Pumpkin Tea Cake

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

There’s a somberness that comes with the end of summer and beginning of fall. The air is drier, there sun is lower, and the sky feels a little bluer. Maybe it’s because the wind is a little colder.

But with every changing season, I reflect on the past few months — for me, summer was exhilarating. I was jet setting between California and New York and spotted through Europe (can I go back please?). The day job and the freelance clients have all been pretty amazing lately, so it’s safe to say I’m in a good spot.

I spent a couple of hours on Kristen’s floor with Winston last night, drinking wine and catching up after a busy day of work and biking all over DC. I’ve actually had a couple of anxiety filled days, mostly coping with the realization that no one is happy all of the time. It’s painful, to see people you care about struggling. Whether you’ve been in their shoes or not, it hurts. We meowed with Winston, told stories about how we’re too old to be drinking as much as we do, and chatted about the ups and downs, the balancing act of good times and bad times in our circles of friends.

A few of our close friends are going through some rough transitions in life, and I’ve been trying to figure out how the best ways to help them. Most of the time, I just want to rescue the people I love, take a few days off work and sit them down in my living room while I blast music and bake up a storm. Or fly to wherever they are and do the same in their own kitchen. It’s the company that matters; the location is usually meaningless.

Long story short, if you’re reading this, you know who you are. I love you, and this pumpkin tea cake is for you.

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

pumpkin tea cake // sweetsonian

Pumpkin Tea Cake, derived from the Tartine Cookbook

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup + 2 tbsp pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan (or three mini loaf pans) with parchment paper, and brush with oil or rub with butter.

In a mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together. Set aside.

In your stand mixer, beat together the pumpkin puree, oil, sugar, and salt on medium speed, until well-mixed. Add each egg, one at a time, fully incorporating before adding the next. Slowly add the dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed, beating until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, and then beat on medium speed for 10 seconds to make a smooth batter.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan (or pans) and smooth the surface with your spatula. Bake until the centers are set and a toothpick comes out clean — the time will depend on your oven, but it should take about 1 hour.

Serve the cake at room temperature. It keeps well if wrapped in saran wrap, but it won’t last long.

Autumn in a Jar: Kale Salad with Chickpeas, Cherries, and Pecans

autumn in a jar: kale salad with chickpeas, cherries, and pecans // Sweetsonian

autumn in a jar: kale salad with chickpeas, cherries, and pecans // Sweetsonian

Sooooo… the government shut down. Yeah, that happened.

Luckily for me, my department is still functioning on something called prior year funding, so I’m not furloughed… yet. As you can imagine, all of my furloughed friends are obviously invited over for dinners.

As it is, spent my lunch  break on Capitol Hill, dropping a Greek salad off for Shaeda. Sucks to be a Hill staffer right now.

autumn in a jar: kale salad with chickpeas, cherries, and pecans // Sweetsonian

autumn in a jar: kale salad with chickpeas, cherries, and pecans // Sweetsonian

It’s pretty much your typical, fickle fall in DC right now — we’re bouncing between chilly mornings and warm afternoons. I’m itching for the days when you know you’ll actually need your boots to keep you warm. I’ve been polishing my beloved Frye Taylors, ready to seize the day by all fifty five degrees, my perfect temperature.

You’d never know I was born and raised in California.

Anyway, wherever you are, I hope you’re getting to experience even the slightest change in seasons, because we’re almost at my favorite point in the year. Go apple picking. Snuggle up in a sleeping bag under a meteor shower. Break out the Dutch oven and start braising.

It’s gonna be a chilly fall.

In the meantime, this salad from Sprouted Kitchen is the perfect transition lunch. And, it packs really well in jars. So if you happen to be lucky enough to not be furloughed, go ahead and pack one of these for your government friends. They might be in it for the long haul.

autumn in a jar: kale salad with chickpeas, cherries, and pecans // Sweetsonian

autumn in a jar: kale salad with chickpeas, cherries, and pecans // Sweetsonian

 

Kale Chopped Salad, adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

Parmesan vinaigrette:
1 small shallot, chopped
Juice of 1 small lemon
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Salad:
Pinch of salt
1 bunch kale (Sara Forte uses Tuscan, but I just grabbed the normal variety at the grocery store)
1 apple — I used a Fiji apple
1 cup chickpeas
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/3 cup dried cherries

Combine the shallot, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and oil in a food processor. Grind until smooth, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Use a paring knife to cut away the stems from the kale, and finely chop the leaves with a larger chef’s knife. Set aside in a bowl. Core and dice the apple, and then toss with the chickpeas, pecans, and cherries. Go ahead and toss with half of the dressing, adding more if you desire.

