BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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POP into Summer!

Instant frozen treats, ready mere minutes after the first craving hits. Sounds like science fiction, but if a “better tomorrow” starts with dessert, then we are well on our way. Standard ice creams and popsicles take hours at minimum, simply freezing to a solid enough consistency to eat, but the Zoku Quick Pop Maker has taken all the waiting out of the process. Using an insulated mold, all warmth is wicked away from liquids poured inside, be it an ice cream base, melted sorbet, or merely juice, turning into an icy treat on a stick right before your eyes.

In the name of “research” for my ice cream book, I found it entirely necessary to test out this crazy contraption, requesting a review model early on. This was, of course, over a year ago now. After snapping that initial photo of the device, admiring the appealing rounded edges and pop-art designs on each plastic stick, and carefully stowing it in the freezer… It remained there, untouched, month after month. Despite the fact that freezer space was at a premium, that thing did not budge from the top shelf, on the offhand chance that I would have time to play with pops. While the assessment may be a bit belated, I can tell you this much: It will be getting a whole lot of use from here on in.

Initially spurred into action by a job for Allergic Living Magazine that called for striped fruit-and-creme pops, dreamed up by my good friend Alisa, this was the perfect kick in the butt to get this thing out of the freezer at last. The unique freezing system allows the pop maker complete creative freedom, freezing stripes of any size or shape, should you tilt the housing in the middle of the process. A three-layer affair was a snap, straight-forward enough that even the least ambitious dessert dabblers would be able to manage such an effect with ease.

Another fun feature is the ability to stick fruits and other “mix-ins” directly to the walls of the machine, so that they’re perfectly visible once the pops are removed. In fact, they now make tiny cookie cutters that allow you to create faces on your pops, really giving them some personality. Going a more simple route, I merely used sliced strawberries to feature in my Strawberry Cereal Milk Pops. Easily veganizing Christina Tosi’s legendary recipe with almond milk, all I had to do was pour in the cornflake-infused milk after adhering the berries, and just like that, a delightfully frosty breakfast-turned-dessert was born.

The real beauty of this toy is how it can cater to every whim and craving. On impulse, it seemed fun to whip up a frozen chia fresca one hot afternoon, and so without delay, that’s just what I did. Though the seeds still floated to the top, it made for a fantastically refreshing solution to a sweltering summer day. Experimenting like this is effortless and painless, so even the flops won’t set you back. Just thaw and wash out the mold, thoroughly dry, refreeze for a day, and you’ll be ready to go all over again.

I still haven’t even scratched the surface in trying out all that this baby is capable of. With the help of a handy siphon, pops with different flavored cores are a breeze as well. A classic but homemade creamsicle or strawberry shortcake could be mere minutes away! In case you ever find yourself at a loss for ideas, the mad geniuses at Zoku have you covered there, too. In addition to their blog filled with recipes, they’ve even created a whole pop cookbook to keep you inspired. Easy and inviting enough for kids of all ages to enjoy, I can’t think of a single person I wouldn’t recommend this fun gadget to. Even couples and singles have options now, with double and single pop capacity molds, in case a freezer full of tempting treats is not an ideal situation. Personally, my only complain would be the opposite: I could never make enough pops to keep the freezer stocked for very long!


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The Drunken Grape

It’s reasonable to expect a scorching summer ahead, at the rate the temperature is rising already. When was the last time you could even dream of donning shorts and flip flops come mid-April? It may be a sign of worse things to come, but right now, this sudden taste of the tropics is a welcome wake-up call from winter. Best of all, it’s now perfectly reasonable to bust out that ice cream maker and get churning, no further excuses necessary.

Rum raisin would have to be on the short list of classic parlor flavors, an essential scoop that must make every menu worth its salt. Sure, raisins can be a polarizing ingredient in desserts, but when soaked in spirits and thoroughly intoxicated on a heady mix of rum and sugar, what’s not to love? A mere replication of this tried-and-true formula wasn’t enough to satiate my appetite for experiment though, and my mind turned to other candies and successful raisin dessert mash-ups.

