Swipe left

In essence, smart tech enables us to swipe left on life.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving to Toronto with a close friend and fellow blogger, Helena (who happens to be coming over for dinner tonight to save me from drowning in the beautiful abundance from Henceforth Farm). And as the stifling Torontonian traffic on the  401 ground the wheels of Eggplant (this is the name of my car) to a halt, our conversation picked up – as if to compensate for the loss of stimulus on the road.

I forget who asked the question, as apart from our taste in books, our minds seem to be the other’s mirror image. But the question I do remember.

We tugged at the issue from different angles and distracted ourselves from the drag of traffic with sufficient success. Yet even as I eventually pulled away from the congested stretch behind me at 160 km/h, I couldn’t shake the topic from my head.

When you become a parent, at what age will you give your child a smartphone?

This is more than the (perhaps simpler) question of “Is Technology Good or Bad”, so we’ll start there. As long as you’re not some hypocritical hipster, or paranoid conspiracy theorist, I think we can agree that in general, the gains from technology far outweigh the faults. Or if you’re more moderate, at least you might agree that living sans tech would make one’s life unnecessarily tedious. (Try to plan high school reunion without a phone or computer.)

So technology has been good, in general, to humans. But how does it effect children specifically? Adam Alter‘s Irresistible was rather helpful.

To set the tone, might I cite Steve, as in the Steve Jobs who masterminded the i-suite.

They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” He was referring to the iPad. And at the time of the interview, neither did is children use the iPhone.

This is more significant than the opinion of one person, albeit a very brilliant one. The i-suite did not happen by coincidence – they were designed, re-designed, engineered, re-engineered, tested, and re-tested until they found the best design in terms of user experience (whoa, buzzword!). All of this was hinged on Jobs’ exuberant obsession with detail and perfection. Jobs knew his products better than anyone – they were his brainchildren, so much so that his resignation on August 24, 2011 then death on October 5, 2011 both resulted in a significant drop in Apple’s share price. (I’m sure Steve was rolling in his grave when Apple launched those wireless buds.)

So what does that mean? It means Jobs knew exactly how an iPad or an iPhone effects the brain, because he was the architect behind every detail of the product – the fit of every curve, the placement of every icon, the smoothness of each swipe of the screen, which ultimately defines effects it has on the user.

And if he’s not giving it to his kid, something’s up.

But then you might say that since technology is so integrated into the daily functions of today’s society, by withholding smartphones from kids, you’re setting them up for isolation, irrelevance, and ultimately failure.

This is a valid concern, and it was certainly the hardest to wrap my mind around. I don’t want to raise a sociopath. I want my kids to be connected to others, to have meaningful relationships. I want them to know what’s happening in the world, to be aware of the times. I want them to have the relevant skills, so that they can be a contributing member of society.

But what do those things really mean? To me, being connected means cultivating meaningful relationships. Knowing what’s happening in the world means having a good set of values and thus being able to formulate a sensible opinion on what they read about. And having the relevant skills means giving them a resilient and curious mind so that they will be never stop learning.

No, a smartphone does not do that for a child.

A smartphone is a super computer that fits in the palm your hand, which makes it a super calculator on three shots of espresso, a bag of Sour Patch Kids, and God knows how many doses of steroids. And as  any math teacher knows, a student should not use a calculator until they know how to do the arithmetic by hand. And financial math textbooks will teach (with proofs!) you the formulas before showing you the instructions for using the presets into your financial calculator.

Similarly, smart technology is designed to make your life easy, to satisfy your wants in as little time as possible, and to reduce the frustration in your life. Google calendar remembers all your appointments for you, sometimes automatically. Wondering where to go for brunch? The most-reviewed restaurant will pop up at the top of your Yelp search. If you want to break up with your boyfriend, you don’t even need to set a time to meet up, just tag him in a meme.

In essence, smart tech enables us to swipe left on life, on the gritty and sticky bits.

It might be hella useful if you already know how to do life and be a functional, likable person. But it’s destructive for kids who have yet to acquire those critical life habits and skills, (which are naturally extremely difficult to learn given life’s unpredictability and our emotional weakness) because it provides a pseudo way out.

I don’t know about the 10% of parents who think it’s a good idea to give their kids smartphones before the age of 5, but I intend to raise a human being who will look me in the eye when I speak with them, who will know the peace of watching a late summer sunset, and will be compassionate enough to cry when a friend cries and laugh when a friend laughs, instead of responding with a pathetic “lol”.

Count it all joy, my brothers,

when you meet trials

of various kinds, for you know

that the testing of your faith produces

steadfastness.

And let steadfastness have its full effect,

that you may be

perfect and complete,

lacking in nothing.

