Liam’s preschool schedule this week and I’m pretty darn excited. He’s just thrilled to have a no-holds barred pass at the crayons and paper while I am over the moon for the opportunity to teach him more and more.

Now that Fall is coming, I’m also excited that my shelves are filled with home-canned produce for me to pick from once the bounty from the garden is gone. There are dozens of jars of canned corn in my basement. Corn must be canned in a pressure cooker and for this reason, I only just learned to do it last year.  I was still just as anxious over the process this year and I was last.  Something about scalding hot steam… anyway, canned corn is delicious and so much more convient than thawing out a quart sized block of frozen corn. One caveat though, home canned corn does not have the same florescent color as those commerically done.  The taste is the same, but the color is not so don’t be put off if you choose to try this method on your own.

I adapted this recipe from A Farmgirl Dabbles and am very pleased with the result.  Lower fat and sodium content and a much less guilty side dish to go along with those end of summer grilled meals. It does keep well in the fridge for a few days, and it’s a wonderful comfort food!

Scalloped Corn

  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 c 2% milk
  • 1 c. shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 c. diced peppers (hot or sweet, which ever strikes your fancy)
  • 2 pints canned corn
  • salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onions, peppers and garlic together until tender and fragrant.  Add in the corn and heat through. Then, pour the mixture into a oven proof casserole dish or bowl and set aside. Using the same skillet you cooked the onions, etc. in, melt the butter until it crackles.  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until it is combined and thick.  Slowly stream in the milk and whisk until it thins out the sauce (you are making a roux) and then add in the shredded cheese bit by bit until it is thick and cheesy and gooey. (If you need, you can add in a bit more milk to thin the sauce out, but I preferred it thick.) Pour the sauce over the corn and mix so the corn is coated.  Taste and season accordingly.  Place the completed dish in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes to brown the cheese.  Serves 8-10 as a side dish.