2018: Milestones and more (Egypt)

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View from our apartment.
It was a year of monumental change for us. We sold our lovely home in the Luberon hills of Provence in record time (2 days), did some serious downsizing and moved to an apartment on the French Riviera. Emptying that house of at least 75% of the contents at flea markets, online sales and more was a demanding challenge. So was finding a new roost. But, we did it all and here we are. The apartment is spacious with a to-die-for view of the Med and mountains. At night, it is magic. Life is less complicated. We are closer to commerce. And, a beach where I look forward to Med swims when the weather warms. And Italy, just 20 minutes away where we love to shop. Benissimo!

Four mainly outdoor cats accompanied us. We could not abandon them. Pets are a

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My feline family.
lifetime commitment, not to be tossed out if inconvenient. That, too, has been challenging, but now we are down to three felines. My precious boy Adam was peacefully euthanized on 1 Dec. (age 14, cancer). We miss him. He was special.

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Bob and Adam. Filippo in rear.

Not monumental, but a milestone. I am now a French citizen — and an EU citizen. (lots of paperwork, perseverance and patience) I will not relinquish my American passport, but have dual citizenship. Vive la France!

Before the stress of the move preparation, we had two wonderful trips in 2018, Egypt and India. See previous posts for more: Drifting Up- and Down-the Nile, Apr 2018; India’s Big Cats, June 2018; Alok and Ankita’s Wedding, Jul. 2018.

Part II of our Egypt adventure was a beach holiday following the Nile cruise. Interesting.

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Pool, one of several, at our hotel. Gardeners work hard to maintain the lush greenery in the midst of the desert (see below).
I booked an all-inclusive package at a French travel agency and expected we would be at a mainly French hotel. Surprise. Instead of speaking French, I needed my German. Ninety percent of the hotel guests were German. The huge hotel (505 rooms) was sold to a German company in 2017, I learned.

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Desert surrounds Hurghada.
Hurghada on the Red Sea is a popular beach vacation destination. Until the 2015 crash of a Russian passenger jet brought down by a bomb over the Sinai, Russians were the primary clientele. No longer, and due to this and other terrorist incidents in Egypt,

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Red Sea beach near Hurghada
international travel took a hit. Those intrepid Germans were the first to return, but last year many others followed. Tourism was bouncing back. However, the recent attack on a tour bus near the Gaza pyramids will not help which is tragic. Egypt needs tourists. We felt very safe during our travels.

Our hotel was not in Hurghada, but on a section of beach about 45 minutes  from the town.    Large hotel after large hotel, all with mainly German guests, line the shore. Deutschland can be bleak with too little sun as we know from the many years we lived there. It is no surprise that Germans are known to seek the sun on holiday.

Having had a cancerous bump (basal cell carcinoma) removed from my nose, I try to avoid those tanning rays. I was surprised. Most hotel guests had no fears of the sun. They bake, hour after hour. Some of the tans outdid those old Coppertone ads.

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The perfect tan can be hazardous.
What to do if you don’t want to broil all day? There are organized beach games, a variety of excursions, scuba diving. On a previous trip to Dubai, we had done a desert tour. During our cruise, we visited the sights of Luxor. No need to repeat those. I signed up for a snorkel trip with the intention of moving on to scuba. But, the snorkeling was not that exciting. I feared a beginner’s scuba trip would be about the same. I passed.

We also passed on a visit to Hurghada since we had heard it did not offer much – mainly more hotels. We did take a taxi to a shopping center which was much like a shopping center anywhere, but had a genuine Egyptian restaurant.

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Hotel beach.
That was a plus. One day we went for a long walk along the beach, the hotel strip, assuming we would come to a restaurant for lunch. Nothing. All the restaurants are part of hotels, for hotel guests only.