If you plan on jarring the salad for lunch, don’t toss it — just layer the dressing at the bottom and keep the kale at the top. The other details don’t mean too much.

Roasted Vanilla Pears with Espresso Marscapone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Five months. It’s been five months since I moved into my new apartment.

It hardly feels that way.

Only in the past few weeks have I actually begun feeling settled — I guess it’s a result of a summer filled with travels and work and temporary roommates. I’ve learned more about myself as a roommate this summer than I have in the past eight years of living with people who aren’t my parents.

I know I have my quirks. I roller coaster between kitchen nazi and someone who’s so all over the place that I can’t tell left from right. I struggle between pleasing people and being selfish. We all do.

But after a summer of travel in basically every direction that exists, filled with weddings and sailing and rope swings — it’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, and I finally feel settled enough to sit down and write.

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

I just bought a new Apple display screen for my home office, but there’s something comforting about writing my posts from the laptop in bed. It’s how I’ve written almost every sentence for the past eight years. Four of which, as of last Tuesday, have been written in DC. I considered leaving the apartment and being productive when I woke up this morning, but after seeing the forecast and by the time I got to the bottom of my French press, I gave up. I snuggled into bed with a sweater from Bergen and a few episodes of Breaking Bad.

For today, that’s all I need. The weather is cooling down, which makes me just absolutely smitten with this city. And, if you’re on the hunt for a good fall transition food, these pears make an impressive dessert (or breakfast, if you happen to share an apartment with me).

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Roasted Pears with Coffee Marscapone, Serves 3 or 6, depending on how much dessert you want

Roasted pears:
¼ cups light brown sugar
½ vanilla bean
3 Bosc pears, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored (or whatever you can get your hands on)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
Bourbon or rum to drizzle before serving

Espresso marscapone cream:
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup marsacpone cheese
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Stir espresso powder and water in a large bowl until dissolved. Add cream, mascarpone, and sugar. Beat in a stand mixer until the cream is thick and smooth. Transfer into a jar or serving dish, and store in the freezer while you roast the pears (you can even make this a day or two ahead).

In a small bowl, combine your sugar and vanilla bean seeds — I store my vanilla beans in a jar filled with vodka (vanilla extract at home!) but this makes it extra easy to extract the beans. Just snip off the end of a bean and squeeze out the contents like it’s a stick of honey. Whisk with a fork.

Arrange your pears, core up, in a baking dish (a pie plate would fit them perfectly). Brush the pears with lemon juice, and put a cube of butter in each core. Sprinkle the pears with your sugar, and pour the water into the baking dish.

Serve each pear with a scoop of cream and a drizzle of bourbon or rum.

Cardamom Pound Cake

cardamom pound cake // sweetsonian

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Cardamom is a spice that you don’t come across too much in American cooking. I never really knew what it was until I was 19, wide-eyed and living in Tanzania for the summer — it was the main ingredient in a selection of teas and desserts, occasionally, in one of the rice dishes we had. Thinking back, there are a lot of things I wish I could change about that trip, but mostly myself: how I viewed life, how I acted back then. I’m sure we all have those moments (days, weeks, months).

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Just the taste of cardamom reminds me of how much we can change in just seven years. Back then, I was on a mission to prove my dedication to international development, and to prove to my parents that I didn’t need to listen to every piece of advice they scolded my way.

I deserved the scolding. I was an asshole back then (oh man, I hope-hope-hope I’m not nearly as much of an asshole now).

But no matter how broke I was because of that trip, I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

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I lived with a handful of other volunteer teachers in a house near Bahari Beach, just outside of Dar es Salaam. There were a few women who lived in the house that also cooked for us and taught us bits and pieces of Swahili — which I used to be alright at — but honestly, the memory that sticks with me more than anything is the scent and the taste of the cardamom-infused chai tea that greeted me every morning.

They mixed the tea from scratch, and boiled water in huge vats — water that was used throughout the day for cooking, laundering, and other methods of cleaning. The tea was strained directly into a giant, baby pink thermos, and had enough tea for everyone in the house to have at least a few cups of.