James 1: 3-4

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Radish and Butter Toasts with Caviar

With only 5 ingredients, there’s really nowhere to hide. Use a good bread  – if you’re in the GTA, Blackbird Baking Co. is a no-brainer, otherwise look for a well-hydrated, naturally leavened sourdough. Use good radishes – seek them out at your local farmer’s market. Use good butter – unsalted, preferably grass-fed. Use good salt – I used black salt, because with the pink of the radishes it just looks that much better. Use good extra virgin – go for something creamy and sweet like Colavita, I wouldn’t do a spicy one, just because the radishes have some kick already. And caviar, which is optional, but really rounds out the toast. I used truffled kelp caviar, which is completely vegan and actually tastes really good.

Radish an Butter Toasts with Caviar

  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • finely ground black salt
  • 2-3 radishes (french breakfast, cherry bomb, small turnips also work)
  • 1 tsp caviar
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Butter your toasts right to the edge. Sprinkle lightly but evenly with salt.
  2. Slice the radishes thinly on a mandoline or with a sharp knife. Arrange the slices onto the buttered toasts.
  3. Dot the caviar randomly in small clusters on top of the radishes.
  4. Finish with olive oil.
  5. Serve immediately.

The Bottom Line

“Definitions look good only in ink on paper, for midterms, thus implicitly are useless for life in general.”

These days, between fires in a barrage of assignments, midterms, and projects I’ve been burying myself (and possibly my responsibilities) beneath a commendable mound of food literature and documentaries, two of which include Anthony Bourdain’s Layover on Netflix, tand a veg-driven number by chef-turned-farmer-turned-chef Joshua McFadden.

Each of these offers a slightly different perspective on what good cooking is. Considered in isolation, each would appear to be the bottom line.

Bourdain argues that the most genius cooking comes out of desperation, of a need to make ends meet and thereby elevating low-rank ingredients to iconic heights. McFadden simply states that great cooking starts and ends with pristine ingredients.

Is there a right and wrong? You cannot blame a mother for seeking out only the freshest organic produce to feed to her two young children. You cannot say that an age-old dish that has carried its nation through famine and drought is bad cookery. But what happens when you push these to the extreme?

Before that let’s lay down some rules, so that our ‘extremes’ are realistic (oxymoron, but a needed one nonetheless.)

Resources are finite

As a millennial, raised in an era when sustainability, greenness, and the food crisis are all the rage, I understand this intuitively. However, to many in my parents’ generation, the ocean is still bottomless, the soil is still inexhaustible, and they have no idea that a couple of drops in their glass of water probably came from Bathsheba’s bathtub that night David saw her from his balcony.

Rich and poor people exist

I’m not talking about the poverty line. I’m simply saying that wealth and resources are not identically distributed among each person on Earth.

Ingredients are either “high” or “low” end; the sum of both may feed the world.

While my definition of high might not coincide with yours, in this simplified universe everyone’s definition at any given point in time of these terms are identical. We also assume that neither of these categories alone can feed the world. I’m feeling generous, so I’ll say that high end ingredients can feed half the world’s population (the rest is fed by low end ingredients).

At this point if you’re still with me, then you’re basically done the proof.

If in pursuit of great cookery everyone cooks with only high end ingredients, then the poorer half of the world would starve to death. Or they might decide that they’d rather have bad cooking than death, if they’re not such die-hard foodies. Thus one’s ability to produce great cooking is first and foremost defined by your wealth. In other words, great cookery is a privilege, not a right.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time stomaching such a conclusion.

Now suppose that great cooking is driven out of desperation, of transforming low end ingredients to palatable dishes. Then yes, the world is fed, but then there would be no need, nor reverence for great ingredients and those who painstakingly produce them. Ingredient quality would deteriorate, and so would production integrity. Soon to follow would likely be a plummet in public health, due to prolonged consumption of degraded ingredients and excess salt, sugar, and fat.

To be honest, a world like this doesn’t excite me at all.

So what to make of all this? I say, definitions look good only in ink on paper, for midterms, thus implicitly useless for life in general. A great dish at the end of the day should be something that moves you – be it because of its history, or the way it connects you to nature, the person who prepared it, or the way it embodies the moment. In other words:

A chef does not qualify the dish, the dish qualifies the chef.

