April 26, 2016
by jenny

Seeking Black Bean Burger Advice

I’ve always wanted to make my own veggie or black bean burgers.  I like veggie burgers, but there is often some seasoning in veggie burgers I don’t really love (sometimes cilantro, sometimes other stuff), and I tend to get heartburn with bell peppers which they often include. I figured I could make something. Similarly, my kids refuse much of anything that looks like it contains peppers. They do enjoy black beans, but don’t much enjoy exploration in flavor profiles. They LOVE burgers. I’ve always figured we could come up with something we all enjoy.


When I research black bean recipes, many rely on ingredients we don’t really want (seasonings, bell peppers, sweet potatoes). There are recipes that I can work around this for sure, but I also don’t want to add breadcrumbs. I don’t really have a great reason, other than I don’t want to make a ball of breadcrumbs to put on a bun, we can just eat bread with a few beans on the side for that.

For the past ten or more years I’ve thought about making my own veggie burgers and I had never just given it a go until yesterday when we had a bowlful of chopped up mushrooms, half an onion and some fresh basil leftover from making pizzas. I thought this was a good start.


I sauteed the mushrooms and onions and threw them in the food processor with a drained and rinsed can of black beans, a cup of cooked quinoa, some Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, and the basil. I mixed it up. Maybe I mixed it up too much? It was a very wet. It tasted good though. I added in two raw eggs and mixed it up, which made it more wet. I put it in the refrigerator to see if it would harden up any. It didn’t.


I made puddles of the mixture and baked it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes and they did bake solid. I decided not to subject my kids to this experiment based on what I knew their reaction would be to their appearance (they were ridiculously unappealing and opened the window to a lot of bodily function comments), so I heated a few up of the bean burgers on the grill for my husband along with brussels sprouts and some beef burgers for the kids.  We ate them. They tasted good. They had exactly the texture of a savory muffin, which was hard to get past for me, but my husband didn’t mind. He actually enjoyed that they were “somewhat light and airy.” My husband said they’d be great with fried eggs over the top (there are a handful in the freezer now, we’ll see if he carries that out). They were not the burger I was hoping to create but the window has opened for creation and experimentation and I’m no longer afraid.


I’m thinking I don’t blend as much and/or reserve some solids to put back into a blended portion. Also of pan frying the “patties.” Does anyone have any tips, suggestions or recipes for black bean burgers without breadcrumbs, cilantro or bell peppers?

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April 22, 2016
by sarah

Happy EARTH Day!!

Happy Earth Day!

I thought I would post about using recycled materials to make art. Here are a couple ideas of specific things. However my favorite thing is to dump a box of clean yogurt containers, toilet paper rolls, plastic caps, bubble wrap, etc.. on the table and say create! They usually grab markers, pipe cleaners, and beads to add to their critters.

We recently tried these egg carton lights.

IMG_2257 IMG_2267

We have posted before about critters, containers, carrots, and compost.

I want to try this:

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April 19, 2016
by sarah

Brighten your day!

The weather in April around here is beautiful. However it is still pretty grey. The trees are just starting to get a little green. I thought you might need some bright color in your day.

IMG_2229 IMG_2230 IMG_2114

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April 15, 2016
by jenny

Rearranging the Dishwasher

Here’s something I don’t understand:

Why do people get all defensive and judgey about people who rearrange the dishwasher?

I do rearrange the dishwasher. My husband rearranges the dishwasher. I grew up in a house with a father who rearranged the dishwasher (we were actually instructed repeatedly to load according to the dishwasher manual best practices).

I’ve never been offended by the dishwasher being rearranged after I loaded it.

I have seen many an internet meme about “people who rearrange the dishwasher.” You know, “those people.” More than a few times good friends have said to me with much disdain, “Oh, I bet you are one of those people who rearrange the dishwasher, aren’t you?” I am. And I am proud of it. I’m not sure why this would ever be a bad or offensive thing.

Here is a dishwasher scenario: Today there was a big popcorn bowl and some dishes already in the dishwasher. I made a batch of big soft ginger cookies and wanted to add in the big mixer bowl.



