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  1. Thursday, June 4

    Friday Show and Tell – Brownies!

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    It’s Friday! Woohoo! I’m all happy and giddy and stuff because we are finally painting our walls after replacing all the plumbing in our house last summer. Yes, that means we’ve had 38 patches on our walls for almost a year. I feel like we’re making good time, no? Anyway, the colors are coming out wonderfully, so I’ll have to do a follow up “how to pick paint” post to let you know what colors I used.

    brownie recipe roundup for weekly show and tell from @janemaynard

    I just have one thing to share today. BROWNIES. For Parade’s Community Table this week I pulled together a roundup of 15 creative, amazing, wonderful brownie recipes. You should go check them out. For those of who might want a more basic brownie, this brownie recipe from Ruth Reichl is hands down my favorite, which is saying something because I actually have a lot of “favorite” brownie recipes.

    Now, go forth and make brownies. And have a marvelous weekend. And share your stuff with us in the comments for Show and Tell!

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  2. Snapshots from Malawi: Lights Out

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    Last night our power went out. First at 8:45 pm for just a minute or two, then again at around 10:00 pm for an hour or so. I was folding laundry and had to hold a flashlight under my arm to complete the task. I didn’t get to finish watching an episode of Damages. We had to brush our teeth in the dark. It was rough. {Italics appearing in the role of Sarcasm today.}

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi | photo by karen walrondPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    I jokingly said to Nate that I must have brought back the “Spirit of Malawi” with me, i.e. constant power outages. Nate asked if that really happens a lot in Malawi and I was like, “Um, pretty much ALL THE TIME” and then proceeded to rattle off all kinds of interesting yet discouraging facts about the state of electricity in Malawi.

    Before my trip to Malawi, ONE mailed a binder filled with information about the country and the various foreign aid groups that we would be visiting and learning about. One of the many statistics I read was that only 9% of Malawians are connected to the electrical grid. That’s right, 9% of Malawi has electricity (only 0.4% of rural Malawi), which means 14 million Malawians do NOT have electricity. While reading that number was both shocking and thought provoking, actually visiting Malawi and talking to the people about the problems with electricity was incredibly eye opening. Every site we visited is impacted by electricity (or the lack thereof) in some way, from homes to businesses to hospitals and more.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM control center | by @janemaynard

    The country has only 350 megawatts of generation capacity. For comparison’s sake, Nigeria generates over 4,000 megawatts and the United States generates over 1,000 GIGAwatts annually. Essentially, it’s no comparison. And the 350 megawatts Malawi does have is not sufficient to meet current demands. They would need 400 megawatts just to cover the 9% of Malawi now on the grid.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM control center | photo by karen walrondPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    We had the opportunity to meet with Oliver Pierson, Resident Country Director at Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Patrick Kadewa, Systems Operations and Power Trading Manager, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), as well as take a tour of the National Control Center for ESCOM.

    Oliver is an American living in Malawi managing a $350 million dollar project that MCC has in place to improve Malawi’s electrical grid. MCC is an innovative and independent foreign aid agency created in 2004 by Congress (with strong bipartisan support) that is doing work to fight poverty in many countries throughout the world (see more about MCC here). In 2013 MCC signed a 5-year compact with the government of Malawi aimed at improving the generation, transmission and control of electricity.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM control center | photo by karen walrondPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    Oliver and Patrick both shared such an abundance of information with us I could write a book. This is but a wee blog post, so I’ll do my best to keep it short. Here are a few of my main takeaways from those conversations:

    • The National Control Center keeps a constant eye on the electrical grid, tracking problems and helping to resolve them. Patrick said their job is to balance supply and demand at all times. For example, ESCOM controls “load shedding” (similar to rolling blackouts experienced in California when power demands are high). Load shedding is necessary to keep the system from collapse. Without these planned blackouts, the entire electrical grid would go down. And, even with this vigilant eye, the electrical grid does in fact crash. That means the ENTIRE COUNTRY has a blackout at the same time. I asked Patrick if that happens often and he said, “Oh, no. Just four or five times a year.” (Me, responding in my mind while quietly nodding, “WHAT?!?!?!?!”)
    • Power blackouts are not just an inconvenience, they have a significantly negative impact on the economy and the ability for Malawi to develop as a nation. While we did experience a blackout ourselves near Lake Malawi, talking to people and finding out what a huge impact these blackouts have was for more informative than my small experience at a hotel. Some buildings have back-up generators, but those are expensive to run, often break down and are not the norm. Hospitals are especially vulnerable to blackouts, affecting care as well as the storage of precious vaccines. The milk bulking groups that we visited also suffer from unreliable electricity, losing all of their milk supplies with extended blackouts. That means the farmers who walked or biked kilometer after kilometer to deliver their milk to the facility completely miss that income. These are just a few examples, not to mention what daily life is like for most Malawians living without electricity entirely.
    • Malawi’s power is all hydro, generated from 3 dams on the Shire river, one of which is in need of serious repair (an MCC project). Solar is looking like the best secondary option, but coal is being explored as well. I personally have hope for solar. For example, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California generates 392 megawatts. Patrick said the biggest challenge with solar was cost, which is not a surprise considering the Ivanpah facility was a $2.2 billion project. Installing solar alone is not all that cost-prohibitive, but getting the batteries to store the energy nearly doubles the cost. Despite these challenges, one example of successful solar power use in Malawi is the Lilongwe airport, which runs entirely on 1 megawatt of solar power.
    • MCC employees are almost entirely Malawian. This was a theme I saw time and again among the groups doing sustainable foreign aid work in Malawi – employing locals makes the work far more effective and long lasting.
    • MCC’s compact with the Malawian government is for $350.7 million. The Westfield mall in my neighborhood is currently getting a “beach chic” makeover for $300 million. Just some food for thought.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM | photo credit karen walrondPatrick getting his thank you gift for the tour! Photo credit: Karen Walrond

