Weekend Reading

The snow is melting and I’m sooo excited. Goodbye winter cold, gray days. Let’s have those spring daffodils. The next week’s forecast makes me want to sit on the porch in a cute outfit blowing bubbles.

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Better Late Than Never
This recipe for Homemade Butterbeer, yes just (a lot?) like what Harry Potter drank in the movies.

THIS Michael Bay-Inspired ‪#Girls Parody Features Brian Krause (Video) is SO awesome.

These “Magic Rabbit” images OMG SO CUTE!!!

Seed Libraries Are Sprouting Up Across the Planet, and Corporate Dominated Govts Are Trying to Stop Them

Have a great Friday and a fun weekend!!

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Culinary Diplomacy : Cuba

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The second post in DM’s culinary diplomacy series focuses on that Caribbean island Americans now frequently refer to as “post-Fidel Cuba” or “a future vacation spot.”

I’d say Cuban cooking, at least as I know it, is one of my favorites cuisines – pile on the fried plantains (more more!!), avocado salads, Adobo Chicken, Frijoles Negros, Yucca Fritters, and for drinks yes please to daiquiris and mojitos. Mmmm.

The idea of walking through Havana’s streets and eating at recommended paladares (privately owned small restaurants – some are in resident’s apartments…) is up there on my dream travel list. That said, all the complications involved in traveling there have prevented me from seriously thinking about going – until a few months ago when President Obama’ made his historic “Charting a New Course on Cuba” speech.

Along with all the goodness insinuated in the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening an embassy in Cuba rhetoric, was a bit about the lifting of certain barriers permitting some Americans to travel there.

In bars from Orlando to Manhattan, members of the American tourism industry were likely ordering another round – of Mojitos for everyone. After 50 plus years (some) U.S. citizens could again travel legally to the land of jazz and salsa, classic cars, cigars and brightly colored buildings and no one was wasting any time gearing up the American tourist invasion.

Now, here’s the zinger, travel is still illegal for the average American unless you fall into one of a dozen categories including: have family there, are a journalist, attending a workshop or professional meeting, participating in a competition or humanitarian project, or want to study there (with an institution).

What these categories do is provide a legal loophole for solid (think Smithsonian) and not so on the up and up (depending on your ethics meter) tour companies to take those American citizens who have several thousand dollars to pony up on a ride through Havana on an educational tour.

This brings me to a small troupe of successful Miami chefs, few with Cuban connections, who are promoting food tours to Cuba. At first I thought that’s great, but after reading a few articles from Miami outlets and checking out one chef and the agency he’s partnered with I think it’s a big stunt – a gimmick – certainly nothing I would want anything to do with. When people with no connection to a place (one chef’s grandmother is supposedly from Cuba, but all his training comes from England, Japan, and Wolfgang Puck – seriously??) are suddenly called “culinary ambassadors” that makes me laugh and groan.

Here’s the tour company’s description, check out the words I underlined (more groaning on my part):
“Join our ‘ambassador’ Chef, Jamie DeRosa (of the award winning Tongue and Cheek restaurant in Miami), as we explore Cuba via its cuisine. This trip will allow you to see the sights and enjoy the flavors of all that Havana has to offer. It will feature visits to organic sustainable farms with an authentic, organic farm-to-table meal, and will culminate in a collaborative cooking event between Chef DeRosa and one of Cuba’s top Chefs at the #1 restaurant in Havana! This trip is a first of its kind and will fill quickly!”

Um, seriously?? There is no denying Cuba’s agricultural practices are positively advanced, but I find the agency’s use of the terms “organic” and “sustainable” followed so closely by “authentic” suspicious –  is it  just trendy marketing speak? Groan. Organic farm-to-table – double groan. Who says this is the #1 restaurant and how about letting Cuban chefs do all the cooking/teaching – they’re probably 100% more interesting and “authentic” than a guy who has made his career working for a chef (Wolfgang) best known for his chopped salads and frozen aisle meals. Just saying.

This is where the use of culinary diplomacy as a form of marketing lacks greatly. It becomes a cheap tool in the hands of a creepy salesperson.

Want to create something meaningful and “authentic” dig a big deeper folks. As someone who has participated in a number of culinary education programs what would impress me is involving folks who live in Cuba or have a long history with that country.

Take Smithsonian Journeys Cuba trip – you meet with Cuban scholars, visit a training and advisory center for future Cuban entrepreneurs, visit the National Museum of Fine Arts with one of the country’s historians, meet with farmers and members of the community at a local urban garden, meet a local journalist, attend a local community block party, visit a former sugar mill town and with a historian tour the town and meet inhabitants and so on and so on. No gimmicky terms – this is the real deal. I’m not much for tour groups, so you won’t find me on it – but it sounds cool doesn’t it!?