I could have just shoved it on top like this:


Then I pretty much would have had to run the dishwasher and the mixer bowl might not get entirely clean at the side where it overlaps the red bowl. It also ended up rubbing against the the top rack sprayer when I closed the bottom rack.

But by shifting two things, both big bowls now slide under the top rack, the bowls will get cleaner since they can be fully sprayed, and I have room to fit dishes from the entire rest of the day and maybe even make it through breakfast tomorrow morning. It takes around 6 gallons of water and 1 kWh of energy to run a load of dishes, so not rearranging them might make one and a half times that impact since I’d have run it this morning and again the next day.


Why do people try to make dishwasher rearrangers feel neurotic or like we have control issues? I don’t understand what the controversy is.

Some Reasons I Support Rearranging the Dishwasher:

  1. If someone is rearranging the dishwasher, that usually means someone else is doing the dishes and you are not. This should be the only reason you need. Why complain? Let them do it and walk away, anyone else doing the dishes is AWESOME.
  2. Appliances aren’t built to be very heavy duty these days. Some of the items we shove in our dishwasher are heavy duty. Dishwasher racks are built like cantilevers, if heavier items are loaded towards the front, or the weight is not distributed evenly, the rack can break or bend slowly or quickly. Sometimes weight needs to be redistributed to save the dishwasher. That saves frustration, cleanup, money and downtime for repair, which is AWESOME.
  3. Sometimes you load the dishwasher all nice, but then in the next meal something else unanticipated comes along. Maybe an awkward platter. Maybe a big bowl. Maybe a whole bunch of mugs. Do I want to run the dishwasher half full of bowls with a sink stacked high with plates? No. I can just rearrange the dishwasher and fit it all in. I’m saving energy, water, electricity and a couple hours of having to look at a sink full of dirty dishes. And that’s AWESOME.
  4. My dad has read the manual, and I’ve seen the How It’s Made episode on dishwashers, so we can tell you dishwashers are made to clean things efficiently and most effectively if used a certain way. Some sections are hotter, some sections receive more water. The water is shot out  from certain directions. You don’t have to follow this for maximum efficiency, BUT you do know from experience and common sense, the dishwasher has to be loaded reasonably to get everything clean. Sometimes two knives or plates get squashed together in quick general loading. When the dishwasher is run, they won’t get cleaned and you have hard peanut butter or egg or eggplant parm cemented to your dishes. Now it’s dried and caked on, and you get to scrub it manually, sometimes it takes a soak and has to be put it back into the dishwasher, either way you are washing it twice. OR you can see that you need an adjustment before the dishwasher is run, make a shift and you’ve saved frustration, water and energy again. AWESOME.
  5. Sometimes you are in a hurry or kids throw stuff in the dishwasher. Should you have plastic on the bottom rack? No, most everyone knows that by now. Should you have chopsticks falling through from the top rack or knives slipping through the utensil basket section that has the big rip in it to block up the sprayers? No, you don’t want your dishwasher to break. Should you have trays or Tupperware blocking the jets so they can’t clean anything but the back of the tray or Tupperware? Of course, not, you want everything cleaned. You’re awesome, you know how to move things around and make things work so you don’t break expensive stuff or set your house on fire.
  6. Some people just really like the way it looks and feels to have everything lined up together. I like this and when starting with a fresh dishwasher or have extra time, I might make it look like this and it is pleasing and happiness inducing. Everything lining up in the dishwasher isn’t a priority or a necessity for me, but I’m not sure why it’s a character flaw if it is for someone else. Some people like their nails, or hair or clothes or bookshelves or car exterior to look nice and neat, what’s the difference? When I see a cleanly loaded and lined up dishwasher someone else has loaded, that might make me happy too, so the loader/rearrangers has made themselves and someone else happy. They spread happiness and get dishes clean and that is AWESOME.

I don’t regularly open up the dishwasher and see a half full loaf plates or cups of different sizes all over the place and put them together, but I can’t say I haven’t ever done. I don’t curse the person who put something in one place instead of another (though I know people who do). If I’m starting fresh and I’m loading a big dinner or sink full of dishes, I will line everything up nicely with likes together. Otherwise, I just want to fit as much stuff in to get as clean as possible.

