Category Archives: Table Talk

Introducing ‘Matu Munchies’

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One of my biggest fears about Peace Corps Mozambique was that I would lose the means to cook and eat well. I had really begun to enjoy cooking in the States, and felt like we were on a really good track with cooking and eating for our health. When we decided to come here, I knew I would no longer have access to grocery stores full of plentiful produce and aisle after aisle of spices, grains, proteins, sauces, and strangely wonderful things like prepackaged bread crumbs. I also knew we could be cooking over a charcoal stove for two years – the fact that we aren’t makes life much easier!

But, despite the days of only being able to find tomatoes, onions, coconuts, and peanuts for produce in the market, I have been pleasantly surprised at how many new and delicious recipes we have been able to make here in Mozambique.

We have experimented with baked goods, making Sunday breakfast something to look forward to.

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Mango Crumble

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Sesame Seed Bagels

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Christmas morning breakfast featuring mango crumble, chocolate peanut butter cake, eggs, tropical mimosas and coffee

We have learned to make Mozambican dishes, or make things the Mozambican way.

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Fresh coconut milk is a Moz thing.

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Pina coladas made with fresh pineapple and fresh coconut milk are a variation of the abovementioned Moz thing.

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And there’s always a friend to munch the milked coconut.

We have given and received food: give a peanut butter cookie and receive cashews, give matapa and receive folha de feijão. Give fajitas, give cinnamon rolls, give chips and guac. Receive strange squashes, receive roasted goat meat, receive basellas: free avocados, tomatoes, carrots, and a coconut from the market ladies…and gent.

I even made my own bread crumbs. Old bread. Cheese grater. Successful crispy pan-fried cucumber.

We aren’t so busy here, and we have a lot of time to think. We sometimes spend hours making ‘labor of love’ meals: coconut rice and bean burritos with pineapple salsa (it’s a labor when you’re making the coconut milk from a coconut, and when the beans are dried and must be soaked and boiled for hours), chicken coconut curry (it’s a labor when you’re dealing with a whole chicken…), cinnamon rolls (it’s a labor when they don’t come out of a tube), and pesto pasta (each basil leave picked fresh off the plant out back).

So, those of who have been following for a while may recall how I like to branch out and expand the blog a bit every now and then. A while back I introduced Tuesday Talk posts, then Our Table, where I began sharing recipes. For the sake of Peace Corps, I started 3 Smiles and A Struggle. Now, combining what’s already here I give you Matu Munchies.

Matu because we live in the “matu,” which is the word used by Mozambicans to describe rural, bush areas. Because of our location on the major north-south highway in Moz, and our close proximity to the larger town of Vilanculos, I didn’t consider Mapinhane to be very rural. However, Peace Corps and townies alike say Mapinhane is matu. Our site is rated a 2-3 on Peace Corp’s 1-5 rural scale (1 being the most rural) because of what we lack access to here, like an ATM, a major market or store. And as far as townies go, we’ve heard it said that Mapinhane is matu because it’s ‘tranquilo’ and there’s nothing going on. Townies know.

Munchies because the posts will be about things you can eat.

When you read a Matu Munchies post, you will find recipes that you can probably reproduce wherever you are, whether you are a fellow PCV elated over finding a carrot in the market today, or a reader in the States that can find a carrot any old day in any old size grown any old way! You will find stories of our trials and tribulations in the kitchen, and our growing connection with food that comes to us seasonally. During those times when my market stalls are nearly empty, you may find out just how many things you really can do with a tomato.

Whatever it may be, as always, I hope you enjoy getting happily lost with me on this new leg of our journey!

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Namaacha Mango Cake.

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Tuesday Talk: Everything in Moderation

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During my junior year of college, something compelled me to start taking small steps toward better health. Although I had always considered myself pretty healthy- I was active and ate moderately well- I was still constantly stressed, sick, and tired. I think this happens to a lot of people during college, with the heavy load of classes, work, and new-found freedom.