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All the News That’s Fit to Print

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As is reasonably well documented in this blog, I have a never-ending list of books that I want to read one day – while always being immersed in at least one or two books. But, I don’t just read books, far from it. At any given time I will have a stack of open magazines in the office, on the dining room table, and even bed. Right now I am reading the April issue of Marie Claire (the one with the beautiful Kerry Washington on the cover) and the article “The Invisible War on the Brain” by Caroline Alexander in the February issue of National Geographic. I just read and greatly enjoyed the article “Pure Hawaiian” by John Lancaster in the same issue of National Geographic.

Sometimes I find books or subjects I want to know more about, while reading articles. Lancaster’s article on surfing, once the sport of island chiefs, as a way for Hawaiians to maintain their cultural identity led me to watch ESPN’s film “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau” about the legendary waterman. Last night I watched “Storm Surfers,” the documentary following two best friends on their quest to hunt down and ride the biggest and most dangerous waves in Australia. One of the guys, Ross Clarke-Jones, is the first non-Hawaiian to win the prestigious Eddie Aikau Memorial at Waimea Bay. Not a bad way to pass by some of these cold winter days!?

A really well-written article I read recently is “Bring Up the Bodies” by Patrick Radden Keefe in the March 16 issue of the New Yorker. That publication consistently has the best writing hands down and this article was no exception. It is the story behind the real Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president and former I.R.A. member who continues to deny his responsibility in authorizing murders.

On the (much) less serious side I enjoyed the too brief interview with Kate Winslet “Portrait of an Artist” and the beautiful photos of her by Giampaolo Sgurain in the April issue of In Style. I have been a fan of hers since “Heavenly Creatures” and am super excited to see what she does in the Steve Jobs biopic. P.s. all the pics/bits on white jeans – my get into summer purchase – are fun.

As someone who swore off fashion magazines (Vogue, Elle, Harpers Bazaar – so dull, ugly, unrealistic), I have actually found Glamour and Marie Claire to have some substance. Hey, fun no brainer material mostly anyhow. I mean, while waiting for the snow to melt or your manicure to dry what’s better than articles w/ titles like “Find Your Best Hair Color” or “337 Ways to Own Your Own Look” …? ox

Get Lost: My Hometown: Aroostook County

and view from my house

view from my house

Aroostook County, otherwise known as “the County” or “The Crown of Maine,” is the northernmost region of Maine and one of the places I most enjoy spending time. The thousands of acres of farmland offer a spectacular view anytime of the year and the families that farm them are good people – kind folks who open their homes to you offering homemade meals and friendship.  One such family are the Bucks, who I feel privileged to know. Felicia Buck, the glamorous matron, is a hard-working mother who values family above all else. Her cooking is hard to beat and the crews who have worked for her family’s farm (primarily potatoes – run by her husband and his family) have been blessed with her homemade cinnamon rolls and other baked treats through the years. Lucky people!

I met Felicia a few years ago while working on a potato farming story. We kept in touch and she invited me back up for a day of candy making with her and her friends and continues to keep me abreast of fun happenings in her neck of the woods. I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in this post.

How long have you lived in Aroostook County?

I have lived in Chapman, Maine for almost 23 years. I grew up in the town 5 miles from where I currently live (Castle Hill). My community is a tri-area community consisting of the 3 small towns of Mapleton, Chapman, and Castle Hill. Population around

What does it feel like in spring there?

I know that spring officially starts in March but in Aroostook County I don’t personally consider it spring until we can get on the ground planting our crops. That is the farmer’s wife coming out in me. I don’t particularly like the rainy season and mud, but I do like the smell of newly tilled soil ready to be planted. I also LOVE the scenery in my community as the flowers start blossoming and the trees start budding. Also the fields look so neat and tidy after they are planted and the crops start sprouting and your can see the rows in the fields. Spring is a very busy time of year in Aroostook County since we are a farming community. There is so much to be done and a short window of opportunity to achieve the goal. The fields are filled with tractors and farming equipment and the roads have large farm trucks loaded with potatoes or whatever crop is to be planted.

Not only are the farmers working hard but everyone is getting their lawns ready, flowers planted and gardens growing. It is almost like a fresh start.

What do you miss most about your hometown when you’re away?

When I am away from my hometown I miss the relaxed environment our community has and the peacefulness. There isn’t the traffic or the rush to get from one place to the other in my area. Most everyone is so friendly and you always bump into someone you know. Some may think that it isn’t easy to live where everyone knows each other, but I believe for the most part it is a blessing. There is always support and friendship in a community like mine.

