Basement Remodel anyone…

As promised I am going to give a rundown of our basement remodel. I want to say ahead of time that I began writing this post a couple of months ago and thought I had begun the process of posting it; but looking back on some former post I realized that I had not.  I went back through my files and found all of the writing and now I begin again.  At the time of the original post the bar area had not been completed yet because 1) we felt it would require custom cabinets and we aren’t quite sure how we want to design this; and 2) my husband was tired of the project. Although it is his baby, he said at one point it took something out of him mentally to think about it anymore.

We are DIY’ers, but for this project we contracted out all of the work. Sure we could have laid the floor or painted the walls or even done the insulation (we discussed these projects thoroughly); but our schedules just didn’t allow for it. Stan’s business is doing well and sometimes I feel like I am a chauffeur for my Babydoll (I can’t figure it out). If we had of done more work on this project, I would not be showing/telling you about this project because we still would have been working on it. So let me begin…

We started a over a year ago, in May of 2013. We had several contractors come out to give us estimates to have it done by one company/person.  After some pretty amazing presentations we decided we were going to contract this out ourselves. Why, you ask? Because 1) Most if not all, of the estimates were coming in at around $25-30k and that did not include the electronics (I knew we were going to spend major bucks on the electronics because anything else was NOT going to fly with my husband, no way, no how would that fly); 2) the finishes weren’t included in that estimate (finishes are the really nice trim work, high end mini fridge, furniture, etc.); and 3) we decided we wanted to pay cash for as much work as possible, if we went with a company they would have finished within 3-6 weeks (yeah!!) but a deposit would have been needed at the beginning – $12.5k/15 – and final payment at the end (booo!). So we broke it up in phases.

PHASE 1: Framing – Stan’s side business puts him in contact with all types of construction trades. One day while doing a job he came across a framer. They had a conversation that lead to him coming buy and giving us an estimate that we didn’t feel cheated over – because he is used doing larger jobs, he was able to get a lot of the material for less – so we set it up. They came over on a weekend and we ended up with a framed basement. This lead up to what Stan termed the infrastructure phase but I called it phase 2.

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PHASE 2: Plumbing and Electrical – the basement was not plumbed for any type of bathroom or sink; hence we had no drain. I knew that I was going to add a very small salon in a section of the basement and we wanted to have sink in the bar area. I DID NOT want to have them bust up my floor to put in a drain because that was going to be an extra expense. We did some research and found that there is a drain system that you can purchase that shoots the water up. I’m not explaining this too well, I’m not a plumber, but it shoots the water up. There is probably a better explanation that Stan could probably give you, but he isn’t writing this, I am and all I can say is the water goes up with the help of some pressure. As far as electrical went, we needed a lot of outlets installed. Stan’s theory was it is better to have too many than not enough. We had tons of lighting, lighting for the bar area, the salon, the theater area, the equipment area, and the small area off to the side of the theater. The plumbing and electrical were done about 3 months after the framing was completed. This phase actually took us several months because the electrician we found (thanks soooo much to a coworker for recommending him, he is the best) was so awesome that we ended up having him install lighting for the patio along with electrical outlets on the patio.

I have no pictures of this phase because it was plumbing and electric.  It took us a minute to get it all done, but pictures of the end work would really make no sense to you.  Trust me when I say it made us very happy. Smile

Because this can be a really exhausting post, I’ve decided to break this up into a multi-part series.  Stay tuned for more post.

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Macarons

Last weekend I took the Megabus to see one of my best friends in Chicago.  We were celebrating our birthdays; although our birthdays were last month.  My travel/vacation schedule last month and I wasn’t home long enough for her to come down or me to go up so that we could celebrate.  But anyway, I was there and she took me to the French Market for lunch.  We had noodles for lunch and on the way out, I had to stop at this patisserie that I saw on the way in.  I decided to get some macarons and got some for Sylvana also. (It was the perfect snack for Sylvana, because she has a mostly gluten-free diet now).

After having my wonderful macarons on the bus ride home (I got lemon, lichen, green tea, salted caramel, and vanilla.); I decided that I was going to try my hand at making some.  I had been very hesitant to make macarons in the past because I was afraid of failure.  I had received this book of macaron recipes as a gift.

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I had read it and drooled over the pictures, but was just too chicken-butt to make them.  I spent some of my free time this week looking at different recipes and reading other write-ups on macarons and decided I was ready.  Failure or no, I was making macarons this weekend. 

