Two weeks ago I came back from a great holiday in France with two fabulous “souvenirs”:

  1. The realization that I just don’t have the time to work as much as I did the last few months.
  2. This recipe for beautiful breakfast bread.

It is amazing how easily you can become so busy with “have to” that you too loose sight of “want to”.  A few busy days turn into busy weeks and suddenly the habit has established itself and you are just busy, busy, busy….busy.

But going on holiday broke that habit. Now that I am back, I suddenly feel I can take the time again to read, to cook or to do-nothing-in-particular. And I can tell you it feels so much better than doing only the things I feel I “have to”.

So, for no reason/occasion/purpose whatsoever, I made this bread this weekend.

But let me take a step back to tell you how I came about this recipe: during our holiday we spent a night in Burgundy. What I remember most about our little b&b, Les Clos d’Orret was the joint breakfast – the tasty local produce, the fun conversation and the beautiful breads. I emailed our hostess after our return and she was gracious enough to share her recipe with me. What I thought was a brioche, without the sugar, turns out to be a “Tresse au Beurre”- a  bread recipe she brought with her from Switzerland where it is traditionally eaten on Sunday morning

What an easy loaf to make: some mixing, kneading and resting and you end up with pretty bread that has chewy crust and a silky, tender crumb. Lovely topped with some jam or cream cheese and fresh fruit.

I thought it was best the day I baked it but still enjoyed it on the second. I am sure it would make a great toast as well (But I had gobbled it all up before thinking about trying – guess I will need to make another loaf soon).

Bon appétit!

Les Clos d'Orret or where I discovered "La Tresse au Beurre" and...

Les Clos d’Orret or where I discovered “La Tresse au Beurre” and…

...where I learned that, close to its source, the majestic Seine is a little river

…where I learned that, close to its source, the majestic Seine is a little river

Ingredients
1 loaf

300ml milk
1 tsp sugar
20g fresh yeast (or 10g instant dried yeast)*
500g all-purpose flour
50g butter, very soft at room temperature or melted
1 tsp salt
a little egg yolk

 

Recipe

  1. Slightly warm the milk.
  2. Add the sugar and yeast and allow to stand 5 min.
  3. Add the flour, soft butter and salt. Knead by hand for about 5 min into a soft, pliable dough.
  4. Place the dough in a bowl, cover and allow to rest in a warm place until it has doubled in size (I let it rise about 1 hour)
  5. Form the dough into the desired shape.
    I decided to make three tresses and braid them. I placed the bread in a loaf tin.
    I only searched on-line afterwards and got the impression that it is more traditional to make two tresses. You lay them to form a cross and then twist them together before placing the dough on a baking tray.
  6. Allow the bread to rise again. The instruction was “until it is big enough”, which I decided was after 45 min.
  7. Preheat oven to 220C.
  8. Brush or spray the bread with some egg yolk.
  9. Bake about 30 min or until it is golden and done. (Test by tapping the bottom with your knuckle to check the bread sounds hollow.)
  10. Transfer to a wire rack to allow to cool.

Tips & Variations
* Although you can make this bread using dried yeast it will taste better using fresh


Serve with

  • Jam
  • Cream cheese and fresh fruit

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Juicy, tasty morsels with a little spice

Juicy, tasty morsels with a little spice

Finally I have dug myself out from under the pile of work that filled my last few months. Finally, finally I have a little time and energy to post a recipe again – I have been missing it!

So to celebrate the occasion I threw myself a tiny little party. All very private and exclusive: just me and a plate of nibbles.

I got off from work much too late to buy fresh ingredients. But my mad working hours have made me rather good at stocking up the freezer. So I grabbed some frozen fish and prawns and within no time I had these lovely fish cakes sizzling in the oven. (Actually I even grabbed the coconut milk from the freezer – whenever I have some left-over I freeze the rest in an ice-cube tray and then pop the cubes into a freezer bag).