Thank you for your consideration. You are awesome.

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April 14, 2016
by jenny

Puff Pastry Cinnamon Twists

Through a few consecutive weeks of grocery week miscommunication last month we ended up with a produce drawer full of apples.

We were getting to the point that many of the apples were getting soft all at once, and I wanted to make something not labor intensive, but that made okay leftovers with them, since I knew whatever I made wouldn’t be super popular in the house.

I decided on an apple tart, and used a version of the Pioneer Woman’s Quick and Easy Apple Tart recipe, which was fine. It called for pre-made frozen puff pastry, but I didn’t end up using all of the puff pastry, and didn’t feel like saving it.

So I did what we do with extra pie crust and made cinnamon twists with the leftovers and they were super crazy easy and AWESOME. We rationed ourselves to not finish them all, and they even held up until the next morning for breakfast.


Puff Pastry Cinnamon Twists


  • pre-made puff pastry, (likely from the freezer section and then set out to thaw somewhat, it’s  easiest to work with if it’s still cold, and starts to get sticky at room temperature)
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • cinnamon sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray
  3. Cut the puff pastry into 3/4″ strips, twist them up and place on the cookie sheet.
  4. Brush the twisted strips with melted butter (you can also brush the puff pastry  with butter before cutting into strips, your hands get messier and there isn’t as much butter on the top for cinnamon to stick to, but super quicker brushing because you don’t need accuracy – I tried both!)
  5. Sprinkle on cinnamon sugar to your hearts content.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  7. Enjoy!



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April 14, 2016
by jenny
1 Comment

Play Therapy

I am a parent in a middle class suburban world. I am flooded daily with discussions, articles, studies, internet memes, and prayers about the huge amount of stress and expectations in the lives of children today and their resulting anxiety issues.

I have anxious children. Two of my kids cried and clung to my husband or I  at every birthday party until they were nine. It makes no sense, nothing bad has ever happened at a birthday party. They’ve never been lost or forgotten. I don’t even think a paper cut or unwanted pictures have happened. We have always made it clear they never have to participate in an activity they don’t want to do, just go and watch, support and celebrate their friend, and wait for the cake, and that is what they generally chose to do, just sit on the sideline and watch. It  happened at places with their favorite activities that they beg to go on other days, and it happened for parties hosted at a best friend’s house that they’ve been to maybe a hundred times with only two other guests that were friends they knew and enjoyed. It just happened. It’s gone now (though they still opt not to go to some parties that are super active), but none of us could ever figure out why it happened. But that’s how anxiety works sometimes. That’s part of it, it’s not rational or it would be easier to control.

None of my kids like new activities or new places. Two of my kids scream and cry before something new and then might be fine when they get there, and one is usually fine until we get there and then becomes definitely NOT fine. Pretty much with any new thing, even at the ages of 11, 9 and 7, something as benign as a new ice cream store might bring about enough high anxiety that they’ll choose to sit in the car and not have a cup of plain vanilla brought to them. Sometimes it pops up with old things too.


Personally, I don’t like new things much either, so I get it. It’s rare we ever force the kids into something big. Sometimes we might make them go/see/try, but allow the option to leave/stop/step back. On a nature blog I read someone uses a “15 minute rule.” If the kid isn’t into a hike, they say “give it 15 minutes and if you don’t want to do it, we’ll turn back,” (this is a similar theory for those who exercise regularly!) and it almost always works out that they don’t turn back. This wouldn’t work with my kids, they’d watch the clock, or start counting to 60 15 times and let me know when time was up and it was time to leave.

It’s tiring. I give up a lot. I don’t plan activities or events or outings if all three (or sometimes two) kids are really pushing back because I know they’ll be miserable, not able to turn their minds around and no one will enjoy it.  I try to talk about something new just enough for them to wrap their heads around the concept, but not enough they start to overthink it. Now that the kids are old enough for internet research, we look at pictures (the visuals really help them prepare for what to expect) and read reviews online sometimes when planning, give a few choices of the least scary new thing to try, and sometimes just have to say “This is going to happen, get over it.” (And these plans can be as fun and simple as trying a new playground, movie theater or restaurant!)