I was going to purchase almond flour because I wanted to make sure that all my ingredients were top-notch; but the price for a 16 oz of almond flour was close to $10.  One of the websites that I had read suggested you make your own almond flour because the price of the flour is pricey; after seeing the price, I ended up taking her advice.  I bought a 2lb bag of blanched almonds for $6.97.  Yeah, enough said.  I pulsed them in my food processor until they were ground up fine.

I decided to make three types of macarons; lemon cookies and vanilla, almond, and purple vanilla. I decided to make a strawberry cream cheese filling for the purple vanilla, and a plain almond filling for the lemon cookies and vanilla, and almond with blackberry jam smear for the almond. NOTE:  as I was making the almond I decided to forgo the almond and added orange extract instead.  They were delicious anyway I made them.

From everything that I read online and in the book, the time that your macarons sit to “dry out” is important.  If you let them sit for the right amount of time they will get the shiny look and the “feet” will form when you bake them.  We had had a lot of rain that morning and it was humid; I read that if it was humid outside, you were to let them sit for about an hour versus the 15-30 minutes normally suggested.  While I made the second batch (the purple vanilla) I let the first set form the skin on the first batch. 

I baked the first batch at 350 degrees in the convection setting of the oven.  This turned out not to be a good idea.  They seemed to cook too fast and my “feet” didn’t turn out so great. 

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I decided to turn the oven down to 325 and had better success. 

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I went to make the strawberry filling and discovered that I didn’t have any strawberry gelatin in my pantry; but I DID have some peach.  So I made a peach cream cheese filling instead.  Babydoll tried one of the purples and fell in love.  I’m so proud of my macarons. 

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I promised some to my coworkers and I hope they like them also.  I figured out the process (I ended up using my Magic Bullet to puree the confectioners sugar and almond flour to a super smooth consistency), and Babydoll loved them; so my confidence is way up there.  I’m going to do it again soon.  I’m thinking about making some for my girlfriends as part of their Christmas treats.

Have any of you made macarons?  What flavors have you made? 

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PS: I am going to write something real soon about how AWESOME my Magic Bullet is.

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How I’ve learned to travel

It has been a very busy time in the Cork household. The month of June has consisted of nothing but travel (especially for me). I have not been home one weekend the entire month. With all of the travelling I’ve been doing I have finally figured out the best way to take the things that I consider essential to having a wonderful commute and keeping everything organized. So today, I am going to tell you some of the things that I feel are necessities.

1) The bag. It took me until the very last trip to figure this out. Up until my trip to NYC, I was taking two bags on the plane with me – my purse and my bag of electronics and camera. I finally realized that I need to consolidate these bags and save my self so grief. I decided to pack my purse with my other bags in the suitcase and put the essentials like my wallet, lotion, and makeup bags in my carryon bag. The key with this consolidation is finding the bag that is the right size and organizing it to a “T”. This is the bags that I have found worked for me.

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2) Organization. Once you have the bag you need to have a place for everything. This is when it is important to have specific places/containers so that you can find what you need at a moment’s notice. I have read about using sandwich/snack bags to place your cords for your electronic devices. I have rubber banded them and placed them in the pockets of my bag and that seemed to work for a while, but I recently found this nifty package that has become my best friend.

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I now keep it in my bag that I take to work. I love it. I purchased one for Babydoll also. I wanted to get one for Stan, but he insisted that he doesn’t need it and I should not waste my money. Any other person would buy it anyway and show him how misguided he is in his thinking; but after 16 years of marriage I have a few new things recently. 1 is that I do not need to buy my husband technology if he doesn’t specifically ask for it and even if he ask, I need to consider it carefully because he really will not use it if he doesn’t want it. I also have purchased a couple of smaller cosmetic bags that I use in my purse and my travel bag to keep things like my lipsticks (yes, I carry ALL of my lipsticks with me because I may decide the color I have on isn’t working so I need to change it), liners, mirror, blot powder, mints, etc.

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3) Neck Pillow. Have you ever had to fly an early/late flight? I have. As a matter of fact our flight to California this year was at 5am. We did not go to sleep so that we could make sure we didn’t miss our flight; so when I got on the plane, I went to sleep so fast, I don’t remember hearing the initial flight attendant safety speech. This peaceful sleep would not have been possible without my neck pillow. I know this because I forgot my pillow on our NYC trip (this happened because Stan was rushing me, I also forgot my iPod; it was a very tense 45 minutes before I was able to let it go). On the return trip home I was trying to catch up on sleep on the train from NYC to Jersey and my head was rolling and bobbing around worse than a bobble head doll. Also I think I might have had the head back open mouthed sleep on the plane. That only happens when I don’t have my neck pillow. Go to Walmart and grab you one for about $10.