The amazing thing is this really is a store-cupboard/freezer dish – you need nothing fresh (I do admit I would suggest adding the fresh coriander, but I have done it without plenty of times).

I’ll be honest these are not quite authentic Thai fish cakes, but they are so tasty and healthy so I have stuck with these. ( I love them as a starter or side to zucchini “Pad Thai”)

By the way, you can play with the texture of these by adjusting the baking time. Baking them longer makes them a little chewy and more like the fish cakes I have eaten in Thailand. If you cook them for a shorter time they are more succulent and airier.  Either way, they are fabulous.

The only thing I have to admit…..this recipe is not coming to you very ‘fresh’. It has been over a week month since I threw myself that I-finally-have-time-to-blog-again party. I guess I still need to do some work on the recipe for the perfect free – and work time balance.

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Ingredients
(a hardly altered from the blog ‘45 Degrees‘)
Serves 2

350 g  white-fleshed fish fillets( frozen is fine) (I have used cod, red mullet)
150 g uncooked, peeled prawns (frozen is fine)
2 tbsp ( low-fat)  coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp chili powder
1/3 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp brown sugar
optional: 1 kaffir lime leaves (I find mine in the freezer section of my Asian supermarket)
1 spring onions
small handful fresh coriander
2cm piece ginger,
3 cloves garlic
1 red chili (alternatively 1/2 tsp dried crushed chili)

 

Recipe

  1. Rinse the fish and prawns and pat as dry as possible.
  2. Cut in chunks and place in food processor.
  3. In a cup combine coconut milk, fish sauce, chili powder, cumin, coriander and brown sugar. Pour over the fish.
  4. Use scissors to cut the lime leaf into strips.
  5. Slice spring onion.
  6. Chop coriander.
  7. Grate the ginger.
  8. Mince the garlic
  9. Chop the chili.
  10. Add all the above ingredients to the fish.
  11. Pulse to create a thick paste.
  12. Use your hands to form the paste into little balls (about the size of a golf ball). Press to make a thick disk. (Tip: wet your hands to make the rolling easier. If your paste is too wet you can add a little flour or breadcrumbs.)
  13. Refrigerate the cakes for 10 min (you can scip this step but I find it makes for juicier cakes).
  14. Preheat the oven to 190C.
  15. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Place cakes on tray.
  16. Bake 15 min. Turn and bake another 10-15 min. The cakes will still be quite moist. If you prefer a chewier cake bake for a little longer).
  17. Serve with a dipping sauce or Sweet chili sauce, a lime wedge and a few coriander leaves.

Serve with

  • Plain as a starter
  • As a side to zucchini Pad Thai

 

Tips

  • All the ingredients can be stored in the freezer (and the coriander can be left out.)
  • Left-over coconut milk can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then stored in a freezer bag.

Related recipes

All you have to do is stir together some ingredients and then let the oven do the work

All you have to do is stir together some ingredients and then let the oven do the work


Have you noticed that when you sit still time seems to rush by even faster than when you are occupied.
The last few days just raced past as I did nothing much more than sit on the couch with a box of kleenex. I caught a cold – not nasty enough to tie me to bed, but bad enough to keep me from going into the office. So the last few days were spent half lying on my couch,  doing a little work, browsing recipes and doing not very much else.
And somehow the hours just rushed by.

By the second day I had to do something to slow down time. Also I had run out of bread and felt starving (I always feel ravenous when I have a cold). Heading outside just did not seem an option (sniffle, cough). So I decided to find a bread recipe that required less effort than going to the shops.

I have a lovely recipe for a sturdy whole wheat bread that takes about 30 minutes to rise and 45 to bake. But even the wait for it to rise seemed like too much work. So I tried this super quick, super easy recipe. No kneading, no rising, no effort. Not much more than a sift and a stir and you are done.  A quick bake and the result is a fluffy bread with a lovely crunchy crust. The seeds give the bread some texture and a lovely flavour (do not leave them out).