One thing that is really awesome about my kids is that they are naturally masters of play therapy. They always have been. They have all always tended towards role playing toys (playing with dolls, dollhouse, figurines, Lego Minifigures and stuffed animals). They very very rarely play sports in their free time; no one has ever cared about trains or cars; Legos or construction toys are generally only for building the scenery for their Lego Minifigures or dollhouse people. My girls like arts and crafts well enough, but when given the choice and time to play, they always go back to role play.

My grandfather suffered from a head trauma in the year before he died. He couldn’t open his eye lids, but they could be taped up one at a time for short amounts of time allowing him to see. The kids and I visited him in the nursing home a handful of times. When we came back after the first time, my girls found the tired looking, eyes half shut, light blue, 8 inch Sleepy Care Bear stuffed animal handed down from my nephew and  renamed him “Papa Joe.” My girls, preschoolers at the time, took good care of him. They carried him around, talked to him, propped him up so he could watch them play and covered him up for bed and naps. When my grandfather died, the Bear was renamed “Dead Papa Joe,” and their relationship didn’t really change much. I would  walk in to find my little girls doing things with Dead Papa Joe- fashioning a shoe box decorated in marker and stickers into a casket for him (he had many caskets), laying him on the top bunk and calling it Heaven, or just carrying him around telling him that he was dead now. It totally FREAKED OUT my husband. But anytime I wanted to explain more about death to them, I could just jump right into the game and start talking to the Care Bear about death. Sometimes my girls would just listen, sometimes they would agree or test out some theories, and sometimes they would feel comfortable asking questions as part of the game, being the voice of Dead Papa Joe, or someone talking to Dead Papa Joe, that they may not have felt comfortable (or maybe even know they wanted to ask) otherwise.

(Probably because they are too anxious to get involved in many extra curricular activities) my kids have plenty of time to play together. I realize I’m lucky that my kids have this outlet to work through things they need to work through on their own pace and time. And to work through, test out and practice handling situations, gain confidence and ask questions in a way that feels safe and not risky for them.


You may have been introduced to “The Big House” in my previous posts (http://twoclevermoms.com/legos-for-girls/). This is a large network of extended family, friends and neighbors that have lived, grown and evolved in our house over the past few years. There is a well known network of relationships, personalities and history that has been kept up and maintained with a large set of Lego Minifigures. (We have a similar dollhouse and homemade Paper Doll families here as well, but on a smaller scale.) The goings on of The Big House are tracked and monitored and reported to everyone in the house. There is literally talk about what went on that day in The Big House, or something funny someone said or did in The Big House as a regular part of dinner conversation. By now, we know them so well, they really do feel like friends. My kids often start conversations with something like “You’ll never believe what Boo said yesterday,” and be talking about a Lego. [Boo, by the way, is a well known trouble maker, they often try to toss in the path of the vacuum hoping she will be whisked away forever and they won’t have to deal with her antics (yes, they are even tortured in their imaginations).]

The Big House world is so involved and evolved that The Big House has it’s own (imaginary) TV show that everyone in Big House land stops and watches when a new episode premiers. If you know my family well, you can probably sing the theme song. There are special Minifigure stars who sometimes hold separate concerts, full length feature films, or are celebrity spotted around town. This past December, there was a holiday special that had premiered a new dance number that became quite the rage in Big House land (and by my kids in our family room) for a few weeks.

The Big House network at this point (a few years in) has likely been through or currently includes every configuration of families you could think of – adoptions, same sex marriages, mixed religion families, handicaps, parents deployed in the military, divorces, single parents, remarriages, kids being raised by grandparents, aunts, and neighbors, children who have passed away, multifamily homes, and on and on. There have been weddings, baptisms, birthday parties, fights, pregnancies and births, deaths, arrests, allergic reactions, construction, camps, shopping trips, doctor’s appointments, surgeries, hair cuts, makeovers, dinners at the mayor’s house, camping, changes in co-habitation, new neighbors, new jobs, concerts, science fairs (prepared for weeks), sporting events, holidays, vacations and on and on. My kids make chore charts, report cards, Christmas cards, and iMovies. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them had a tax audit.