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What would surprise a newcomer to your area?

I think that the biggest surprise to a new comer to my area would be the beauty. There are a lot of beautiful places in the world but I believe that we have one of the most beautiful. We have 4 DISTINCT seasons and all are truly breath taking with it’s fields, hills and forests.

Where are your favorite places to go with friends?

Here are a few of the places to eat in my community:
Boondocks in Fort Fairfield – They have delicious seafood and steak
Cafe Sopresso’s in Presque Isle – fine dining, lunch has unique sandwiches and the best lobster rolls around
Gram Russo’s in Presque Isle – delicious italian food
Rosella’s in Presque Isle – best homemade pizza. Homemade crust and homemade sauce. (sweet sauce, alfredo, buffalo, etc)
Irish Setter Pub in Presque Isle – pub style, burgers, nachos and a whole lot more
Long Lake Sporting Club in St. Agatha – beautiful view of the lake, leisure dining, delicious steak and seafood, french ployes, fun atmosphere

Here are some places and events we like to attend in our community:
Haystack Mountain in Mapleton – previoiusly a volcano , not a long hike to get to the top but breath taking views
Balloon Festival in Presque Isle – takes place in August, hot air balloons (about 10 – 15) take flight. You can pay for a ride, they have balloon glows at dawn and dust. It usually last a few days. Absolutely beautiful!
Maple Meadow Festival in Mapleton – takes place a weekend in June. A mixture of local merchants, antiques and demonstrations of antique farm equipment , horse drawn plows. Food, music
Potato Blossom Festival in Fort Fairfileld – Middle of July. It is a celebration of farming in our community. It is a week long event. Many festivities, street dance, pageants, celebration of Farm Family with legislatures, mashed potato wrestling, cooking contests, LARGE parade and so much more.

Where do you go for weekend getaways?

If we were going away for the weekend we would generally go downstate to the coast, Bar Harbor or Old Orchard Beach. Somewhere very different from our hometown. It is always nice to experience something completely different than what you are use to. I must say that it is very nice to visit other places, but I have found that it also makes us appreciate what we have right around us in our own hometown.

Potato Blossom Festival

and Potato Blossom Festival

**All images provided by Felicia Buck. Top two – views from her home. Middle two images of her home. Bottom two of Potato Blossom Festival.

Bookends: My Early Spring Reading List

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All three are non-fiction.

The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston. I read it and now I want to climb trees – big ones! In Northern California and Oregon, and the Skeleton Forest in Victoria, Australia, there are magical botanical worlds thirty stories up in giant trees. Most people driving or hiking through the Redwood Forests out west will stare up at the beautiful – enormous – trees and pass near the largest species of living trees without ever knowing it. This book is about those amateur and professional botanists and scientists who climb those ever so tall trees – their personal stories, and climbing adventures. I geeked out over the science and the gear and loved the joy Preston brought to his family and the reader with his learning to climb. Did you know there are facilities where you can learn to climb tall trees? Yup, and you better believe I’ve made note of them – that’s gotta happen!!

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is the tale of the 238-ton whaling ship the Essex that set sail from Nantucket in 1819 on a routine voyage to hunt whales and was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. Does the story sound familiar? It should, it is the inspiration behind Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1852). It is a story full of superstition, horror, and survival – told my a master storyteller/researcher it is one of the most famous stories of the sea vs. man.

Ron Howard’s film based on the book, starring Chris Hemsworth is slotted for a December, 2015 release (don’t skip the book thinking you will see the movie and get the full story – there are a LOT of screenwriters attached to the picture and the release date was already moved once = could end up being a film you just want to watch on video. The book, however, is excellent. ).

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (LOVED this book. Could not put down. Will read her Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness soon as I make my way through the to-read stack glaring at me from my bedside table.)
This beautiful book is Fuller’s first memoir (she has since written two more) – from 1972 to 1990, she grew up on several farms in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Malawi, and Zambia. She has an extraordinary story that demands an equally great storyteller, and thankfully she is that – she is a keen observer who has lived through seriously troubled times. From an early age she had to resilient and self-sufficient. Before and after the tragedies, there is racism, fear, wildness (her parents and Africa’s), dancing and humor and great beauty. This book matters. **If you love this book I strongly recommend Peter Godwin’s incredible Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa – also a memoir of growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It remains one of my favorite books.

**The Circle by Dave Eggers – I read it and cannot believe I am writing this, but do not recommend it. The semi-fictional book is essentially about a tech company (think Google/Facebook) taking over the world – this New Yorker review is (too) kind and accurate. His 2012 novel A Hologram for the King, was good, but not great. It’s his early work I am passionate about and strongly recommend.  Rumor has it Tom Hanks will star in the film being made based on the book. Now, that I want to see.