And guess what: as I sipped my tea and bit into a fresh slice of bread with jam – the moment expanded and time slowed down.

Ingredients
(from the blog ‘Cinnamon and Thyme‘)
1 loaf (best eaten the same day)

260 g whole wheat spelt flour

2 full teaspoon baking powder (or cream of tartar)

1/2 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp sunflower seed + 1 tbps for sprinkling
1 tbsp flax seed (ground or whole)
1 tbsp hemp seed (I did not have any so added a little more flax)
250ml (mineral) water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 generous tbsp yoghurt (I used 0% Total Greek yoghurt. The original recipe states sour cream also works)

 Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 190-200C.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
  3. Add the sunflower-, flax- and hemp seeds Stir.
  4. Add water and oil. Mix briefly with a spoon.
  5. Add yoghurt and quickly mix again. The dough will be quite sticky and wet.
  6. Cover a baking sheet with wax proof paper.
  7. Turn the dough out onto the paper and shape into an oval loaf.
  8. Sprinkle with remaining sun flower seeds.
  9. Place the loaf into the oven and bake about 40 (-50) min. Test with a skewer to ensure it is done.
  10. Wrap in a clean kitchen towel and allow to cool on a wire rack.
  11. This bread is best eaten the same day. Should you have some left over the next day you might want to toast it.

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Yes, you read correctly: muffins with lentils! But before I reveal more about this amazing idea for sneaking healthy proteins into your next sweet snack:

Welcome to the New Year! Wishing you all that is good and beautiful for 2015….. which very neatly brings me back to lentils: eating lentils at the beginning of the new year is an Italian custom that associates lentils with prosperity. And although I am in no way Italian, I enjoy symbolic traditions (and lentils). I was searching for a creative new way to prepare them when I stumbled across this recipe, which of course I could not resist. I will admit I was a little doubtful, but (trust me on this) it works!

These muffins are moist, not too sweet, full of flavour (and none of it ‘lentily’) and last but not least they are actually rather healthy: I made them using half whole wheat flour (I have not tried but am sure you can experiment increasing the whole wheat ratio). Also they are made with oil instead of butter. Granted, they contain sugar, but really…… who is going to be thinking about that when they are biting into a muffin that is studded with power packed lentils ;-)

I split the batter in to batches to experiment with frozen cherries, blueberries and raspberries. It was a close call, but I slightly preferred the raspberries because of beautiful contrast between the tart fruit and the rich chocolate. Nonetheless I think I will take the same approach next time and making different batches as I liked the variation.  I am sure there are many more options for filling them: chocolate chips and walnuts, half a plum, a strawberry, poached pear…..By the way, I did make some without any fruit, but I found them a little dry and plain in comparison.

But whatever you add, do not leave out the lentils :-)

Ingredients
(a hardly altered from the blog “Our Fresh Kitchen“)
12 muffins

75g (3/4 cup) green lentils
About 225ml (1 3/4 cup) water
1/2 tsp salt
60g (1/4 cup) all purpose flour
65g (1/4 cup) whole wheat flour
50-60g (1/2 cup) Demerara sugar (NL: donkere basterd suiker DE: dunkeler brauner Zucker)
30g (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
1 generous tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
125ml (1/2 cup) mild tasting olive oil
2 eggs (see “tips” for vegan alternative)
1 tsp vanilla essence
200g frozen fruit (either half blueberries half raspberries or all of one sort)

Recipe

  1. Bring lentils, water and salt to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for about 45 min. Check half way through to ensure there is enough water. Cook until lentils are very soft and all the water is absorbed.
  2. When the lentils are done remove from heat and allow to cool slightly about 10 min.
  3. Preheat oven to 190C (375F).
  4. Prepare your 12 hole muffin tin(s) (If using a silicon muffin tin no grease is needed otherwise you might want to grease your tin or line it with paper cups).
  5. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients – the two types of flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and – soda as well as the chili flakes.
  6. In a second bowl or measuring cup combine oil, egg and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
  7. Stir the cooked lentils into the dry mix and combine. Then stir in the wet ingredients – the oil, egg and vanilla.
  8. Fold fruit into the batter (even if you are using both types of fruit you can easily use the one large bowl to fold blueberries under half the batter and raspberries under the other half)
  9. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.
  10. Bake for about 20-25 min or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (do not over bake as the muffins will dry out).
  11. Remove the muffins from the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack.
  12. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