But over half of all Big House time is spent in school. There are so many kids in Big House family world that they can fill a whole classroom with relatives, which is convenient. We know their personalities and even their learning styles so well, they conveniently fills the role that any problem that may appear in my kids’ real world can be played out in Big House world. And if not, a new kid moves to town or is adopted.

Last year there was a string of robberies in the Big House school, a few days after it started I got a call from one of my kids’ teachers that another student had been stealing things from my daughter’s desk and backpack. My daughter had never mentioned it, but I should have guessed.


I find this is more supportive evidence that kids can learn through play. I see it coaching sports (less is often more sort of thing – the more time kids have to just play on their own terms, taking their own risks, repeating actions, seeing different scenarios, watching their friends, having experiences drills and spoken instruction can’t give, the better they get). I see it similarly through my daughter’s Destination Imagination team (where kids work as a team parents aren’t allowed to help). Mostly I see it through my kids working through their own anxieties and problems. They play and replay their scenarios (“Okay, now, let’s do it where she said this instead at the beginning.”)

My kids have role play. Some other kids may be able to work through and vent their daily stress through physical activities. Maybe others can pour themselves into music, art, books, or just being outside or alone or with someone. But I have to think all kids (and probably some grownups?) need something, even if it’s a good night’s sleep, ice cream break or a long walk.

This week in the Big House, school is in session.  My daughters usually play Big House together, but my older daughter had left for school, and my middle daughter continued to play by herself this morning. I could hear her yelling, “”NO! YOU MAY NOT GET UP FOR WATER!” as I was getting my son’s breakfast ready. My middle daughter called me in to the family room to tell me  what was going on today in the Big House. There is a student teacher visiting for the week that no one likes. “Today she got sent to feed the classroom animals and water the school garden, even though it’s usually a kid’s chore, because no one wanted her in the room anymore.” The Big House main characters are following suit to their personality – the renowned trouble maker, Boo, had to sweep as a punishment and the behaved kids were being good. They happened to have a substitute teacher, who my daughter told me a bunch about. We’ll just say the sub was not very nice. Here is how my daughter left the Legos when she went to school – the sub is “criticizing the kids’ backpacks.”


Yesterday morning, on the way out the door to the bus, out of no where my daughter suddenly started crying that she didn’t want to go to school. She had no reason other than she really didn’t want to go. I told her she could stay home, but she decided to go. Today, after time spent talking to and working things out with her friends in the The Big House, when she was getting her shoes on and heading out the door she was much happier and said, “[My teacher] has a meeting this morning so we are having a sub again today. We had one yesterday too, and she was really mean.”

I should have known.

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March 30, 2016
by jenny

Early Bird Special

We are in a bit of a rut with dinners lately, actually, it’s more than dinners in the rut, it’s all (reasonably healthy) food.

No one is all that happy with food lately. Hamburgers or waffles   may be the only thing that everyone will eat without complaint. These people that I live with even complain about tacos and pizza! One kid doesn’t like cheese. Two kids won’t eat pasta with tomato sauce, one won’t eat pasta without tomato sauce. Only one kid likes hot dogs. My husband changed his diet last year and rarely eats what the rest of us are eating (no matter how healthy or catered to his tastes).

It makes me nuts.

I know I’m not original. This is likely the story in every middle class American house.

My kids have historically been big breakfast eaters, so going by by the “you eat what’s made for dinner or go hungry” lifestyle as been easy, they’ve always make up calories in the morning. But even breakfast that contains some form of protein or fresh produce is a challenge lately. I generally incorporate at least one item in a meal that I know someone will eat – even if it’s baby carrots and hummus. I keep expecting my kids to be growing out of  picky eating, but they are certainly in a picky eating rut, and no one has remotely similar food preferences these days.


The complaining can start before I even begin to prepare food, at the site of it in the pantry or refrigerator days before I make it. The complaining and moaning about food definitely happens when mealtime is announced, peaks when they sit down and rumbles all throughout the meal.

And then, the totally common phenomenon of kids being totally full at the table. And starving five minutes later.

I have a 0% satisfaction rating.

But I’m a problem solver. I’m trying to get out of this rut.