But I was ready to start feeling better. I challenged myself to try cooking with one new vegetable each week. Growing up as a picky eater, the options seemed endless with this new challenge. I challenged myself to drink only one non-water drink each day. These little steps helped me immensely and now, five years later, I feel healthier and stronger than ever: I get sick less and when I do I get over it faster, I trust my body to take on long hikes and cross-country ski trips, I have more energy and less stress.

I credit this a lot to taking those small steps and building on them over the last few years. I credit it a lot to yoga and pilates. I credit it a lot to a mountain lifestyle (there’s nothing to do here if you’re not playing outside 🙂 ).

And over the years I have tried various cleanses, abstaining from certain foods, and so on….like most people who are looking for a healthier lifestyle. But lately I have been thinking a lot about trusting intuition, listening to my body and how certain foods and activity make it feel, and doing everything in moderation, letting go of that guilt that nags when you’ve eaten something that you know isn’t the best for you.

As I look around for new healthy recipes these days, I find so much fear about health (like many other parts of life): gluten will KILL YOU, sugar will KILL YOU, raw cruciferous vegetables cause thyroid problems,….if you don’t eat raw cruciferous vegetables you will get cancer. On and on it goes.

Of course, it’s not good for you to overload on sugar and carbs and fried food. So maybe we are being cautioned against that. Maybe this fear is a basic educational tool…but it seems to have gotten a bit extreme lately. Partially, I believe that all of the extremes about health food and all of the fears are very much the American Way. We are a very extreme culture, and a very fearful one. It seems that we don’t believe in moderation so much. For instance, quinoa. We hear that quinoa is good for us, so we think we should eat it as a breakfast porridge with fruit, on a salad with lunch, and in a stir fry for dinner. Suddenly, we think it’s vital to starting sneaking quinoa into our baked goods and snacks too. Extreme, right?

The truth is, I feel worse when I start worrying about all these problems than I do when I actually ingest food that is ‘bad for me.’ I don’t think I am ignorant about unhealthy foods, and there are certain things that I avoid as much as possible because I think they are icky, like food dyes and foods with unecessarily added sugar (peanut butter does not need added sugar…).But I get sick of the fear that bubbles up in me sometimes when I am just trying to look at a darn recipe! Although I am a big fan of being aware of what you eat and eating with the intention of fueling your body, I get sick of the guilt that sometimes sneaks up when I want one of those foods that everyone says is so bad.

I try to remember, though, that too much of anything throws your body out of balance, even too much of the good stuff. I try to remember the importance of balance, variety, and even the emotional satisfaction that comes from eating a food you really want (people say this is bad too…but with all of the socialness that is tied into cooking and eating, how can it not be somewhat emotional?). I try to remember the importance of paying attention to my own body, because I am not the person on Pinterest that wrote the article about how bad gluten makes her feel. I am me. A bit of gluten doesn’t make me feel bad, so I think I can eat a bit of gluten. But a lot of gluten makes me feel bogged down, so I don’t eat it at every meal. Lately, I am working on basing my diet and recipe choices off of my own body awareness, rather than the latest food-abstinence trend.

I believe it’s important to be informed about nutrition, and not to ignore the cautions about certain foods. And I know that for some people a strict diet is the key to feeling healthier and stronger and for getting rid of certain health problems.

But, 5 years after starting down the path to a healthier me, I believe in moderation more than anything, and in letting go of the worries that come with eating foods that are less healthy, in moderation, (sometimes I still worry, but I am working on it :)).  I know that depriving myself of certain things, like grains and sugar, isn’t sustainable and realistic, although I have done cleanses like this to ‘clean up’ my body at certain times. But, in my everyday life I know there are going to be times when I want some candy and times when I want scrumptious toast with jam. That’s okay! There are also times when I crave a good smoothie or some crunchy veggies. It’s up to me! It’s my job to decide what my body and mind needs 🙂

There’s no real timeliness to this post…just something I’ve been contemplating lately!

So, cheers to a happy and healthy and well-balanced Tuesday 🙂

Weekend Kitchen Experiments: Curry “Man” Soup, Oatmeal Cakes, Sweet Potato Hash Browns, and More!