In my to-read stack:
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy by Kathryn Miles (a Maine author!!)

Get Lost: My Hometown: Portland, Oregon

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This Get Lost post, just in time for the weekend, is from my friend Julie out in Portland, Oregon. We were roommates back in Los Angeles. She knows a phenomenal amount about music (walking encyclopedia on Dave Grohl!) so it makes complete sense she has chosen the other Portland to raise her family.

Get Lost: My Hometown: Portland, Oregon

How long have you lived in Portland, Oregon?
Since August 2006 (soon to be 9 years)

What drew you there?
The fact that everyone seemed environmentally aware and active and it is better place to raise our kid!

Where are you from originally?
Kettering, OH

What keeps you in the city now?
– 2nd run movie theaters that serve beer, wine and food
– High number of super small city blocks downtown and how easy it is to get
around
– World’s largest independent bookstore
– Portland is at the forefront of urban planning and green initiatives
– First major city to earn the League of American Bicycles Platinum award for bicycle friendliness and ranks high in the global rankings
– A day does not go by that I don’t see something off the wall that KEEPS PORTLAND WEIRD

What does it feel like in spring?
It is spring and everything is blossoming weeks earlier than expected. The temperature is about 60 to 70 daily and we hardly have had any rain.
You can feel the energy from everyone how grateful they are as they walk, bike and occupy every outside area of the city celebrating the weather!

What’s your best discovery about your city?
Most restaurant/carts/local fast food use organic and local food.

What would surprise a newcomer to your city?
How many people ride their bikes, walk or take public transportation. The amazing food, beer and neighborhoods and how close they are all together!

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Where are your favorite places to go with friends?
Laurelhurst Theatre, Voodoo Doughnuts, Tasty and Sons, Shopping on Hawthorn, Division, Mississippi, Alberta and SE 28th street, The Kennedy School to soak, watch a movie or eat, Edgefield to play golf and watch outdoor concerts in the summer, biking or walking the Esplanade, walk around downtown, walk around and shop NW 23rd, Sauvie Island anytime.

Where do you go for weekend getaways?
We camp or stay anywhere close to..Manzanita Beach, Cannon Beach, Hood River and Mt Hood (see below pic Julie took of me in front of Multnomah Falls – Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area on our way to Mt. Hood)

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Weekend Reading

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Give me S-P-R-I-N-G!!!

spring

Spring is coming folks!!! Temps are finally above freezing and there’s been some serious melting going on. I can see some of the raised beds (and the damage), there is an actual dirt path from the front steps to the driveway (no more snow boots!!), and the bees are out flying. The feathered gals have even been able to hang out behind the barn where a bit of the snow has cleared. Yay!!! Sunny days in the 30s and 40s I’ll take ‘em!

When being productive, I read a book or two a week. If you were to peruse my bookcases and the stacks of books around my house you would see I read in themes – sort of. One month I read everything I can find on caffeine, then fruit, then fishing stories, childhood memoirs (especially those set in East Africa), true crime (biker gangs anyone?), biographies, and travel books (especially those set in East Africa). Recently, I have been making more of an effort to learn about the Islamic World. More culture than politics, more history less extremists. For the past two weeks I have been trying to get through Edward W. Said’s academic Orientalism, while also rereading V. S. Naipaul’s brilliant A Bend in the River.

Truth be told, I put down the latter after reading the first 50 or so pages when I tried reading it a year ago. What the heck was wrong with me? The last few weeks Naipaul’s name kept coming up in books and I realized I had his Nobel prize winning novel in a stack upstairs. I started flipping through it and haven’t been able to stop.

So, that has been taking up a bulk of my reading time (along with two other – I cannot put down, look forward all day to reading) – books. But, really Said’s book is so dense. There is so much important information I find I have to reread what I read the day before just to “get it” – does that ever happen to you?

The preface took me three days. He’s writing about so much more than Israel and Palestine, and Western views of Islam. He writes about humanity – about what it means to live a humane existence.

Said writes “The book culture based on archival research as well as general principles of mind that once sustained humanism as a historical discipline have almost disappeared. Instead of reading in the real sense of the word, our students today are often distracted by the fragmented knowledge available on the internet and in the mass media.”

This weekend leave the computer and TV screens behind and let your hands find wood, wool, dirt, paper – something pure and of the earth.