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Double Yolk Pappardelle with Dandelion Pesto and Small Poached Eggs

If you’re comfortable with making fresh pasta and have your favourite recipe tucked in your back pocket, this is a dish where it will really be worthwhile to get your pasta machine rolling, just use a higher ratio of egg yolks to whites. If you’re not too keen on the idea, by all means just seek out a good quality dried pasta which you can easily find in any well-stocked grocery. The key here is to toss your pasta in the dandelion pesto while drizzling in hot pasta water until the sauce becomes creamy and coats the pasta entirely. Blanching the dandelion greens and garlic before blending into the pesto helps keep the greens vibrant, tames the bitterness, and extends its shelf..err, fridge life, so don’t skip that step.

Dandelion Pesto

  • 1 bunch dandelion greens, ends trimmed
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 c grated pecorino romano
  • 1/2 c almonds, well roasted
  • 1 strip lemon zest
  • 1 tsp sea salt, or more
  • crushed coriander seeds and chile flakes, to taste
  • 3/4 c good olive oil (one that you’d be happy tasting straight out of the bottle)
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of iced water.
  2. Plunge the dandelion greens and garlic cloves in the pot and stir until all of the greens turn a deep, vibrant green. Drain and shock in the bowl of ice water until completely cold. Squeeze out any excess moisture.
  3. Add the roasted almonds, chile flakes, coriander seeds, salt, lemon zest, pecorino, garlic cloves, and dandelion greens to a blender or food processor.
  4. Pulse on medium speed to roughly chop the ingredients, then with the motor running, dribble in the olive oil until a textured sauce comes together and there are no discernible chunks of garlic or almonds remaining. You may need more or less olive oil, so don’t add it all at once. Don’t use a speed any higher than medium as that could turn your olive oil bitter.
  5. Taste and adjust your seasoning – it be mildly bitter near the back of your palate, assertive with salt, and slightly tingly with the chile.
  6. Spoon into a mason jar, tap gently to release any air bubbles. Pour in a slick of olive oil at the top to seal and screw on the lid. You can freeze this for up at least 3 months, store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks, or enjoy straight away.

Pappardelle with Dandelion Pesto and Small Poached Eggs

  • 1 1/2 lb fresh wide pasta, such as pappardelle, or 1 lb dried
  • 1 cup dandelion pesto
  • 10 to 12 small eggs, or 6-8 large, poached
  • grated pecorino romano, to serve
  • chile flakes and black pepper, to serve
  • extra virgin olive oil, to serve
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes until supple but toothy in the center. (If using dried pasta, cook according to instructions on the box, subtracting 1-2 minutes from the stated cooking time.)
  2. Fish the pasta out of the pot and into a large bowl with the pesto. Toss gently, adding a bit of the pasta water at a time until the sauce emulsifies and becomes creamy, coating each strand of pasta.
  3. Divide among 4 plates, top with 2-3 small poached eggs, or 1-2 large ones.
  4. Top generously with grated pecorino romano, sprinkle on some chile flakes and black pepper, then finish with a flick of extra virgin olive oil.
  5. Serve immediately.

 

Recipe Only: Pan Seared Trout with Pickled Fennel, Grapefruit, and Mustard Creme Fraiche

Today I had a grilled salmon salad with a few of my colleagues at a harbourfront restaurant. It had a small mountain of sweet and bitter lettuces of various textures tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette, a small mound of diced tomatoes, a few spears of smoky charred asparagus, and a haystack of crispy shoestring potatoes and it was delicious. The salmon was well seasoned, with grill marks to put any neighborhood barbecue daddy to shame and cooked perfectly – buttery with the fat between the muscle layers just melted and the flesh itself just turning opaque.

But c’mon guys, it’s 2017, it’s okay to show some skin.

Which brings me to this salad, which screams spring to me and justifies the fact that I’m sharing a salad because it’s 68°F in Baltimore today and also because lunch reminded me. The crispy pan-seared trout has skin you can hear crackle under the pressure of your knife. The sweet fennel-pickled-fennel cuts through the fattiness of the fish and provides a refreshing crunch to the salad. Bright ruby red grapefruit has bitterness that harmonizes with the muted bitter tones of the kale. All of this is brought together with a smear of mustard creme fraiche for tang and because the tiny pops of mustard bring this dish to a new level.

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Crispy Seared Trout with Pickled Fennel, Ruby Grapefruit, and Mustard Creme Fraiche

Fennel Pickled Fennel

  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp toasted fennel seeds
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c white vinegar
  1. Put the fennel seeds, sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil until sugar has dissolved completely.
  2. Pack the shaved fennel tightly into a large mason jar.
  3. Pour the hot sugar-vinegar liquid over the fennel and seal with the lid.
  4. Cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge for at least 3 days and up to 4 weeks.

Mustard Creme Fraiche

  • 2/3 c creme fraiche, sour cream, or Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp grainy mustard
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  1. Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days or until needed.