Ultimately an amalgamation of both the classic rum raisin ice cream and yogurt-covered raisins, the resulting marriage of tart, sweet, and slightly boozy makes me wonder why no one makes the traditional candies infused with spirits in the first place. Do yourself a favor and lose the the waxy coatings in favor of a smooth and creamy coat of thickened vegan yogurt- You’ll end up with not only a healthier treat, but a much more satisfying and grown-up option as well. This particular recipe may have been cut from the final line up in Vegan a la Mode, but there’s yet another rendition on this drunken raisin dessert, with a more chocolaty twist…

Rum Raisin Frozen Yogurt

3 Cups (1 24-Ounce Container) Plain Soy or Coconut Yogurt
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2/3 Cup Raisins
3 Tablespoons Dark Rum
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth and fill with soy yogurt. Wrap the edges of the cheesecloth over the yogurt until fully covered, and place strainer or colander over a pot deep enough to catch the liquid and keep the yogurt from sitting in the moisture. Cover pot with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours. You should end up with about 2 1/2 cups of thick yogurt.

In a medium bowl, combine the strained yogurt, sugar, raisins, rum, vanilla, and salt. Stir well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Yes, this one does take a good measure of patience, but allowing the flavors to meld and develop before churning will create a more complex and harmonious final product. Plus, by effectively soaking the raisins for a good couple of hours, this will prevent them from turning into rock-hard icicles once they hit the freezer.

The following morning (don’t worry, there’s no shame in admitting you wanted to sneak a scoop for breakfast!) freeze mixture in an ice cream machine based on the manufacturer’s instructions. For a soft-serve consistency, serve immediately after freezing. For a firmer consistency more like standard ice cream, pack into an airtight container and let chill in the freezer for at least 4 hours.

Makes About 1 Quart

Printable Recipe


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When You Feel Like a Nut

One sip of almond milk, so many years ago, was all it took to convert me to a believer; I haven’t looked back to soy ever since. Smoother, creamier, and without the distinctive bean-y undertones soy is apt to impart, the choice for both baking and drinking was clear. The biggest downside to the switch was in nutrition; quite simply, no nut can compete with legumes on the protein front. Finally, the gap is beginning to close, thanks to another brilliant innovation by So Delicious. Almond Plus almond milk has the best of both worlds, and doesn’t taste like a compromise in the least bit.

Perfectly smooth, this silky elixir has a velvety thickness that goes down easily, whether it’s topping cold cereal or drank straight from the carton. Either the Original or Vanilla flavors are irresistible as stand-alone drinks, and I’m not often inclined to down a plain glass of “milk.” Unsweetened blends seamlessly into savory dishes, and has become a fast favorite for creamy sauces, such as the classic alfredo. Perfectly suited for baking and dessert making as well, it’s quickly become my go-to “milk” for making ice cream. Luckily, for those lacking the patience or equipment, So Delicious has you covered with a brand new line of almond milk ice creams all their own.

Diving first into the basics, the Chocolate and Vanilla make a dazzling first impression. Unlike their other recent creation, coconut milk ice cream, the base is a silent player here, allowing the star ingredients to shine in their respective pints. Soft and easy to scoop straight from the freezer, the chocolate does err a bit more on the sweet side, but I can see it having huge appeal with children especially. Impressively complex in flavor, it’s much more than mere cocoa; such richness belies a truly modest nutrition panel. Vanilla actually tastes like vanilla, and not just an anonymous “plain” option. In fact, it tastes more like homemade ice cream than anything I’ve tried out of a commercially packed cardboard pint, which is about the highest compliment I can bestow.