There is no shortage of food on these all inclusive package tours. Copious buffets are offered three times per day. All kinds of food. It is astonishing how much some folks put away, plate after plate. Snacks are available between meals. Beverages, including wine, beer and cocktails, are also included. Caipirinha were popular at the bar in the middle of the swimming pool

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Alcoholic drinks included in the package price. Caipirinha — cocktail of choice at pool bar.
Our hotel had two main restaurants, a huge hall with a terrace and a large outdoor beach restaurant. And, a courtyard with specialty restaurants (Chinese, Italian, Burger etc.) which you could book ahead for dinner. We tried them all. Overall the food was not bad, but not great. Our shopping center lunch was our favorite. It seemed like real Egypt.

I talked to a couple from Niedersachsen, Germany, on their fifth winter visit to Hurghada. “It’s reasonable. It’s warm. We are happy here.” So are thousands of other tourists who fill the 175 hotels in Hurghada which provide jobs for some 200,000. Average salary is about 70 euro per month.

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Hurghada, called a “touristic hotspot” by one publication, is booming with more hotels under construction. For the sun and sea and all you can eat, it’s a deal. But, we much preferred our week on the Nile to our week on the Red Sea.

Words of wisdom for 2019 from my hero and inspiration, the late Anthony Bourdain:

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”

We will get off that couch and begin 2019 with adventure:  the US then Costa Rica.

fullsizeoutput_11f6Happy New Year.  Happy Trails to all.

At last, a new recipe. Broccoli Parmesan Gratin is worth a try — even if broccoli is not on your favorites list.  See top right.

If not a talesandtravel, follower please sign up (upper right).  Your address is kept private and never shared.  Rajasthan, India,  coming soon,

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Seasons greetings to friends and talesandtravel followers. We will celebrate quietly in our new home, an apartment in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on France’s Cote d’Azur where it does not seem very Christmasy. That is OK. We do not miss freezing cold temps. However, a bit of snow on those trees would be a welcome holiday touch. At … Continue reading “HAPPY HOLIDAYS”

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A Christmas light spectacle viewed from our apartment — year round.

Seasons greetings to friends and talesandtravel followers. We will celebrate quietly in our new home, an apartment in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on France’s Cote d’Azur where it does not seem very Christmasy. That is OK. We do not miss freezing cold temps. However, a bit of snow on those trees would be a welcome holiday touch.

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Stuttgart, once our home, has a wonderful Christmas market.

At this time of year we do miss German Christmases, the very best. We were fortunate to live and work in Germany for many years and relished the festive atmosphere during the entire Advent season with those captivating Christmas markets.

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Monaco Christmas market is lacking.

It seems Christmas markets have become popular the world over. Unfortunately we have found most are but pathetic imitations of those German markets with Gluhwein, the aromas of cinnamon and cloves and grilled sausages, glittering glass baubles, twinkling lights, tasteful décor, Christmas carols. There is a delightful spirit, a childlike wonder, that imbues German holiday markets.

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Tribute to New Orleans at Monaco Christmas market: Mississippi river boat.

Last week we decided to investigate the Christmas market in Monaco, just next door to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. I had heard the theme was New Orleans. A Creole beauty who hailed from New Orleans, Princess Alice, was not the only American princess who made her mark in Monaco, I learned. Alice lived in Monaco in the late 19thcentury and is credited with developing the principality as a cultural hotspot.

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New Orleans fish and chips? How about Jambalaya?

Interesting, and certainly upscale Monaco would have a sensational Christmas market…  Sadly, it did not. There were a few stands selling gift items, some rides for kids, and food, lots of food, everything from Hungarian and Dutch specials to French favorites such as cassoulet and escargots.  No Creole cuisine.  Not much festive ambience.  A skating rink did add a  wintry touch.fullsizeoutput_d76

For another pre-holiday activity we joined the British Association of Menton, a city straddling the Italian border on the other side of our town, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.  Menton is known for lush gardens where exotic plants flourish thanks to its subtropical microclimate. The garden at Val Rahmeh which we toured is one of many tucked away on terraced hillsides above the Mediterranean.

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Val Rahmeh

A retired gardener led us through the shady lanes past fountains, ponds, dense foliage and colorful blossoms.  He told us about Miss Maybud Campbell, a rich, eccentric English woman who was the last private owner.  A woman after my heart– Maybud had 14 cats.  The gardens are now owned by the French Museum of Natural History.