 

Tips & Variations

  • For a vegan recipe replace the eggs with a mix of 2 tbsp chia seeds and 6 tbsp water that you allow to sit for 5 min until it forms a gel
  • Instead of the berries you can fold in chocolate chips and/or walnuts, half a plum, a strawberry, poached pear

I have linked this post to the novice gardener’s fabulous initiative of hosting fiesta Fridays
https://thenovicegardener.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/fiesta-friday-50/

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I have a new favourite recipe book! Honey & Co – Food from the Middle East.

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What I like most: it is honest and transparent. Pictures, recipes, stories, all – and that makes it inspiring!

The other week I went to an evening of talks on food and business. Interesting stuff about sustainability, awareness etc. But then one of the guests was a food stylist working with one of the major popular food magazines. Quite inadvertently she ended up sharing that more often than not dishes “need a little help” to be photogenic. In the background there was this perfect photograph of a fish en papilotte … which turned out to be pretty only because it was still half raw.
She had to admit that anyone how would cook this dish would be disappointed because the end result could never look anything like the promise of her picture.

I am not sure which was worse, her obvious discomfort when she shared this or the defeatist shoulder shrug that followed: there she was telling us that she had turned her passion for food into a job, but in the same breath she revealed that she was compromising on her dream to scrape together a living.

It was only a small moment, but it seemed like this insincerity sucked up the positive energy in the room and left us all a little deflated.

Insincerity is apparently common enough for me to forget all about it until I read the introduction to this recipe book: every word radiates the authors’ passion for food and their desire to spread this joy. I would have appreciated this book regardless, but at that moment I realized that what can be seen as “just” another recipe book, is at the same time an expression of possibility: the passion to dream, the dedication to create and the strength to live whole-heartedly.

I will not share many recipes from this book as ….. well, you should buy the book J

But to spark your curiosity here is one recipe that should tickle your taste buds. This dish is like nothing I have eaten before:  fish, grapes, cucumber, yoghurt and herbs – just imagine that mix of fresh flavours and contrasting textures – and it takes no time at all to put together. I served it with a quick side of couscous, chickpea and harissa (another recipe from this beautiful book).

What a beautiful gift of inspiration (foodie and otherwise)!

Ingredients
(Hardly altered from ‘Honey & Co. Food from the Middle East’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich)
Serves 2

2 small Lebanese cucumbers (or 1/2-1 regular) about 300g
125g good quality(!) red grapes
about 6 mint leaves
about10g fresh dill
1/2 tbsp lemon juice and a little more to drizzle the fish before serving
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tbsp for frying
100g yoghurt (the authors advise goat. I used ‘Total 0% fat’ Greek yoghurt)
2 filets of sea bream (NL:zeebrasem, DE: Graubarsch?)
 

Recipe

  1. Shave off thin slivers of the cucumber skin lengthwise to give it a stripe pattern.
  2. Cut the cucumber into half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut the cucumber into 2cm slices and place in a large bowl.
  3. Cut the grapes in half. Add to the cucumber
  4. Chop the mint and dill and toss with the cucumber and grapes.
  5. Season the salad with lemon juice, salt, pepper, a little olive oil and mix well
  6. Place a dollop of yoghurt on each plate. Place some of the cucumber salad on/next to the yoghurt.
  7. Heat the remaining olive oil in a thick based pan. Place the fish in the pan, skin side down.
  8. If you like crispy skin: cook about 4 min on the skin. Alternatively cook 2 min, flip and cook another 1-2 min.
  9. Place the fish on top of the salad on your plates.
  10. Drizzle with lemon juice.*

 

 Tips & Variations

* the original recipe has you put the juice of 1/4 of a lemon in the pan with the fish and let it sizzle before plating. Personally I found the lemon flavour too strong. 