Crispy Seared Trout

  • 2 portions of pin-boned trout fillets, with skin AND scales
  • sea salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  1. Preheat a cast iron skillet until very hot.
  2. Tip the oil into the skillet and swirl it around so the bottom’s evenly coated. The oil needs to look shimmery – it means that your pan is hot enough. Season the skin-side of your trout and lay the skin-side down in the skillet. It should sizzle immediately. Shake the pan a few times to prevent it from sticking, but if it does just be patient – once the skin is ready and crisp it will loosen from the pan.
  3. Season the top side and watch the flesh turn opaque up the sides – this gives you an idea of how cooked the piece of fish is. Once it’s opaque past halfway, and the skin releases from the pan (about 3 minutes), flip it over and cook another 2-3 minutes before transferring to a plate to rest with the skin side FACING UP (we didn’t go through all that tending and watching to have our skin go soggy at the last minute)!

Kale and Grapefruit Petite Salade

  • 3 c baby kale
  • 1 large ruby red grapefruit, segmented and with 2 tbsp juices reserved
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  1. In a salad bowl, whisk together the reserved grapefruit juice, olive oil, mustard, salt, and pepper until emulsified.
  2. Add the kale and grapefruit segments, then toss gently with your hands to coat and combine.

Assembly

  • mustard creme fraiche
  • seared trout
  • fennel pickled fennel
  • kale and grapefruit petite salade
  1. Plop a dollop of the mustard creme fraiche on a plate and smear it across with the back of your spoon. Top with a piece of seared trout.
  2. Grab a handful of the petite salade with your two hands and lay it down gently beside the trout. Finish with a few pieces of pickled fennel here and there, as you like it.

Enjoy! I think something bubbly would be appropriate, because it’s spring and we’re eating pretty things. Yeah?

Two and Fifteen Gifts

Where I am, the high tops of conifers are draped underneath a veil of fog just thin enough for a few branches to poke through. The ground is missing the crisp touch of frost, and is instead drenched in a blanket of condensation to be lifted once the day begins.

This is not quite the Vancouver I grew up in, but the humidity made the air familiar as I drove down Dewdney.

I am not quite the one who left three years ago, but the few I was about to visit were so much a part of me that setting foot back in their corridors did not seem like an act of trespass. And for all the roots they gave me, I was grateful.

Every good gift

and every

perfect

gift

is from above, coming down

from the Father of

lights

with whom there is no variation or shadow

due to change.

James 1:17

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Roast Winter Vegetables with Charred Scallion Dressing

Roast Vegetables:

  • 1 mini pumpkin, seeded, diced
  • 3 small sweet potatoes, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • few rounds black pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 tbsp melted coconut oil

Toss all ingredients together until evenly coated and roast at 450 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until tender.

Charred Scallion Dressing:

  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 strips lemon zest
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only
  • 12 almonds, toasted
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Char the scallions on a grill or on your stove’s electric coils.

Brown the butter on medium heat until the milk solids are well-browned and the butter is very nutty. Remove from the heat and stir in the chili flakes.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend into a chunky paste.

Serve the roast vegetables with the scallion dressing. This dressing is also great for sandwiches or to stir into puree soups.

Bonus question: who inspired you in 2015, and how? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your stories!

Caught

Like everyone, I use filters. Oh how we adore them. We filter our lives through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s fantastic – it’s like Sephora, except not just for the female visage – it’s for everyone’s cyber avatar (which could arguably be a disturbingly independent, distinct identity from its owner).

But filtering is more than selectively publishing life statuses and photographs. Filters obscure, and make mild of perception. They deceive and dismiss the reality, the rawness of things.

Do you agree, that the heart is felt with more reality, above all else?

Do you agree, that the heart is beautiful?

But we filter the living breath out of it.

I’m far from perfect – I’m me, and I know better than anyone that I am despicable – but I try.

I try to be the person I want to become, and stop trying to become the person I want to be, else I’ll always wallow in self-loathing and self-pity because I will always be a step behind.

Let’s be honest. With ourselves and those around us. (This does not equate with being nasty.)

And keep hashtagging edited photographs with #nofilter. You wanted real, didn’t you?

Therefore let us celebrate the feast,

not with old leaven,

nor with leaven of malice and wickedness,

but with the unleavened bread of sincerity

and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:8

Also, raw is beautiful, just look at this beauty of a feast.

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This is honestly the best fish I ever had, and what’s even better is that it’s part of my 7-Ingredient series. I originally wanted to bake it en papillote, but the four-pound beauty has outgrown the paramenters of my parchment paper by an unsalvageable margin.