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This weekend turned out to be a weekend of near-constant cooking. To me, it seemed like great timing to hang out in the house. It’s mud season in Fraser and, while the weather has been pretty nice, there’s not as much primo outdoor recreating as there is in the height of summer or the height of winter. It’s still far too wet and muddy to hike, and the snow is slowly but surely melting away so snowboarding and cross-country skiing are wrapping up for the season. Bike riding seems to be our best bet, and we did that on our day off on Friday. But mostly, I spent a lot of time playing the kitchen. Here are our weekend kitchen experiments:

Alex’s curry “man” soup

I had been fighting a creeping cold all weekend, and by Sunday at lunchtime my throat was really starting to hurt. I told Alex I wished our Indian food restaurant was open for lunch so I could go get some curry. This warm spice always seems to help soothe a sore throat. Alex didn’t hesitate for one second. He got right up and declared that he would make me a curry soup. What a good hubby, hah? 🙂 Alex is really good at making something from nothing, at putting together a bunch of random spices and ingredients into something scrumptious. So, he set out to concoct a curry soup using whatever we had in the fridge! I was on the couch, being a “backseat driver” to his soup-making, giving him little lessons on the basics of making soup from scratch (I make soup A LOT..almost every week!) “This is a man soup,” he kept saying. “It’s a man soup.” I am not sure on the meaning of this, but I can only assume it meant that he was just throwing it all together. But man, did his man soup turn out good! When I sat down to write this post, I asked Alex what he did to make that soup. He refused to tell me, saying, “Nope, nope,” then, with a smirk on his face, “Ummm I cannot just prostitute my man soup.”…ahem…Then finally, “I don’t even know what I did.” Sorry guys, we obviously are not very diligent “recipe developers,” but that’s why this post is about experiments! Anywho, from what I saw from my vantage point on the couch Alex coined and sauteed 1-2 carrots, then added some strips of red and green pepper and a few diced green onions. It smelled to me like he seasoned all of this with curry, and I would later find curry, ginger, and mustard seed left out on the counter. Lucky for me he rarely cleans up after himself, so his kitchen secrets aren’t too hard to figure out 😉 While the veggies softened, he seemed to be melting some frozen chicken stock cubes in a saucepan and perhaps adding spices to this as well. Next, he put the veggies into the chicken stock, and began to saute and spice some tofu. This is when I dozed off a little. But I know that he added Udon noodles and the cooked tofu to the soup at some point. He woke me from my doze with a steaming bowl of curry soup. It was sooooooo delicious. It was spicy and hot, sweet and soothing. I devoured it, and enjoyed a 30 minute reprieve from my aching throat. If Alex ever decides that it is, in fact, acceptable to “prostitute his man soup,” I will be sure to share the official recipe with you.

Oatmeal Cakes:

The idea for this was to have a kind of dense and filling pancake item, made out of cooked oatmeal! First, I put about 2 cups of quick oats in a bowl and mixed them with boiling water, making sure they weren’t soupy at all, but sticky instead. I then added a handful of raisins and a handful of pecans. Next, I formed balls out of the mixture and squished them between my two hands, making one cake at a time and using a spatula to get the sticky cake off of my hand and into a pan. I had greased the pan with coconut oil, and now cooked the cakes, letting them get golden on one side and then flipping them and letting them get golden on the other side. When the cakes were done, I drizzled them with honey and served Alex his with yogurt. These were yummy! With crispy outsides and dense, packed insides, they had a different texture than regularly-prepared oatmeal and were still just as filling. Success!

 

Sweet Potato Hash Browns served with tomatoes on a fried egg.

Sweet Potato Hash Browns served with tomatoes on a fried egg.