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4) I think it is vital to have a good set of headphones and music for any type of plane/train ride. For me, it allows me to drown out all of the outside/surrounding traveling noise that is inevitable. I love my music and have a very eclectic music palate. I have gospel, new and old R&B, old school Hip Hop, some new school Hip Hop, Pop, I think one Country, and I don’t know what to call some of the others, I just like them. Having said that I have a great pair of headphones by Sol Republic that conceal all outside noise that allows me to go into my peace filled zone. No crying babies (I’ve traveled with a baby so I know the plane is going to bother their ears; I don’t like when parents aren’t considerate and don’t provide a bottle, Sippy cup, pacifier so that their ears can pop), no coughing/hacking passengers (that way I can pretend that I don’t hear them coughing without covering their mouths and getting a plane full of people sick), no engine noise – just peace and great music. I can read and not be distracted/disgusted.

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5) A snack. Be it a bag of nuts, apple slices, chips, a bagel, or graham crackers; having a snack will keep you from making poor airport decisions. The snacks that they provide on the plane usually only are enough to make you want more. I haven’t flown Internationally so I cannot vouch for the quality of those snacks, but Domestic peanuts or pretzels just don’t cut it. The fact that you are traveling is putting your body into a small amount of stress/shock; trying to keep your diet as normal as possible is key. So, bring something that can tide you over until you reach your destination. Your digestive system will thank you for it later.

6) Finally, a tablet/electronic reader or something of that nature. Even if you are not a reader like me, a tablet will come in handy because you can have movies, music, magazines, games, and/or books in one small device. Unless you are sleeping the entire flight or it’s a short flight (30 minutes) you are going to want something to occupy you. You could be like my husband and insist that your travelling companion talk to you; but if they have item 4 then they can block you out like I do him. So be kind to your fellow riders that may not want to converse with you on the plane/train and bring something to distract you in case they don’t want to entertain you.

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That’s my list for no hassle travel. I still have not figured out the best way to carry my camera, so I’m currently wrapping it up and carrying it with my on the plane because I don’t want to risk damage in my luggage. I’m still struggling to find the perfect camera bag (and neck strap). I have made them in the past, but I not satisfied after three or four years. I don’t want the typical black bags and neck straps because they’re not reflective of my feminine personality. I’ve seen some of the nicer bags that would be awesome to use once I arrive at my destination but they will not be sufficient for the actual trip. If anyone has any suggestions, I am open to them. What are your travel essential suggestions? Is there something that you feel is essential that I may have forgotten?

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In April We Read…

This month Sugarbooks had chosen to read Styxx by Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Now when this book was chosen there was a lot of groaning from many of our members (since there are only six of us actively coming to meetings and making decisions you can imagine how loud the groaning was).  Anyway, we made the decision in December last year and last month as we were leaving dinner the reminder that Styxx was the book for the next meeting, some “I’m not reading it” were heard.  We have a rule (it’s not always followed but we have it) that states you have to at least read 100 pgs of the book assigned for the month.   With this in mind we still had some “I’m not reading it”. 

One of the members decided to brave it and start the book two weeks before the meeting.  When she found out how many pages the book had (876), she sent out an email with a WTH. :o)  She started it and finished it in 2 ½ days.  She then got on email and started commenting that put a fire under the other members kettle that had them reading it (yep…even the “I’m not reading its”).  Some of us had not read Acheron (and some still had not read any of the Dark Hunters series), but we felt that it was important to at least read Acheron first.  You did not want to read Acheron after you read Styxx first.  I think we all agreed, reading them backwords would have caused some feelings that could possibly be avoided if you read them in the right sequence. 

So here is our take on Styxx (If you have not read this book , there may be some references that could be deemed spoilers, just a heads up).  We all agreed it was a good book, we all agreed it caused emotions to be brought forth, and we all agreed that the men during the early part of the book (even in Acheron) were into a lot of rape and sodomy.  The first half of the book dealt with Styxx being raped by his uncle(until he killed him and that wasn’t until he had been abused on three or four separate occasions that lasted anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months) and some of the gods.  We all agreed that we were not fans of the gods in both stories.  That is where the agreement ends. 