What I ended up doing was even simpler. Basically, from what you see above, I just covered that whole thing with aluminum foil, pinched down the sides tightly, and put it in the oven at a really low temperature. The result was phenomenal – the flesh was incredibly buttery and tender. And because I love all parts of fish, I ate the skin too, which was also extremely rich and creamy. That’s not all, the few roasted, sweet lemon slices basically worked magic and managed to permeate the entire fish with their vibrant perfume.

Ingredients for the slow-baked trout:

1 fresh trout, 3-4 lbs, cleaned (I had mine freshly caught and I highly recommend that)

4 tbsp coarse sea salt

1 small lemon, thinly sliced

3 tbsp basil pesto

1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size half-moons

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

few rounds freshly ground black pepper

To make the slow-baked trout, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, with the rack placed in the center. Cover the bottom of a large roasting pan with aluminum foil. Drizzle it all over with 1 tbsp of the olive oil.

Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Trout have a slimy protective coating that also happens to be the source of its “fishy” taste. To remove this slime, rub the skin of the trout generously with 2 tbsp of the salt – that’s right, massage it with lots of love. Leave it for 2 minutes and rinse off the trout under cold, running water. Pat as dry as possible with paper towel, and repeat the process again with the remaining salt.

Place the cleaned, dry trout into the prepared pan. Smear the pesto onto each of the lemon slices and fit them snugly, overlapping slightly, into the abdominal cavity. Add the zucchini to the pan and season everything with black pepper and a little more salt. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for 20 minutes, turn off the oven, and let it sit in the hot oven for another 45 minutes, up to an hour.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and/or a light green salad.

Enjoy!

 

#heaven

If I asked you about your day, I wonder if these words come to mind: tough, bitter, disappointing, grey, crushing and, despite the jeering irony, empty? Do the fleeting shadow of brighter days past haunt your dreams of tomorrow?

What if I told you that there is something lacking in all of us. An imperfection that we strive to smooth in each strenuous day we pass in this life? And unlike what we drunkenly believe, we were created with the purpose of living in perfect glory.

Don’t settle for anything less.

Honey, you deserve better than a blurred glimpse of a tomorrow that will slip from your fingers faster than snow melts on your palm. God has given it, so say thank you, and live!

Here’s your fix of reality, brought to you by Jesus.

I have come

to call not those who think they are righteous,

but those

who know they are sinners

and need to repent.

~Luke 5:32

“There’s no shame in admitting your wrongs.”

Now that’s one thing we got right.

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Ingredients for the 27-h pulled turkey:

125 ml apple cider

225 ml coke (do not use diet, you really want the caramel from the sugar!)

30 ml barbeque sauce

30 ml dark soy sauce or tamari

30 ml balsamic vinegar

2 free range or organic turkey legs or a turkey thigh

To make the pulled turkey, whisk together all ingredients except for the turkey. Place the turkey legs or thigh in a smaller but deep baking dish so it fits snugly (I used a glass loaf pan), and pour over the marinade to cover. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, preferably for a whole day, or up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Remove the plastic wrap from the turkey and cover tightly with foil, crimping the edges to really seal it well. This will keep the meat really tender and moist. Bake for 3 hours, until a fork pierces the center of the meat effortlessly. Remove from the oven and, using two forks, shred the meat (include the skin too, for better texture since turkey is so much leaner than pork). Let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days if you plan on making this ahead, but in all honesty, I think that would take an epic amount of self control. Reserve all the juices leftover in the baking dish. As for the sweet potato:

Ingredients for the perfectly creamy baked sweet potato:

4 medium-large orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, scrubbed under running water

To bake the perfect sweet potato, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with foil and put the sweet potatoes on top. I don’t care what you’ve been reading, I’ve baked well over 300 sweet potatoes in the past couple of years and eaten a good portion of those myself; this is how it’s done, don’t pierce it with a for or do anything strange.

Bake for 1-1 1/3 hours until the sweet potatoes are surrounded by their own oozing caramel and the flesh is painfully tender when you insert the tip of a knife into it. (I say this in all seriousness, you’ll know what I mean once you get there.)

Ingredients for the assembly:

4 freshly baked sweet potatoes (keep them in the oven so they stay hot)

1 can of your favourite baked beans, warmed (you can do this in the microwave)

2 green onions, thinly sliced

When ready to serve, pour all the juices into a saucepan and boil until reduced to a glaze consistency (patience!). Add the shredded turkey into the saucepan, stir to coat and warm thoroughly. Make a deep cut lengthwise on each sweet potato without slicing through. Spoon a decent amount of baked beans into the cavity, then top it over-the-top with the pulled turkey. Garnish with the green onions.

I really don’t think I need to remind you, but I will anyway:

Enjoy!