Even with such high expectations, it only gets better from there.  Cherry Amaretto is not one I would pick up on my own accord, but one taste forced me to change my tune, because I would definitely buy it from here on out. Cherry-flavored desserts often rub me the wrong way, with artificial flavors carrying most of the weight in  a truly unnatural, over-concentrated sort of way. Such a sin is not one committed here, as the chunks of real cherry are impossible to miss. A light cherry essence is found throughout, accented by the barest hint of amaretto flavor, which rounds out the dessert nicely.  Those big chunks of sweet cherries and delightfully chewy, rather than icy, like so many poorly planned fruit additions. A sophisticated yet still playful combination, it’s clearly designed for a more mature audience, by would undoubtedly be enjoyed by the younger set as well.

Butter Pecan stole my heart with just its name. More than merely butter-y, it’s in fact butterscotch-y, with deep caramel notes mingling seamlessly with the floral vanilla flavor. Tons of sizable pecan pieces add a satisfying crunch, and assert themselves properly to justify the name. A subtle hit of salt serves to intensify this complex ice cream, accentuating all of its best features. For the next Thanksgiving dinner, I’m highly tempted to simply pack this ice cream into a flaky crust and call it pecan pie!

Picking a favorite flavor out of this incredible selection is almost as difficult as picking a favorite child, but I can’t deny that the Mocha Almond Fudge would undoubtedly rank very high on my list. More than mere coffee and cocoa, there’s a whole lot going on in each spoonful. A gooey fudge ripple marbles throughout the pint, adding a blast of chocolate decadence every now and then, like built-in hot fudge sauce. Huge, plentiful chunks of fresh and lightly roasted almonds keep things exciting, although the smooth coffee backdrop would hardly be dull all by itself. I have a feeling that even coffee-haters may love this ice cream- It’s just that good.

Many other of So Delicious’ classic ice cream flavors will also be available in almond milk format, and let’s not forget about the novelty treats, too. Naturally, I wolfed down the whole box of Mocha Almond Fudge Bars in record time, but the Vanilla Bars were not long for this world, either. Something about that crisp, fast-melting chocolate coating makes this already killer ice cream even more irresistible. Biting into that frozen cloak of cocoa, it yields with a satisfying snap, revealing the contrasting creaminess within. It’s the kind of addictive treat I can’t keep on hand regularly if I hope to maintain a diet that includes edibles other than ice cream.

Though I was terribly spoiled by a sneak-peek shipment of these items, most should already be available in specialty markets such as Whole Foods across the US by now. When I’m ready to give the ice cream maker a much deserved break, I know just where to turn for delicious frozen desserts. To share the almond love a bit, So Delicious provided 2 freebie coupons for any of their products, so that means that two lucky readers will get to pick out something sweet, on the house! Just leave a comment that includes a valid email address, and tell me what your favorite flavor of ice cream is. The giveaway will close to new entries on Friday (the 13th!) at midnight, EST. Check back in this space to see the winners.

UPDATE: As chosen by the random number generator, the winners are…

#17, Roopa!

and

#31, Allie!

Congrats, and to everyone else, don’t go far- I’ve got another giveaway coming up very soon…


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Leftovers

The dust is finally beginning to settle after the final grueling round of edits for Vegan a la Mode, and I can breathe more easily once again. It may actually be done. Such a crazy thought, to consider that my third cookbook is on it’s way, possibly being printed as we speak. It sure didn’t happen overnight though; like most of my grand concepts, this one has been churning for a couple years now, before I even knew I wanted to do a book devoted solely to frozen treats. The gentle hum of the ice cream maker was my siren song, and I couldn’t stop dreaming up creamy concoctions even if I tried. It was a natural segue to turn those recipes into a book, where they could all live happily together. But like any process that drags on through months and months, evolving with the changing seasons and weathering different patterns of inspiration, there had to be some difficult cuts to make at the end of the line. As per usual, I had too many ideas, too many words, and not nearly enough pages to stretch my writerly legs.