Breakfast usually included a few cups of tea, lesson planning, and toast with a glass of fresh passionfruit juice. Then, I’d hop onto tht dala dala, a bus that was so packed with people that no morning was complete without a stranger sitting on your lap or crouched between the other 20 riders on a 10-person bus. After teaching elementary school in the morning and high school in the afternoon, I usually took the bus back to Bahari beach, and walked to the beach itself — not far from Rold Dahl’s house, and a separate dial-up internet cafe.

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I had a typical Tanzanian school notebook that I used as a journal back then. It shouldn’t surprise you that I was a journal-writer, because, well, I write to you here as often as I can. I will say, it’s nice to have an actual reader for this type of stuff.

But after a drink or dinner at the beach cafe, I’d come back to the volunteer house and hang out with the girls and the other volunteers. I’d cross my fingers the entire walk back, hoping that there would be some tea left.

But then again, there was always beer, too.

Baking this cake filled my apartment with the scent of cardamom, which only made me drift back even further into these memories. I bought a massive box of Chai Bora before I left Tanzania — but I went through the tea ever so quickly, back in my UCSB days of daily, chilly morning Arabic classes.

They say scents spark the strongest memories, and when they do, years might have passed between the last time you even remembered the details your mind pairs with those scents.

It felt like years had passed since I smelled cardamom. The scent is comforting.

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Recipe after the jump.  Continue reading “Cardamom Pound Cake”

Five Things I Love About D.C.

Inspired by 17 and Baking.

1. Small city, big town.

In cities like Los Angeles and New York, it’s easy to lose yourself. Be it a good “lose yourself” or a troublesome one — it doesn’t matter. In cities like DC, it’s easy to keep your life in perspective. The buildings aren’t too big, the streets are definitely not too wide, and the exposed brick just keeps you in check. When I’m in DC, nothing really reminds me of anything else. Yet when I leave, I find myself searching for things that remind me of DC: town houses, brick walls, and stars that cover rebar between buildings.

In cities where you don’t lose yourself, you find yourself. I guess it could also work the other way around, but that’s not what happened to me.

2. Neighborhoods

Yes, they exist in every other city. But beyond demographic boundaries, there is character — and each neighborhood has its own distinct personality. I live in the H Street neighborhood: quirky, detached, yet still modest from its sketchy upbringing. It’s still young enough that the trees don’t quite reach out over the roads, so the houses get a lot of light, and even more sky. But the more refined and historic residential parts of Capitol Hill are an easy ten-minute walk away.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter what neighborhood you live in when you’re in DC — but everyone seems to be really, really into their community. That’s something you feel wherever you go, and it’s lovely.

3. Scenery.

Running is cool. Especially in DC. And what better way to get to know your city than by running it?

Even a few years ago, when we got our huge snowstorm, I’d be able to take a step outside and see at least a few people, all bundled up, powering through a pretty run. In fact, the powdery runs are my favorite. There really isn’t anything better than taking a lunchtime jog past the White House, down the National Mall, and around the Lincoln Memorial. DC is one of the prettiest things alive when it’s lightly dusted with snow.

4. Proximity to things that aren’t DC.

This city is small. Sometimes, it feels really small. For example: a girl I went to college with randomly met a friend that I went sailing with a couple of times. And then they met up with my sailing friend’s brother, who is best friends with my gay’s roommate.

Is your head spinning yet? Mine is. Long story short, if you live here long enough, you pretty much know everyone.

So sometimes, you have to get out (or just trick yourself into feeling like you’ve gotten out). Annapolis, Alexandria, the baytch, West Virginia, New York. It’s so easy to travel to and fro on this coast, and it’s all right there. And if you can’t get out, you can just go kayaking on the Potomac or picnicking in Rock Creek Park. You might just forget where you are.

5. The people.

My friends are the coolest, craziest, most interesting people in the world. There isn’t really another way to say it.

It’s eighty degrees today, but soup weather will come back at some point.

Tomato Basil Soup

Ingredients:
A drizzle of olive oil
12 oz. tomato paste (canned is fine)
28 oz. tomatoes, diced (canned is fine here, too)
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
salt to taste

Instructions:

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil, and heat. We’re going to caramelize your tomato paste, which will add a nice flavor depth to your soup.