Since this was a British activity, we ended the tour with mulled wine, mince pies and Christmas carols. At last, genuine Christmas spirit.

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Lots of photo opps at Val Rahmeh.
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Hard to believe it is December with all this gorgeous greenery.

I have been neglecting recipes.  I will add one soon, and a post about finding sun on the beach in  Egypt.  Don’t miss out.  If not a talesandtravel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your email address is not shared.  It is safe. Trust me.

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Merry Christmas to all!

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Au Revoir Reillanne

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fullsizeoutput_9cdWe will miss you. We already miss the silence, the tranquility of our former abode, the captivating view of Luberon hills from our balcony, the sometimes mysterious, ever-fascinating sky, friends and friendly village folk … Life on the Mediterranean coast, where we now live,  is so different, but it has many pluses. More about those in a future post.

We were attracted to Reillanne because it is a genuine, old  Provencal perched village. It has not been gussied up like those Luberon villages Peter Mayle made famous: —  Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Menerbes. Reillanne can be rough around the edges, ruts in some streets, lanes, — especially the Impasse where we lived. Many places could definitely use a fresh coat of paint,  No classy boutiques. No fancy restaurants. No locals nor visitors in designer attire. Jeans and tattoos and plenty of funky, folksy charm.

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Reillanne is ancient, with origins dating back to the 6thcentury.  In its early years it was a fortified village with a hilltop chateau and ramparts. The chateau is long gone, but vestiges of an 11thcentury chapel remain. And, a new (1859) church, St. Denis , which is the town landmark and a favorite photo subject. I must have hundreds of St. Denis shots. Parts of houses in the vieux village (old village), a maze of skinny, serpentine alleys, date to the 11th century.IMG_0071

During the ’60s Reillanne was a hippy enclave. Joan Baez is said to have had a home in Reillanne – or at least vacationed there. Some residents of that era remain, geezers easily recognized by their hairstyles. Some of today’s younger residents are seeking the same alternative lifestyle that attracted their predecessors. They are joined by artists – painters, photographers, ceramicists – who have settled in Reillanne.

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Reynard Bouchard’s ‘s veggies and fruit are the best: “Products of Provence that are grown with lots of love.”
Reillanne’s Sunday morning market is a star attraction, and not just for locals. We went faithfully every week to buy from our favorite vendors, to meet friends and share a coffee or glass of wine after shopping.

We can’t look back. But, I can share these photos of some of my Reillanne favorite things.

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A Reillanne favorite with great burgers.

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Moroccan Sadki Lahcen offers more than tea.  We love his tangines and couscous, perfect take-home, ready-to-eat meals.

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Our former house and pool — lots of wonderful memories.

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Fisherman Maurice Garcia comes to Reillanne from Marseille every Friday with delectable treats from the Med. This was our favorite, loup sauvage ( wild sea wolf).

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Thanks to proprietor Antoine, Cafe du Cours brings a variety of music to Reillanne.

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Colorful evening clouds seen from our balcony

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My roses. I will not miss all the work and watering but will miss those blossoms.

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My guardian angel, my savior, my confidant — neighbor Nicole. She gave advice, cared for the cats and plants and more when we traveled, was there when I needed her. She is a rare treasure, a true friend who will be dearly missed, as well as her adorable and feisty companion, Iros.

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Friends and extraordinary food — the outstanding cuisine of chef Maarten who recently moved his restaurant, La Pastorale, to Reillanne

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This was the Reillanne moon’s farewell to us — shot from the balcony a few nights before our departure.

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Welcome to the Chahinian family who will soon reside in our former home.
The quick sale of the house, finding a new home, then emptying  a big house loaded with furniture and far too much stuff for a move to a partly furnished apartment, plus packing for the move,  engulfed my life .  No time nor energy for talesandtravel.com   Life is returning to normal.  I am happy to post again and hope to do so more regularly.  Stay tuned. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private and never shared.

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Alok and Ankita’s Wedding

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They tied the knot in Agra, India, in April. We were invited to the festivities. Indian weddings are legendary, days of interesting, lavish events. This was something not to miss.