Perfectly tasty ice creams had to be set aside to make the book work as a whole, and this Maple Nut Royale was one of them. Sandwiched between a maple-pecan number and a handful of other peanut-based confections, it simply made sense to pare back. It took the news with grace, but I could tell it was quite disappointed it wouldn’t see the pages of a published book after all. Leftover but still perfectly good, this creamy, nutty ice cream seemed like the perfect little teaser to share here instead. One of the earlier recipes I churned up, circa 2009, the photo may not be my best work, but I like to think that the deliciousness still shows all the same.

Maple-Nut Royale Ice Cream

3/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
2/3 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk*
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Toasted Pecans

*Almond milk is recommended to further the nutty theme, but any sort of non-dairy beverage, other than rice milk, will do.

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the pecans, in a medium saucepan until smooth. You can bring things together more easily in a blender, but it should smooth out with a sturdy whisk and just a bit of elbow grease, too. Set the saucepan over medium heat on the stove, and continue to whisk gently, scraping the bottom and sides as you go, to prevent the mixture from sticking and burning.

Cook until the liquid comes to a boil and has thickened significantly; bubbles should break slowly but regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and let cool to room temperature before chilling thoroughly in the fridge. Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for the mixture to come down to a cooler temperature.

Once chilled, churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In the final 5 minutes of churning, add in the chopped pecans, and allow the moving paddle to incorporate them into the soft ice cream. Transfer to an air-tight container, and stash in the freezer for at least 3 hours to further harden before scooping and serving.

Makes About 1 Quart

Printable Recipe


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Tasty Takeout at Home

There’s a lot to be said for ready-made frozen meals, even for the avid cook and fresh food fanatic. Having a plan B safely squirreled away, just in case of a dinner emergency, can make the difference between choking down impossibly tough seitan burgers or enjoying something a bit more edible. Well aware of a certain bias against most prepared foods, I will go on the record to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with the classic tv dinner every now and then; it’s the ingredients and the over-processing where these easy options frequently go wrong. Homemade frozen meals of leftovers are fantastic, and the only difference is that you’re still the one doing the legwork to put that food on the table. For the overworked mom, student, busy professional, or anyone who doesn’t spend all of their waking hours in the kitchen, a warm, relatively healthy meal that can be on the table in five minutes or less can be downright miraculous. The key is choosing the right brands to pledge your dinner allegiance to.

New on my radar but hardly newcomers to the freezer aisle, Vegetarian Plus has been cranking out the meatless frozen meals for years now, providing vegan options directly to consumers and to larger institutions that wish to feed them. Featuring easily accessible flavors for even the pickiest palates, while still covering a whole world of exotic cuisines, they’re excellent for serving to a crowd with varied tastes.

Plate provided by Steelite

Take for example, their latest offerings of Indian-inspired entrees. Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala, looking for all the world like curried poultry, rather than its actual soybean fiber and wheat protein construction. Redolent of warm spices and a certain savory scent, the flavor is shockingly on par with some of the better takeout I’ve had. Initially sweet but switching over to spicy in seconds, the spice profile is impressively well-balanced, and on the spicier side for a mainstream meal. Nothing to burn a hole through your tongue, for sure, but lively in flavor and fairly true to its title. I would absolutely purchase this again in the future, and anyone who appreciates Indian food should take a chance on it too.

Defrosting a package of Vegan Lamb Vindaloo on another hungry and somewhat desperate evening, I had no clue what to expect. I’ve never eaten lamb, so I can’t say with any authority how authentic those protein chunks were, but I can tell you that the texture seemed chewier, perhaps gamier as far as imitation meat goes, and more similar to seitan than the previous offering. Somehow the flavor struck me as less rich, and a bit lacking in body compared to the first amazing meal, but rest assured, I had no problem cleaning my plate. Unarguably spicier, those craving a meaty meal with some bite to it would no doubt enjoy this.