The thing that works best is that I give my kids dinner around 4-4:30pm. It’s rare that any one of the kids doesn’t come off the school bus starving. Sometimes they are so hungry that even the lettuce haters will eat salad. The other day two kids ate navy bean soup. It also makes the the rest of the evening easier to give a big meal when they are really hungry instead of a snack to hold them over. They are happier with full bellies, and if we have any evening activities, the big meal is out of the way. We pack lunches before bed, so if they are hungry later in the evening, they pick while making lunch, eat a yogurt. We’ve been making a big batch of grilled chicken at the start of the week which makes a quick snack plain (kids or adults!), chicken salad, sandwiches, or thrown into quick dinners during the week (soup, nachos, pastas, salads). Sometimes I make a mini-meal around 6 ot 7pm that my kids can pack some of in their lunch (my son fancies chicken quesadillas, my daughters are into pesto pasta with chicken these days).


The other thing I’ve been trying is to try to buy one new food (or something we haven’t seen a while) at the grocery store per week in hopes to discover something new. We’ve tried a bunch of random things – tabbouleh salad, star fruit and kumquats, polenta (we even tried polenta pizzas) – and the only thing that has been a hit is that my son likes corn dogs! Gross!

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March 23, 2016
by sarah

Fairy Gardens

IMG_2149I went to our local garden store to pick up peas last week. The peas were supposed to be planted on St. Patrick’s day, but I decided to wait until last nights snow had come and gone. At the garden center I noticed how the fairy garden accessory area has grown. My bigger girl and I decided to see if we could put our own together.

We bought a big terracotta pot for $4.00

For plants: We reused some soil from last summers tomato plant pot. The big girl has a spider plant in her room that is always having babies. There is often a baby spider plant rooting in a clear glass with water in the window. There is also lots of jade plants in our house. Jade can be simply cut and placed right in soil. With the right care it will grow roots.


Decoration: She also has stashes of all sorts of treasures, projects, and experiments. I had her search her room for anything glittery. She also found a gift of DIY wooden doll house furniture. You punch the pieces out and put the furniture together.  She put a couple pieces together and painted them.

Fairy’s: I found these last night. It will appear in her Easter basket Sunday morning. I will let you know how they compliment the fairy garden.

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March 16, 2016
by jenny

Quick Yeast Rolls!

We often buy ground meat in bulk to save money and for convenience. I like to vacuum seal extras in patty form in the freezer. From there we can combine a few patties easily to make up a pound for something like tacos, and have hamburgers ready when I remember to pull them out to thaw or for nights when I haven’t thought about it and can throw them right on grill frozen. Because hamburgers tend to be a backup or last minute dinner, we often don’t have enough (or any rolls).


Sometimes I put extra rolls in the freezer, just to have for last minute hamburger dinners. Usually there are one or two rolls around that haven’t been used for lunch sandwiches. My daughters and I often prefer the burger without the roll, and my son can be convinced to take a patty melt (grilled cheese sandwich with a burger inside, using sandwich bread) which can also be convenient for times without rolls.

Last week I was stuck at home all day, and thought early about dinner, decided on hamburgers from the freezer. There were no rolls and not much bread for lunches the next day. I wasn’t going to be able to get to the store, so I thought I’d make some rolls.  I saw this recipe for 40 Minute Hamburger Buns. I was slightly skeptical, having experience with yeast and rise/rest times. The fact that the recipe has 5 stars and over 150 reviews had me totally intrigued.

I followed the main recipe ingredients and instructions. Except I let the rolls rise until doubled, which was almost 30 minutes instead of 10 minutes, and I did an egg wash on the top and sprinkled with sea salt. I was shocked they were baked in 8 minutes, my oven usually takes longer.


These actually were good for being that super easy and quick! There is hardly any kneading (relatively). The rolls were soft, not chewy and not crusty (which is a a general preference here). They sort of had the texture of tube/pop-in fresh rolls, so I might lower the oil as suggested by some of the reviewers. They weren’t terrible the next day either. If you are new to yeast baking, or don’t have the time or patience for something longer, this recipe may be a good introduction!  Click here for the recipe!


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