Stirring frequently, cook your tomato paste in the olive oil for about ten minutes, until the color changes to a deep crimson. At this point, use a spatula to push the tomato paste over to one side of the pan, and then add your minced garlic where the pan is clear. Saute the garlic — just a bit, to release some flavor. After that starts to get some color, add your 28 ounces of diced tomatoes. Stir until even, and let simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.

In a separate pot or saucepan, combine your heavy cream, milk, basil, garlic, and pepper. I added a pinch of salt — but be careful, as your canned tomatoes are probably already heavily salted. Bring your cream mixture to a boil, then remove from heat.

Just before serving, combine the cream mixture with your tomato soup, and stir until even. If you like your soup smooth, then use an immersion blender (or a food processor) to grind out all the bumps. If you like your soup chunky, well, then you’re just all set.

Pumpkin Swirl Coffee Cake

With the cooler temperatures and warmer colors, I find myself yearning for a couple of hours to curl up with a blanket, a cup of coffee, and a book of short stories by the bay windows. Or on a park bench.

Let’s be real. It will be at least another week before I have a couple of free hours.

Luckily, I had an hour to myself on a quick flight from Chicago to write this.

My favorite short story is a dark American tale by Flannery O’Connor. In A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery writes about the Misfit, and the unfortunate family that crosses paths with a serial killer somewhere in the rolling hills of Tennessee.

Despite the thriller undertones and the sadness you feel for each despicable character, the story always makes me wander through the mistakes I’ve made, and how they’ve affected those I care for, or those I should care for more. It always sparks some dark self examination that I would otherwise forget. As a single twenty something who doesn’t date enough, I sometimes find myself wondering if I misjudge character, or worse, if I misjudge my own.

The truth is, a good man is really, really, hard to find. Ask any woman that you truly respect — whether she has one, two or none, I’m sure she’ll agree.

An overdue reunion with someone who knew me long before I even knew myself helped confirm the necessity of leaving home, and the necessity of giving yourself the option of never looking back. We hesitantly caught each other up with those who were once important to us in our respective high school and college circles, and more easily about those who still are important. And the difference we would subtract between those we love and those we can no longer stand up for can be vastly oversimplified to what seems so hard to come by: self-respect.

Even through high school, when the levels of a teenage girl’s respect are generalized at an all-time low, she was one who, like all of us, needed reassurance, but unlike many, never compromised her self-respect. Seeing her for the first time in years, in the element so familiar to both of us — but thousands of miles from the last brief rendezvous — gave me the words that I’ve been so desperately seeking. And, although this is possibly the lesser of the reminders of why I love her so, she helped remind me to not let perceptions get in the way of good judgment.

So here I am, curled up in a new bed with an old comforter. I have not attempted to clean my room since before that 200 mile race, which was two weeks ago now — but don’t worry, the laundry has been conquered, so all hope is not lost. But there are days. We all have them. When we just can’t get ourselves to clean up the mess we’ve made.

Instead, I’m still savoring the steak she crafted. I’m still indulging in the conversation, the advice, and the comfort that never left. A conversation that can be somber, satisfying, and interspersed with giggles — that was something I desperately needed.

So, as 2012 winds down, I’m reminded of how thankful I am. To have a family that loves me, to have health that permits indulgence, and to have found friends like the ones I love so dearly. And more than anything, I am thankful to have found my voice. Looking back is not an option.

Pumpkin Swirl Coffee Cake, adapted from Saveur

For the crumb topping:  
1.5 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

For the cake:
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
2/3 cup milk

For the swirl:
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

To create the crumb topping, whisk your dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Then, add the cubes of butter, and really get in with your hands to crumb everything together — you should end up with a dry cookie dough consistency. And don’t even attempt to do this with anything but your hands. My friend Randall tried to use a fork, and ended up tossing it. It’s more fun to delve your fingers into a bowl of sugar and butter anyway.

Once the crumb is complete, set aside.

In a stand mixer, whip the 8 tablespoons of butter you have softened for the cake. Once it is light and whipped, add in the sugar and beat on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Whisk until even and lump-free. Combine with the ingredients in your stand mixer, and beat on low with a dough hook until everything is smoothly mixed. Then, slowly add 2/3 cup milk.

At that point, add the pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice, and either mix with a spatula or let the dough hook do a little more mixing. You don’t want to mix the swirl all the way in — after all, we want it to swirl with the dough itself.