Two years ago on a trip to northern India with a German tour group, I met Alok. (see previous posts, Intriguing India and more ) He was our guide – affable, knowledgable and fun. He speaks fluent German, as well as English in addition to his native Hindi. Among the many wedding guests were others from his tours.

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The wedding took place in Agra, Alok’s hometown and site of the Taj Mahal, a symbol of love.
We wanted to follow customs, so we sought the advice of friends who had lived and worked in India. They looked over the invitation, a large elaborate card in bright red with gold lettering. Four events. Four different days. Each, we learned, required special attire. I was lucky. My friend Sigrid, a very talented seamstress, had been invited to an Indian wedding in London several years ago. She made two gorgeous outfits, both of a golden fabric that had been purchased in India. Perfect. I could borrow them.

Bob was not so lucky. When we arrived in Delhi, we showed the invitation to the

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Try on at shop, very classy but he never wore the vest.
guide/driver who would take us to Agra. He agreed. Bob needed to go native and wear Indian clothing for the events.  We were whisked off to a classy shop where the salesman, after checking the invitation, convinced us Bob needed at least two Indian outfits. He tried to sell us three, but we stopped at two.

To make sure that we committed no grave faux pas, at our hotel in Agra I asked a receptionist to come to our room and check out our wedding wardrobe. She looked over the invitation and announced that my golden outfits were OK, but would not do for the main event, the actual wedding. For that, a genuine sari was de rigeur. Bob’s newly purchased Indian garb would do, but his shoes would not. He needed Indian foot attire, a type of slipper.

Determined to do it right, we set off to the bazaar the next morning. Bob refused to go for the slippers, but he did acquiesce and purchase a type of loafer. I bought a sari, sapphire blue, but later leaned that I should have gone for a brighter color.

The salesman skillfully wrapped the sari, nothing but a long piece of cloth (saris are from five to nine yards long), around me. No way I could ever master this. “Just google it,” he advised.

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All decked out for the ring ceremony
Festivities kicked off with the ring ceremony. Swathed in golden cloth, and Bob in his dark green sherwani (?), Indian tunic and his new Indian loafers, we set off to a hotel where the event, attended by several hundred guests, was held. As they paraded in, we began to feel very uncomfortable. The men did not wear traditional Indian garb, just basic western street clothes. Most of the women, however, wore colorful saris with their arms festooned in tiers of sparkling bangles.

The groom arrived wearing a business suit, albeit a very smart, stylish one. Bob was not happy, feeling a bit ridiculous in his Indian costume. (I thought he looked cool). I also felt my golden garb was way over the top. So much for the advice of experts!

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As this was a Hindu wedding, no alcohol. There was an assortment of very tasty hors d’oeuvres. Folks mingled around and kept busy with cell phone cameras. There were plenty of photo ops for all, including several professional photographers.

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Ankita and her parents before the cameras
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After the bride arrived, bejewelled and clad in a glamorous sari, ceremonies got under way. There were numerous different rituals: certain ones for the groom, others for the bride, and lots more photo ops.

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We started to leave when the rituals ended — oops, not so soon. Guests were lining up in an adjacent room for a buffet. We joined in – delicious.

The following day Alok invited us and others from his tours to his home. We enjoyed chatting with the guests, mostly Germans, and savoring tasty delicacies, some prepared by Alok’s father. Alok had plenty of beer for his German friends.

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Hospitality at Alok’s family home.
That night a type of cocktail party and buffet hosted by the groom for his family and friends took place on the rooftop of a hotel/restaurant. Bob wore a sports coat, approved by the hotel receptionist. I ignored her advice and did not wear golden outfit number 2… fortunately. This was not a dressy affair. Not all Hindus are teetotalers, we learned. As this was Alok’s event, beer and Indian whiskey were available.

fullsizeoutput_a4dWhen it came time for the wedding, two days later, again I requested assistance from a hotel receptionist. No way could I google “sari” and conquer the wrap. Another helpful young woman came to the rescue and dressed me.  Bob wore the luscious red tunic (sherwani). He rejected the gorgeous vest and matching pants, but the Indian loafers were on his feet.