 

Living Mindfully
This winter I began volunteering at The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. It is such a luxury to finally have the time to get back into volunteering and I am thoroughly enjoying it. The staff, kids!!, and my fellow volunteers are rays of sunshine. The programs original and thoughtful. Between you and me I feel a bit guilty – as though I am getting more out of volunteering than the kids I am supposed to be helping. My brain is challenged during each session as I learn more about creative writing (books, poetry…) and trying to find the most productive – positive – way to help the kids – who are smart and have these incredibly unique and colorful – and honest! – outlooks based on their experiences thus far.  Do you volunteer in your community? It is a great way to exercise – your mind – or if doing something outdoors e.g. gardening – your body – and a terrific way to meet people. Personally, I think a large part of our lives should be spent giving back – we take so much. Thoughts?

p.s.  I am taking a pause on the Photographer Friday posts till next winter. We’ll have plenty to focus on without them  – travel, maple syrup, gardening, food, the sea, books, Maine during her warmer months, etc. etc. *Now, that said I strongly encourage you to take a look at my friend Shoshannah White’s beautiful images of the sea. We have been friends for years and as I watch her body of work grow so does my admiration for her dedication, imagination, and eye for beauty.

Culinary Diplomacy

cooking making plantain bread

cooking cleaning rice

eating plantain

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This is the first post in a semi-regular series called Culinary Diplomacy. Sam Chapple-Sokol, a culinary diplomat, defines Culinary Diplomacy as  “the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation.” Sam was involved in the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership as an organizer for the Club of Chefs of Heads of State held in the U.S. in 2013. He, and a gentleman by the name of Paul Rockower (a gastronomist) are responsible for introducing me to the field.

At its best, food is about rituals and beliefs being passed on from generation to generation. People in places where there is a strong food culture (like Italy or Vietnam) identify with who they are and what they are greatly through food.

For last summer’s Kneading Conference,  I organized the panel “Culinary Diplomacy: Culture Defined Around the Table.” Through that process I learned a lot more about what Culinary Diplomacy means to different people – how food and drink have shaped some people’s perceptions of the world and defined how they look at foreign cultures.

(I hope to interview Sam and Paul, and each of the panelists from that KC event for this series).

You might think with a last name like “Kitchens” I know something about food. I do, but man is the road of learning long – and tasty – and I have miles and miles to travel.

Growing up my father traveled a lot to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He brought his love of the dishes he tried home and thus I grew up eating a lot of Asian and Lebanese food.  Somewhere along the way he introduced me to Ethiopian food, a favorite – do you know how amazing it is how few people in America realize what an extraordinary food culture there is Ethiopia?? DE-licious! Anyhow, I have always been aware of the beauty of different cultures, because – most likely – of food.

When you travel you realize how intimately related history, geography, and food are.

When I first visited Kinshasa and Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two urbanized areas along the Congo River, I discovered them through food…

Last spring sitting close to the dirt, no more than 20 meters from the Congo River, sharing a home cooked meal with a Congolese fisherman I learned details about the region’s history you don’t find in news articles and books. I didn’t have an agenda, I was just curious about his life and about the food his wife was preparing. The yellow of the plantains, the crimson red palm oil in the stew, his hands, her strong arms, the glow of pride and love in his eyes when he looked at his wife and youngest son.  I was noticing everything around me and sharing in an extraordinarily unique and intimate experience created around eating.

When his wife lowered a basin of water and handed me a bar of soap I used it, passed it on, and washed my hands – wiping the water off on my pants. I followed the others, tearing off a piece of the thick chewy yellow bread and scooping up mouthfuls of the rich fish stew.

He saw my sincerity and welcomed my interest and let me “in” responding frankly to my questions. We were simply having a conversation while the meal was prepared. An everyday thing that takes place everywhere. I learned more about the region and his tribe in those hours than I could ever have imagined. The meal we ate with out hands was rich and unforgettable.

Honeybee Update

A few photographs from the super quick hive check.

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What you are seeing:

Honeybees can eat through their food stores (honey!) by early March if not sooner and will starve if not fed.  That’s where candyboards come in – a sugar syrup that is made into a fondant and sits inside the top of the hive. The idea being if the bees eat their way to the top (through the frames of honey) there’s the board. I had to start feeding a couple hives beginning of February because of the warm fall (the bees were active = eating).

p.s. from Brown’s Bee Farm:
“Candy boards can be a messy job in the kitchen. Boiling, checking temperatures, getting it just right so it will set up solid in your board, then you also have to pour that hot sticky liquid and contain it so it doesn’t end up on thef loor. For years now I have used a simple method that doesn’t require cooking. I mix one ounce of water to each pound of sugar, this gets the sugar damp. I put this damp sugar in my candy boards which are made from equipment I already have in my apiary, no need to purchase a specially designed board or to boil sugar and water.”

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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