There was a member that ended up with a dislike for Acheron after reading this book and she had been a huge fan previously.  It took a lot of deducing and reasoning before she could put her finger on what she deemed the ultimate betrayal – you don’t forsake your sibling to be tortured regardless of your reasons, and you then don’t walk around like they’re in the wrong EVER.  To her, that was making yourself into a victim – I was done wrong so they deserve to have wrong done to them too; you help/protect your siblings, you don’t make them victims too.  Styxx never made his siblings victims if he could help it; he protected them as much as he was possible although he sometimes was punished for it and they (his siblings) still treated him like dirt.   She didn’t like how Acheron  assumed that Artemis placed his brother somewhere where he was taken care of for 1100 years, when he knew Artemis to be a liar.  How can Ach believe people that have lied to him and mistreated him for most of his life and not allow his brother to even try to explain.  It didn’t sit well with that member and she was not changing her mind.

There were several members that were disgusted with Styxx and his inability to defend himself against his uncle and father.   As one member stated “he could maybe get away with catching him unaware one or maybe two times, but after that he should have been walking around with his mouth clamped shut and his back to a wall whenever his uncle was around.”  Styxx had become a feared and respected warrior and leader to his father’s army, yet he still was getting assaulted by his uncle.  Why did Styxx allow his father to punish him when they felt the army had his back?  Why not over-throw the king or kill him?  They didn’t feel like Styxx stood up for himself enough and because of it he seemed almost like a victim. 

We all agreed we did not like Ryssa, the sister.  We couldn’t figure out where her hatred for Styxx came from.  There was no reason for the type of hatred she had.  Even reading Acheron (some of us reread Ach and some read it for the first time), which had a large portion of the beginning of the book coming from Ryssa’s diary; we never ascertained why she disliked Styxx.

The culmination of the epic novel had a great HEA and we all agreed that we were happy with the ending.  Sherrilyn has done it again, sucking us into a great story that brought forth all emotions.  If you have not read it yet we all highly recommend it.  And we would love to hear your thoughts on it.  If you have read it, give us a holler and tell us what you thought.  

Next month we are scheduled to read, Tracy Solheim’s Risky Game.  This is the third book in the Game On series (if you do not count the anthology that was released in April).  This book does not come out until May 6th so it will be a race to finish it before the meeting considering  some of us have not read any other the previous books.  Again, if you have read any of the books, give us a holler.  We love to hear from you.

Smoochies,

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Today I’m…

Posting on the Sugarbook Club blog site.  Please visit it to see my thoughts on the new New Adult genre.  Have a great day.

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Menu 3/10/14

Good Morning,

I just wanted to take a few moments out to let you know what we’re having for dinner this week.  I usually try to put this out on Friday or Saturday, but it was a work Friday and a very busy Saturday, so I’m getting to it today.

Did you remember to change your clocks for Day Light Savings time?  I remember to change the clock in the bedroom so that I could get to church yesterday morning, but forgot the rest of the clocks.  Let’s just say we had dinner at 6:30 last night and I thought until the end of dinner that I was doing good with my time. Smile with tongue out

Here’s what’s for dinner…

Sunday – We had…Chicken Stroganoff, Spinach, Candied Yams (that I found leftover in the freezer from a previous dinner), and homemade biscuits

Monday – Chicken and Wild Rice Soup and Boston Brown Bread (Babydoll loves this bread and she has a dentist appointment today that she was terrified when I told her about it so I want to end her day on a happier note.)

Tuesday – Fried Shrimp and Sweet Potato Tator Tots (this is assuming I make up the Tator Tots today, but I started back at the gym today, meaning I lost an hour, and I still have three loads of laundry and the bathrooms to clean – already vacuumed the downstairs.  Does anyone else hate cleaning bathrooms as much as I do?)

Wednesday – Turkey Burgers with Potato Pancakes (I think I’m noticing a potato theme this week and that was not my intention at all).

Thursday – Chicken & Waffles and some type of green vegetable.  I originally had spinach down as the side, but I cooked it yesterday, so now I’m thinking broccoli or asparagus.  Stan is not a fan, but Babydoll loves it, especially with lemon pepper and lemon juice squeezed on it, and it’s on sale this week; I can pick some up before I pick her up from school.

Friday – Fish Fry Friday…enough said.

Saturday – Last Saturday, I volunteered to work at the church and was gone most of the day.  This Saturday, I have a book club meeting and cannot say what I will do; it may be an every-man-for-himself day.

For dessert this week I decided to make brownies – two types one without nuts and no frosting for Babydoll and the second with walnuts and a peanut butter chocolate icing.  I bought some Salted Caramel Blue Bell Ice Cream to go along with it.