The wedding began with the “barat,” a raucous parade from the groom’s house to the party venue.

We first joined others at his home where he was seated at a kitchen table being dressed by his mother and others. They sang as they worked. This time he was in full traditional attire, turban and all.

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The parade was incredible, dancing guests following a “band,” lots of horns and drums. Fireworks along the route added more noise. Traffic had to stop. The groom, seated high up in a horse-drawn carriage under a garland festooned canopy,   brought up the rear.

fullsizeoutput_a55All manner of stands offing a wide range of food ringed the huge, open venue space. The bride and groom sat on a stage at one end. A band played. In addition to numerous photographers, the momentous event was captured by drone cameras.

Guests lined up to offer best wishes to the pair, showering them with rose petals. This went on for several hours, but the real wedding ceremony, more Hindu rituals, took place much later and was attended mainly by close family.

We will long remember Alok and Ankita’s wedding,  like no other.  And, just in case we get invited to another Indian wedding,  our wardrobe is ready.

A Word on Indian Weddings

In India, “When a baby girl is born, the family starts saving for her wedding,” said Sunil Kumar Nair, resident manager of the DoubleTree Hilton in Agra where we stayed. “The bride’s family pays for all. The boy gets everything,” he added.

Average cost: $50,000 to $60,000. That accounts for about 200 guests, but it is not uncommon to have many more, up to 2,000 guests with a corresponding price tag. During our stay, many weddings took place at the hotel, outdoors on the lawn in a football field – sized space.

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Wedding venue at our hotel.
And, many weddings that week in April all over Agra, a popular wedding site with its iconic Taj Mahal considered a symbol of love.

Wedding dates are decided by the Hindu calendar. There are two main wedding seasons, we learned, September to February, and April/May. A priest consults the horoscopes of the couple, the positions of the planets and the stars, and fixes the date. Sunil said one year on February 2, a particularly auspicious day, there were 80,000 weddings in Delhi.

Alok and Ankita’s marriage was arranged, as are about 80 percent of marriages in India. It usually starts with a search in the Sunday Times of India: a full page of “Wanted Grooms” and another of “Wanted Brides.” The ads are divided into categories by caste. India has four main castes, and it is important to marry within one’s caste. Both Alok and Ankita are Brahmins.

When a probable match is found, background info, references etc. , are exchanged. If all looks good, the parents meet. If that goes well, the couple meets with the parents. Alok first met Ankita during a stop at a highway restaurant on one of his tours.

Sunil said traditions are changing, and more and more couples are marrying for love. Yet, the arranged system has its merits. According to one source, the divorce rate in India is the lowest in the world.

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Between wedding events, we walked the Taj Mahal nature trail.
After the wedding,  we toured spectacular Rajasthan.  More in coming posts.  Don’t miss out.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private and never shared.

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Fires for the Fete de la Saint Jean.

Oops…so sorry.  Previous post published too soon…while still in the making.  Below is the real, finished product.

l5w2JUKAQyaLKjNCJ4sbcgThe eve of the feast of St. John (June 23) is a time for fires, big bonfires, in parts of France. As the sun set, Reillanne, our town, honored the saint — a day early — but with fierce  flames and more.LBROmh6SRPWoyF9MMbDfNw

The fire ritual, observed in many countries, was meant to honor the saint as well as repel witches and evil spirits. In France this Catholic festivity is reminiscent of Midsummer’s pagan rituals with dancing around the fire.es6srtONT8ynwIfyG8WEGA

Before the huge pile of branches went up in flames, school children entertained with song for Tambacounda, a Reillanne association which supports a school in Senegal. And, there was food, chicken mafe, an African speciality, and more music, sounds from Swing Manouche.  A good time was had by all.  Evil spirits have been driven from Reillanne.

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At last, time for a new recipe.  The chicken mafe at the fete reminded me that I have a recipe for this West African favorite .  I have not made it for years.  Now is the time. Peanuts (or peanut butter) is a key ingredient. Different and delicious.    Back up top you will see link to recipe.

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Before the flames.

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