Sweet Potato Hash browns

I love sweet potatoes, and I love hash browns. So, one morning, I thought I would try my hand at combining these two glorious things. I used one sweet potato, and started by peeling it and cutting it in half width-wise (this sounds like a very weird term…but I cut it the way that wasn’t lengthwise. Is that called width-wise?? Somebody help me out on this one.) Then I grated one half into a bowl using a cheese grater. Next, I spread the grated product onto a paper towel, topped it with another paper towel, and pressed out as much moisture as I could. I recently learned that sweet potatoes have a very high moisture content, so I thought taking some of that water out might speed up the browning process. I then repeated the grating and pressing with the other half of the sweet tater. After I squeezed out as much moisture as I could, I tossed all the hash in a bowl with some cinnamon and a little bit of corn starch, which is another technique to remove moisture (I learned this when making sweet potato fries on Thursday night, following this recipe from A Couple Cooks….they were AMAZING)Next, I heated up some coconut oil in a pan and, once it was melted, I add the sweet potato hash. Using a spatula, I pressed it down until it was like one big cake. Then I let it sizzle for quite a while, at least 20 minutes. I cooked it until it was starting to brown on one side. Then I flipped it and let the hash brown on the other side. It was definitely getting crispy, but was still pretty soft in the center. I turned up the heat a little so they would really crisp on the outside and, after flipping them multiple times so neither side would burn, I served them up with some eggs. Overall, these turned out being pretty yummy. But I would like to try this experiment again and see if I can get them crispier, maybe by baking them for a while first to get ride of moisture and then frying them quickly for crispiness?

 

Squash and Zucchini noodles.

Squash and Zucchini noodles.

Squash and Zucchini Noodles

For this experiment, I followed a super easy recipe. I bought three zucchini and two yellow squash. I peeled them. I used my julienne cutter to cut each one, top to bottom, into “noodles,” taking care to stop the cutting when I reached the center/seeds. I then lined two baking sheets with paper towels (don’t worry, nothing caught on fire!) and baked these zoodles on 200 degrees for 30 minutes. When they came out of the oven, I let them cool for a few minutes and then wrapped the paper towel around them and squeezed out a bunch of moisture from the zoodles, which had begun to sweat during the baking process. Next, I sauteed them in olive oil until they reached the texture I wanted, and added some tomato and spiced, cooked tofu to them. It was much like a spaghetti squash dish, and I loved that it was fresh and still filling. Next time, I will try these with pesto. Yum!

 

 

 

Pizza on Cauliflower Crust.

Pizza on Cauliflower Crust.

 

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

This is something odd that I’ve heard and read about a few times recently. It was intriguing and simple enough to make me want to try it. Taking bits and pieces from a few different recipes, I was able to make a pretty decent cauliflower pizza crust. I bought a bag of frozen cauliflower and let it thaw. I then measured out 2 cups of cauliflower and, using my manual food processor, I ground it into a rice-like substance, being careful not to grind it to less than rice-grain size. Next I put it in a bowl, added two eggs, and about 1 cup of cheese. I mixed it all together, spread it onto a pizza stone, and sprinkled some Italian seasoning on top. Then I baked it on 400 degrees for 20 minutes. I took it out and added sauce and toppings, and put it back in for about 10 minutes. The end result was quite light and delicious. I do want to try this again, but next time I will try to make my “dough” less moist, as it didn’t get as firm and crispy as some of the recipes I read indicated it would. I would also like to make it thicker “crust” pizza next time because it got pretty flimsy after I added toppings.

Well, it was a weekend of good cooking and good eating. I am happy to say that almost everything we ate this weekend was fresh and clean, hearty and healthy. I am sad to say that, despite the efforts and healthful eating, I still ended up with a cold 😦 No fair! At least there’s leftover man soup in the fridge in case that cold persists.

PS: We got a new niece on Monday morning at 5:38am. Can’t wait to meet sweet little Beatrice this weekend!

Baby Beatrice with big sis Penelope. For those of you that didn't know, my husband's brother is married to my sister (weird, I know) and these are their kiddos!

Baby Beatrice with big sis Penelope. For those of you that didn’t know, my husband’s brother is married to my sister (weird, I know) and these are their kiddos!