Grease a 9×4-ish inch pan, or line with parchment paper. Transfer all of the dough to the pan, and then just dump all the crumb topping on there.  There’s a lot, but with crumb topping… I mean, the more the merrier.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until you can stick a toothpick in the center of the cake and have it come out clean.

Braised White Beans and Leeks

Oh hey, fall. I’m so happy you’re here.

This might be jumping the gun, but I’m so excited for fall to get here – so much so that I am sitting in a bathrobe with spiced candles lit, after having just made this bean stew.

It was the perfect fall and winter dish, and I can guarantee that it’s going to happen at least a few times in my house this fall and winter.

Those of you who have known me for the past few years probably already know my feelings about summer in Washington — I pretty much just let myself waste away between June and September. Even though this summer was pretty mild, the two weeks in July of 105-degree-plus weather still make me feel a little heat struck.

But since it’s September (yayyyy!) we can start talking about the many reasons why fall is wonderful. Seasonal flavors easily make my top three — deeper palettes, heartier dishes, and earthier produce, combined with slower cooking, make for a perfect night in with a big glass of red wine and someone you enjoy spending time with — be it the love of your life, or Alexander Skarsgard (if you’re me, they’re one in the same thing).

A staple in my kitchen for winter cooking is my cast iron dutch oven.

I was first introduced to it by my dad, who purchased a cast iron dutch oven for camping trips — he was really excited about it, which was beyond my perception as a twelve-year old, but he did fashion some exquisite flavors with the dutch oven. His version sat on top of a bed of coals, and the lid itself was built so you could rest more coals on top of it, completely surrounding your meal in heat.

A bit different from the bright enameled versions that I’m obsessed with today. However, the same concept of slow cooking in cast iron exists.

The most popular luxury versions are Staub and Le Creuset, and with brands like these, it’s just too easy to spend a few hundred dollars on a gorgeous slab of iron. I’ve had my oven for about a year now, and I had every intention of splurging on a Le Creuset, but right next to the Le Creuset was a French-made cast iron oven by the name of Fontignac, in a bright blue enamel, for almost $200 less. So I bought the $99 dollar oven, and spent what I would have purchased a Le Creuset with these.

Here are two of my favorite items — someday, when I’m rich and famous, I’ll probably want to buy the entire set of this cream-colored Le Creuset oven. But if you’re a humble government worker or hill staffer, chances are, Le Creuset is a bit out of your price range. The Lodge option sans enamel is just as effective, and it’s actually more like the rustic version of dutch oven cooking.

Like anything that you pull out of the oven, you’ll need some cute oven mitts. Here are some of my picks:

Prime Cut kitchen towel / Prime Cut potholder / basic oven mitt / turkey oven mitt

Do any of you use a Dutch oven or cast iron in cooking? What are your favorites?

 

Braised White Beans and Leeks, adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen

Ingredients
2 cans cannellini beans
3 large leeks
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 stalks of celery
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 teaspoons herves de Provence (or your own mixture of herbs)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.

Trim your leeks, removing the green tops and the rooted ends. Slice them in half vertically, then chop them as thin as you like — I prefer larger chunks, so I kept the pieces about a half-inch to an inch in width. Rinse your leeks by putting the chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl and then filling the bowl with water. I like to dive my hands in and clean the slices myself, making sure to rub any dirt away. Strain and let drip dry.

Slice the celery, and mince your garlic.  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat, and cook the leeks, celery, and garlic until softened — about five minutes.

Add the beans, herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Stir in the vegetable broth, and bring the mixture to an easy boil. With the lid on, put the entire Dutch oven in your regular oven, and let slow cook for three hours.

At that point, remove the Dutch oven from heat, and turn your oven up to 500 degrees. Evenly spread the mozzarella and Parmesan over the top of the soup, and let cook uncovered in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese bubbles.

The soup reminded me of French onion soup, so I recommend slicing sourdough or French bread to float in the soup before you add the cheeses. Either way, the bubbling and slightly burnt cheese adds a nice touch to the dish.

DUPONT FARMERS’ MARKET

Another Sunday morning tradition: walking to the Dupont Farmers’ Market. I can’t afford much yet, but it’s nice to walk around on a crisp, sunny morning.
Here are some shots… I’ll post more another day.