That’s our menu this week, as you can see besides the potatoes everywhere; we are having a lot of poultry this week.  I asked Stan if he thought we could have a menu entirely of chicken…he said let’s do it.  I settled for mostly poultry with a few seafood items mixed in just so it wouldn’t become too boring.  Maybe I’ll do a whole week of it at another time to see how it goes.  What are you having this week?

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I found it!

For months I’ve been trying to duplicate this bread that they serve at Wildfire Grill in Chicago.  I’ve posted a couple of attempts of the pumpernickel bread that had raisins in it.  It is a bread that is served that is standard for each table.  It is so awesome.

Anyway last week while in the line at the grocery store doing my usual looking through all of the food magazines I came across a recipe for Blueberry Boston Brown Bread.  The picture looked just like the bread that I’ve been trying to make.  I knew I did not have enough time to write the recipe on the back of my grocery list, so I whipped out my phone and took a picture of the ingredients.

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Yes…I took a picture of the ingredients.

The book was a book of slow cooker recipes and I briefly read the instructions, but my thought was I should be able to go online and find this recipe.  Not so. Sad smile  I found recipes for Boston Brown Bread, but not a slow cooker recipe that was the same as the one I had took a picture of.  I went through my cook books and found a recipe for the bread in my Better Homes and Gardens book and decided to go with it.  The final product was AWESOME (I say that in a sing-songy voice)!!!

Here is the break down….

First I mixed the All-purpose, Whole Wheat (I have white whole wheat), Rye flour, & Cornmeal in a bowl

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To that I added baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

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Then I remembered that I needed to soak my raisins and cranberries  in 2 tbsp of boiling water.

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I mixed all the dry ingredients than moved on to the wet.  I measured a cup of buttermilk.

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I mixed it with molasses and brown sugar that I put in another measuring cup.

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I added the wet to the dry, then folded in the raisin/cranberry mixture.

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This I placed in a loaf pan that I had sprayed with cooking spray and then placed that inside of a casserole dish.  I took a piece of non-stick aluminum foil and placed it over the top of my dough/batter.  (In hindsight, I should have done a better job of covering it, and I’ll tell you why in a sec).

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I placed this in my oven (325 degrees convection, 350 convention) and added water to the casserole dish.

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The bread is to cook for approximately 2 hours.  I think I let my cook longer than that because I was also making a cake at the same time and I didn’t reset the timer once I had taken my cake out of the oven.  Have  mentioned that I cannot wait until I get my kitchen remodeled so that I can have double ovens?

Anywho…I took the bread out of the oven and gave it a slice.  The top was a bit crunchy, that could have been a result of my not covering the top securely or me leaving it in the oven for too long.  I’m not sure, but it was still awesome and finally what I had been eating at Wildfire. No longer do I have to attempt to make that bread.  I now know what I’ve been eating.  It wasn’t pumpernickel raisin, it was Boston Brown Bread! Smile

I slathered on the butter.  Then cut me another piece and slathered on more butter and had it with dinner.

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I’m so happy to have found it. Smile  Now if I could just get the recipe for their spiced peanuts that they serve at the bar.

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Here’s the recipe.  I hope you like as much as I do.

1/3 cup raisins (or dried blueberries, cranberries)

2 tbsp boiling water

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup rye flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup full-flavor molasses

2 tbsp maple sugar or dark brown sugar (I used light because that was all I had)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray loaf pan.  Add raisins to 2 tbsp boiling water and set aside

2) Combine all-purpose flour, cornmeal, whole wheat flour, rye flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and set aside.

3) In another bowl combine buttermilk, molasses, and brown sugar.

4) Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

5) Fold in raisins, include the liquid from the soaking process.

6) Place in greased loaf pan.  Then place the pan inside of casserole dish.  Take a piece of aluminum foil that as been lightly sprayed with cooking spray and place over the batter sprayed side down. (I know you can figure that out, but I do know some people that would not know to do sprayed side down, so I had to say it.)  For this I would try my best to secure it as much as possible without actually closing it off.  Tuck it around the sides really good.

7) Place the casserole dish in the oven then add enough boiling water into dish to come up sides of loaf pan about 1-inch.

8)  Let it bake for about 2 hrs or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Slice and serve warm with butter, cream cheese sweetened with honey, or even honey butter.  I had plain butter and it was fabulous.

Note:  I believe that I got this recipe from the Better Homes and Garden Slow Cooker Recipes book, but I must emphasis that I was in the grocery store line and didn’t pay much attention to which book I picked up.  I did however confirm the recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Cookbook.

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