 

 

 

Weekend Kitchen Experiments

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This was the first weekend since I don’t even know when that Alex and I have been at home all weekend and visitor-free…all weekend! We’ve been in Steamboat, Denver, and at Alex’s family cabin. A lot of of our family comes from Denver to ski and stays with us, so we’ve had our usual steady flow of winter house guests. While we generally like to run around adventuring, and we thoroughly enjoy getting to hang out with our families frequently, it was nice to have a weekend to ourselves and do everything on our own schedule. Needless to say, there was a lot of nesting. We went to the dentist, ran some errands, had a movie/candy night, dog-sat for some friends, went cross-country skiing, watched copious amounts of Modern Family, planted some seeds in our indoor garden, cleaned the house, and, of course, cooked and ate. Here are some new things we tried this weekend:

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade almond milk. See all the almond pulp settling to the bottom?

Homemade almond milk. See all the almond pulp settling to the bottom?

This homemade almond milk from Oh She Glows was pretty simple to make, and turned out fairly well for a first try. All I did was soak a cup of almonds overnight, and strain them and blend them with four cups of water in the morning. After then were sufficiently “milked” in the blender, I strained them through our

mini mesh strainer into a class measuring cup. The recipe suggested using cheesecloth or something called a nut milk bag…but I didn’t have either so I made do, straining and dumping the leftover almond pulp into a bowl periodically. Then I put the liquid back in the blender and added about a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon. Next time, I am going to try using less water, as my almond milk was pretty thing. Otherwise, it turned out pretty good.

Straining homemade almond milk.

Straining homemade almond milk.

Almond Peanut Butter Chocolate Bites

I started with this recipe as a base for what was called “raw cookie dough bites,” something you can make with the leftover almond pulp from making almond milk. But I didn’t really follow this recipe because I didn’t have half the things in it and didn’t want to go buy them (almond butter, coconut oil). Instead, I used 2/3 cup almond pulp, 4 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1/8 cup broken up chocolate with sea salt. I mixed the almond pulp (which we spent a lot of time drying in the toaster oven before using), honey, and peanut butter together to form balls. Then I stuck a couple pieces of chocolate in the top of each, and put them on a plate in the freezer for about 10 minutes. They ended up being pretty good treats, but certainly tasted nothing like raw cookie dough bites (does anything??) 🙂

Strawberry Almond Milk Ice Cream

Strawberry almond milk ice cream with chocolate on top!

Strawberry almond milk ice cream with chocolate on top!

Okay, it’s probably becoming pretty clear that I was on an Almond Milk bender this weekend….

In my defense, these recipes were just building up on my Pinterest for weeks while we were out having lots of adventures. I am lactose intolerant, so the more dairy-free recipes I can find, the better. Especially when it comes to the dairy stuff I miss the most, like ice cream. Obviously. Sigh. Anyways, I used this recipe as a base for my almond milk ice cream. I had 5 frozen bananas, like the recipe uses, but they weren’t peeled before being frozen. Peeling 5 frozen bananas did not seem like fun. It almost always results in frozen fingers. So I put about 3 cups of frozen strawberries in my blender with 2/3 cup of almond milk. I blended it up, adding small amounts of almond milk periodically and stirring the mixture as it blended. When it reached an ice-creamish consistency, I put it in a bowl and put some broken up dark chocolate with sea salt on top. Mmmmmm this is an easy recipe that I will probably use over and over with any frozen fruit. While this version is not as creamy as ice cream, it’s still delicious and I will be interested to try the recipe with bananas to see if that increases the creamy factor.

Sweet Potato Nachos 

Sweet potato nachos from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Sweet potato nachos from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Again, this is a recipe that I have been wanting to try for weeks, ever since I first saw it on one of my favorite food blogs, Two Peas and Their Pod. As the recipe said, I used three sweet potatoes and used my fancy mandolin cutter (for the first time!) to slice them all into equally thin rounds. This was a TON of sweet potato rounds. I popped them in the oven at 400 degrees, and watched them closely. Still, many of them burnt before others were even crisping at all. This, I did not understand because I knew for a fact that they were all the same thickness. I thought the oven might be too hot, so turned it down to 355 degrees after about 20 minutes and flipping the rounds once. I thought they might have had too much oil…or not enough oil? This turned out to be kind of a tough endeavor for me. In the end, they all shrunk a lot and the ones that weren’t burnt were more like sweet potato leathers than sweet potato chips. They weren’t as crispy as I had been dreaming of since I saw the recipe, but I used the best tray for our nachos. They cooked to a point where I thought if they cooked any longer they would burn, so I took out the tray, sprinkled some mozzarella cheese and black beans on the top and put them back in the oven for about 5 minutes. When the cheese was melted, I topped them with green onions, cilantro, avocado, and a little lime juice. Even though the “chips” weren’t perfect, these were super delicious. This was a creative and delicious flavor combo, and I will definitely keep trying at sweet potato chips until I get them just right.