Serve with

  • Couscous with chickpeas and harissa (same recipe book)

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Celebrate the season in style by sipping a warm glass of Halloween blood

Celebrate the season in style by sipping a warm glass of Halloween blood


A moment ago we were still enjoying the carefree warmth of long summer days and suddenly the nights are turning long again. By late afternoon the shadows already begin to creep up. By early evening an inky blackness has spread. And as every child knows danger lurks in the dark; monsters, ghouls and unimaginable horror. All of a sudden it is Halloween again – the marker of the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death.

Time to usher in the winter season and to celebrate an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.

Kick off your Halloween party with these elegant little “blood” shots as appetizer. To stay in the theme serve them with some black grissini.

Should you have already had your Halloween celebrations there is no need to wait until next year to enjoy this little treat. These beetroot shots are a stylish amuse for any dinner party – great for the festive season that is right on our doorstep. (Although in that case I would leave out the plastic spiders….)

Not only do these little shots look stunning and taste fantastic, they can be prepared ahead and can either kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen for up to a month in advance.

 

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Ingredients
(I have made these shots for years and have no idea where I found this recipe or who I have to thank for it)
About 1 liter which makes 20 glasses of 50ml

Optional: black plastic spiders
1 bunch (15g) fresh tarragon
200ml yoghurt (use a liquid
2 red onion
3 tbsp light brown sugar (NL: gele basterdsuiker)
75ml red wine
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 liter vegetable stock (hot)
500g cooked or roasted beets*
Salt, pepper

Recipe

  1. Bring some water to the boil and pour over the plastic spiders to clean them.
  2. Chop the tarragon and blend all but 2 tbsp with the yoghurt.
  3. Optional: place a spider half-way in each ice cube.
  4. Spread the yoghurt in an ice cube tray, cover with cling film and allow to freeze.
  5. Peel and finely chop the onion.
  6. Place the onion in a pot and add the sugar. Cover with a lid and cook for 10min on a medium flame. Keep the lid on the pot and shake once in a while.
  7. Add the red wine and vinegar. Cook until it reaches a syrupy consistency.
  8. Peel the beetroot, cut into small cubes and add to the pan.
  9. Pour in the hot stock.
  10. Add the 2 tbsp of tarragon you reserved. Allow all to cook gently for about 15min.
  11. Blend smooth using an (immersion) blender.
  12. Pass the puree though a fine meshed sieve.
  13. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  14. Serve the soup in small (shot) glasses with an ice cube.
  15. To store: The soup can be cooled and kept in the fridge for a few days. Alternatively it can be kept in the freezer for up to a month. Remove from the freezer a day before serving to allow to defrost in the fridge. Heat for 5min on a medium flame.

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Tips & Variations

Consider some of the following

I prefer roasting beets but they can also be cooked. Heat oven to about 200C (400F) Wash the beets. No need to peel. Fold a large piece of aluminum foil double. Place the beets on top and rub with oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the foil loosely around the beets make sure the foil is closed well. Roast the beets for 40-60 min or until a knife pierces the beets easily. The beets keep in the fridge for up to a week.


Serve with

More Halloween party treats

Sometimes it surprises me how I can head into new situations with such naivety (or is it confidence? At times the two are so close together, I cannot tell)

I just returned from a road trip through Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France full of the most wonderful experiences; but the height of the trip was undoubtedly a two-day hike into the mountains of Italy’s Grand Pardiso – ten hours of scrambling upwards for 1500 meters and another day spent heading back down again.