Craving greasy but oh so good Chinese takeout? Vegetarian Plus has got you covered there, too. Their Vegan Kung Pao Chicken tastes as though it could have just as easily come from a cardboard carry-out box as your own freezer. Not just an homage to the idea of kung pao, this version goes the whole nine yards; coated in the same shiny, vaguely sticky, semi-sweet and generously salted sauce, it coats the palate richly, perfectly scratching that itch for something a bit indulgent. As “authentic” as American Chinese food goes, this is exactly what I remember chowing down on as a picky omnivore ages ago. Accented by a decent kick of heat, it manages to avoid descending down the sad path of bland Americanized ethnic food, so it may even have a leg up on the competition.

I must admit that what I was most intrigued by, however, was not the offering of a completely ready made and defrostable dinner, but the possibilities presented by their Vegan Shrimp. Packaged with a sweet chili sauce that I didn’t particularly enjoy, the “shrimp” needed only a bit of love to become something even better. Genuinely fishy, they both looked and smelled the part. Sure, the mere concept may sound dubious at best, but they don’t deserve the harsh judgement they’ve so often received. Bouncy between the teeth and relatively bland unadorned, the flavor strikes me as being very similar to the somewhat controversial shirataki noodles. Either you love them or you hate them, so the same could probably be said for these “shrimp.”


Plate provided by Steelite

Lightly pan-fried in a generous dose of garlic I dressed up my imitation crustaceans as a riff on shrimp and grits. Rather than making grits from dried cornmeal, my version is more like a cross between polenta and creamed corn, utilizing fresh, coarsely pureed corn for a brighter, lighter flavor. You certainly don’t need fake shrimp to enjoy it though; a bit of crispy tofu on top would be just as good, if slightly less convenient for the harried cook.

Fresh Corn Grits

1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine, or Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Shallot or 1/2 Small Yellow Onion
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
3 Cups Fresh or Frozen Sweet Corn, Thawed
3/4 – 1 Cup Unsweetened, Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
Salt + Pepper

Melt your margarine or coconut oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and swirl in the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Incorporate the agave and continue to saute for 10 – 15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Toss in the corn next, and allow about 5 – 10 more minutes on the flame to soften the corn and enhance its sweeter flavors.

Transfer everything into your blender or food processor, along with 3/4 cup of the non-dairy milk and nutritional yeast, and plus lightly until the mixture is creamy, but still has a good bit of texture to it. Drizzle in more non-dairy milk if needed, to reach your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If preparing the “grits” in advance, add more non-dairy milk when reheating, because it thickens significantly as it sits.

Serves 3 – 4 as a Side Dish

Printable Recipe


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Hello, Beautiful

Glowing brightly like a cool, colorful homing beacon, the modest Ciao Bella kiosk in Grand Central Station would taunt me every time I arrived in New York City, straight off of a hot and sweaty ninety-minute train ride. Every flavor always appeared to be artfully arranged in its metal pan, carefully swirled and smoothed into undulating waves of frozen dessert. The heat must have always thoroughly fried my brain by that point though, as I never looked closely enough to see that there was in fact much more than the rich dairy-based gelato that the brand is so well known for. Sorbet, a mainstream godsend for the lactose intolerant, populates those immaculate cases in nearly equal numbers.

The best news of all, though, is twofold; that just recently, Ciao Bella has decided to go au naturel and dump the corn syrup and refined sugar, and that this very sorbet can be found in the freezer cases of most mainstream grocery stores, instead of just behind ice cream shop counters.

Boasting 12 different varieties of sorbet that any vegan would delight in, choosing a limited selection to sample was a tricky task. Noted as their best selling sorbet, their Blood Orange was the one clear pick. Peachy orange in color without much apparent aroma, this was clearly not your typical orange offering. Sweet and fruity, with subtle floral notes, the citrus flavor was still bright and clear, but not at all sharp or aggressive. Mellow, well-rounded, and highly refreshing, it strikes me as a summer snack that children and adults of all ages could enjoy alike. Super smooth, without the slightest hint of ice crystals, it scoops like a dream, too.