Red Lentil failure

Sunday afternoon I put some red lentils on the stove for a curry I am planning on making later this week. I’ve made green lentils many times, but never red. However, in this case, I don’t think it was the color of the lentils that is to blame for the debacle I had. While trying to do too many things at once, my lentils boiled over and filled the tray below the burner with water. So, I switched them to another burner, turned it on simmer (since they had already boiled), and walked away. I checked on them once or twice, wondering why they weren’t doing much. I thought maybe the progress was slow, since the burner was on simmer. After about 45 minutes I realized I had turned on the wrong burner. Classic Cece mistake….

After cursing my own idiocy, I turned on the correct burner and let them simmer. Probably because of the extreme boil, followed by 45 minutes of soaking/cooling, followed by simmering these lentils came out as a mushy mess. Fail.

There’s always next time! And blended lentil soup.

A Photo Story: Alex teaches Cece how to take more appetizing pictures of food

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Last week, I wrote up my recipe for easy chili. Of course, I had to get pictures to go with it. Having to take pictures of food is probably one of the main reasons I didn’t start sharing recipes long ago; It’s pretty intimidating to try and get appetizing pictures of food!

Here's my first pic of the chili. "Let's make it NOT look like dorm chili," Alex said.

Here’s my first pic of the chili. “Let’s make it NOT look like dorm chili,” Alex said.

As I grumbled and groaned with the camera in the kitchen, Alex came to my rescue. He’s got a photographic eye and takes lots and lots ‘o pictures so he was able to give me a few pointers on how to make the food in the recipes I share look as good as it tastes. And we had a few laughs along the way too. Here’s what came out of it:

 

Step 1: Use a smaller dish. I had the chili in a bowl that was probably about 5 inches in diameter, and Alex switched it to a bowl that was about 3 inches in diameter.

"See. That's less intimidating," Alex says.

“See. That’s less intimidating,” Alex says.

 

Step 2: Color/ Contrast. The chili is mostly red, so Alex added a plump dollop of sour cream to the top. On top of that, he arranged a beautiful fan of fresh basil leaves. Please note that cilantro would have been more of a choice garnish for chili, but for the sake of this lesson we used basil because we just didn’t have cilantro.

“[Put] Something in a picture that's more visually appealing...as opposed to...not,” Alex says. “Make it look special. Not just like dorm food chili.”

“Put something in a picture that’s more visually appealing…as opposed to…not,” Alex says. “Make it look special. Not just like dorm food chili.”

Step 3: Shape. In the same realm as ‘contrast’ we tried to vary the shapes in the frame by adding basil leaves.

“Because we’re very circular here,” Alex says.

Step 4: Get close. Don’t be afraid to show the textures of the food, and to make readers feel like they are close to this food, getting ready to eat it up.

“If the food is far away, you're not enjoying it,” Alex says. “See. Now you're like 'Oh yeah, I'm enjoying this food.”

“If the food is far away, you’re not enjoying it,” Alex says. “See. Now you’re like ‘Oh yeah, I’m enjoying this food.”

Up close and personal!

Up close and personal!

 

Step 5: Try different angles. Try pictures from above, straight on, a little further away, from the side. While experimenting with angles, check your foreground, mid-ground, and background to make sure there are no miscellaneous items in the shot.

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Here’s the picture I chose for the post:

The final product!

The final product!

Did Alex’s tips work? Does it look better than the first picture I took?

Well, that’s all for now. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how I do!