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I love to walk, but my experience had been limited to a few hours rambling; usually carrying only a little camera or a bottle of water and a sandwich at the most. But, all of a sudden, here I was,  a little ruck-sack strapped to my back, heading off for a two-day trek into the mountains. I started walking, thinking little of how long it would take or how far I would have to go.

The first hour I was out of breath, my legs were aching and I could not imagine reaching the next turn in the path, let alone the nearest ridge. But somehow my body knew better than my mind; my breathing calmed down and each step was followed by another.

I did not count the times my mind offered the thought: ‘No, I cannot go any further’.’No, I cannot do this’. It was of little consequence, as there was always the ‘yes’ of the next step. For a while the resistance would be forgotten and my body moved on and continued walking.

We left behind our little town, the last few humans and then even the trees. The path became rougher; more and more often I was grateful for a hand to help me up to the next rock. We made our way through endless expanses of ever changing mountain side: rolling hills became jagged rock slides; shades of green were replaced by hues of grey.

In the late afternoon our refuge for the night appeared in sight. My heart sank: I could make out no more than a small orange dot high up amongst dark rocks and white sky.

We continued walking

Ibex and chamois appeared. Carefree in their natural environment. A patch of snow. Constant  through the warm, long summer.

We continued walking

A little rain

We continued walking

And then, clambering over yet another rock, suddenly and finally the orange dot transformed into the little hut that was to be our shelter for the night. Four walls, a roof, some mattresses, blankets – that was all. No water. No electricity. Amongst those vast expanses of black rocks and white glaciers, this austere little hut seemed to me the most homely of places.

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Standing out there on the top of that mountain I felt so small and insignificant and yet so full of life.

Grand Paradiso

Grand Paradiso

Yesterday was my first day back at home – a day to be spent cocooning, savoring memories and enjoying doing nothing much at all.

Waking up late, I remembered that early morning before the hike into those rugged mountains: the charming small farm; the breakfast room warmed by a bread baking oven; the slices of fresh, home-made bread. I decided there could be no better start to my day of reminiscing than with a fresh loaf of bread. As the day was to be dedicated to laziness, a complicated recipe would not do. So, I pulled out my favourite quick bread recipe from my blogging friend Liz.

This bread requires no more than a quick sifting of the dry ingredients, some water and a brief stir. Then all you need to do is to exert a little patience, whilst the bread rises and bakes. 90 minutes from start to finish to create a beautiful fresh loaf. By the way, should you find yourself with leftovers, it also makes for a good slice of toast the next days.

I enjoyed mine with some Italian ham that had travelled with me from the previous day’s lunch. Munching on my homely slice of bread I thought back to the marvelous adventures of the last weeks.

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Ingredients
(from the blog ‘My Favourite Past Time‘)
1 loaf

oil or butter (I have a non-stick loaf tin for which I use oil. For a regular tin use butter)
450g whole wheat flour (NL: volkoren tarwemeel)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp brown or muscovado (molasses) sugar
400ml warm water

Recipe

  1. Grease a 21 x 11 x 6cm (8½ x 4½ x 2½ inches) loaf tin with oil or butter and set aside in a warm place.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, yeast and sugar into a large bowl.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the warm water.
  4. Stir from the outside to the middle for about a minute until a dough forms. It will be shaggy and sticky. It is enough to mix the dough until the flour is just incorporated.
  5. Spoon the dough into the prepared tin. Even it out a little.
  6. Cover the bread tin with oiled cling film (plastic wrap) and leave in a warm place for 30 min or until the dough has risen about 1cm (1/2 inch) from the top of the tin. (I like to keep the dough in the oven with a dish of boiling water.)
  7. Briefly before the rising time is finished preheat the oven to 200C (400C) (of course without the dough in it.)
  8. Bake the loaf for about 35-45 min or until a skewer comes out clean and the loaf sounds hollow when it is tapped on the base. (I usually bake 35 40 min, but have baked it as long as an hour).
  9. Turn the bread out onto a wire rack to cool slightly.

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