Wanting to try a more diverse lineup, but unable to fight off my rampant cravings for tangy citrus treats, I found myself drawn back, time and again, to the beckoning pint of Lemon sorbet on the frost-encrusted supermarket shelves. Hitting all the zesty high notes I could hope for, this was one intense, vibrant lemon experience! Like the Italian ice of my childhood all grown up, the ultra-smooth texture was practically creamy, but completely weightless without the cloying richness of premium ice cream. Also perfect as a palate cleanser between a multi-course meal, this sorbet didn’t stick around long after it made it into my home.

Most alluring of all, however, is Ciao Bella’s latest sorbet creation; Their sorbet bars, available in both their flagship Blood Orange flavor and brand new to the line up, Blueberry Passion. Swirled throughout with contrasting colors of deep violet and pale orange, each bite unexpectedly consistent in flavor. A tropical, unidentifiable flavor hits me immediately, and I recognize that this must be the passion fruit element. Not as well acquainted with this primarily South American, it provided an unexpected exotic element, reminiscent of a vacation on the beach. The sweet and simple blueberry flavor kept things comforting, making for a well balanced combination of both exciting and familiar tastes.

For the avid home cook or DIY-er, fret not; Ciao Bella has even come out with a cookbook, The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto, divulging their secret formulas for every flavor in the lineup, including exotics not available in hard-pack pints. Although most intriguingly, this provides otherwise impossible opportunities to veganize Ciao Bella’s gelatos, I was still drawn to the simplicity of the sorbet section. Besides, with a chocolate sorbet with such an intense, and complex depth of flavor, I don’t think I need the gelato version at all! Scooping soft and easily straight out of the freezer, just like the store-bought options, it seemed completely consistent with the quality of their factory-made frozen desserts.

I’m grateful that the folks at Ciao Bella were kind enough to provide me with a taste of their vegan offerings.  Next time, whether purchasing a single scoop from a Ciao Bella kiosk, grabbing a pint at the store for an impromptu indulgence, or crafting my own version at home, I know I’ll be in for a treat.

Chocolate Sorbetto
Reprinted with permission from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto

3 Cups Water
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
4 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate (About 60% Cacao), Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Dark Rum
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking often to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 4 minutes, continuing to whisk until all the sugar is dissolved.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate; whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Add the rum and vanilla, then pour though a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Let cool, stirring often. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

Printable Recipe


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Age is Just a Number

Aside from the benign lumps and gently clouding eyes, my darling puppy really isn’t showing her age, and is greeting the oncoming years [for the most part] with grace, just as any mature woman should. If you ask me, she doesn’t look a day older than 8. One would never guess that my little sweetheart has just turned 14 years old a few days ago!

Can you believe it? Supposedly, that’s 98 in dog years; Quite the milestone, indeed. While I would have loved nothing more than to make a big to-do about the event, and fuss over some elaborate treat for the birthday girl, that was simply not in the cards this time around. Between the book release, final exams, and a couple new projects still up my sleeve, it’s been challenging just tending to Isis’s everyday needs (such as letting her outside and then inside 50 times straight, refilling her water dish, and repeating that cycle over and over until the sun goes down.) However, I couldn’t let the day pass without some sort of special snack…

Think of a popsicle without a stick, made especially for the canine palate, and you’d have the Pup-sicle! Peanut butter-flavored, with a sprinkle of ground flax seeds for nutrition, this is one chilly treat that will be even more of a hit in the hot summer months. I can’t share the recipe just yet, as it has something to do with one of those upcoming projects I mentioned… So stay tuned for more details!

Ever cautious, Isis took a few preliminary licks when presented with this birthday gift…

…And quickly deeming the frozen biscuit not only edible, but highly tasty, she happily wolfed it down in a few large bites.

Happy Birthday, Isis- We’ll just have to celebrate the next one twice as much!

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