    Thinking about the issue of electricity in Malawi is overwhelming. Talking to the people who are working on the system, however, is inspiring. It cannot be denied that they have their work cut out for them but they keep at it valiantly, despite the challenges of ESCOM’s antiquated system.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, solar light| from @janemaynardSolar light used at night by the Mtika family in their home

    So, what’s the point of today’s post? For me the two biggest messages are this. First, the less than 1% of the U.S. budget that goes towards foreign aid is doing phenomenal work. For the price it takes to renovate a mall we can make significant improvements in the lives of millions of people. We need to keep letting our government leaders know that we support these programs (organizations like ONE help us do just that!). Second, the problems are vast and complex, but we cannot and should not give up. Just like the workers we met from ESCOM, you do the best you can with what you’ve got and continue to work hard for better.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, village kitchen | from @janemaynard

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, village kitchen | from @janemaynard

    The Mtika family (who I introduced you to last week) does not have electricity. Each day they put a small solar light on the roof of their maize silo, which is what they use to light their home at night. Their kitchen is in a separate building from their home, with efficient fire-powered clay ovens that they use for cooking. This kitchen is a huge blessing compared to what others have, yet there is still no electricity. Over the last four years the Mtika’s lives have improved significantly while working with Heifer International, but the lack of electricity is still a huge challenge. When I hear the statistic “91% of Malawians do not have electricity,” I think of the Mtikas, their kitchen, and their smiling faces. And I hope that one day they too can enjoy the benefits of electricity and so much more.

    I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.

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  3. Tuesday, June 2

    Candied Coconut Almonds

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    You might think that candied nuts simply can’t be improved. I mean, they are just so tasty. But this week I made them better than ever. Yes, it’s true!

    recipe for beyond-delicious candied coconut almonds from @janemaynard (they're addictive!)

    I’d like to introduce you to candied coconut almonds. I didn’t do much except add coconut to my regular candied almonds but the end result was pretty much the most delicious thing ever.

    What, exactly, are candied coconut almonds good for? Let me count the ways. As a topping for ice cream and yogurt? Yes. As an add-in for chocolate chip cookies? More of the yes. Salad? Sure, why not! Simply to eat straight out of the bowl? Most definitely yes.

    recipe for beyond-delicious candied coconut almonds from @janemaynard (they're addictive!)

    I also may be working on the best cookie bar recipe ever as we speak, and those cookie bars just might involve candied coconut almonds. You’ll have to wait and see…

    5.0 from 1 reviews
    Candied Coconut Almonds
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Crack in almond-coconut form.
    Author:
    Serves: 1½ - 2 cups
    Ingredients
    • ¾ cup sliced almonds that have been chopped up a bit
    • ¾ cup UNsweetened shredded coconut
    • 6 tablespoons sugar
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
    2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the sugar, water and salt. Add the almonds and coconut and stir well.
    3. On a silpat- or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, spread the mixture evenly.
    4. Cook in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes. If you want things crispy and browned, go on the longer side. If you cook it just for 10 minutes or so, things will not be browned, they will still be crispy, just not as crispy. Both ways are equally delicious, it's just a preference thing.
    5. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
    6. Stir and break up the pieces and store in an air-tight container. Should keep for quite some time.

     

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  4. Sunday, May 31

    Week 436 Menu

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    Hey everybody! We just got back from a hike with our kids and I’m finally sitting down to do some planning. I did cook last week, but not really anything from the menu. I think I was just trying to use up foods we already had. So, I have a few repeats from last week’s menu, sorry about that! That’s life!

    week 436 weekly menu from @janemaynard - includes FREE printable meal plan and shopping list!

    MONDAY:
    – Asian Spinach Salad

    TUESDAY:
    Caprese Paninis

    WEDNESDAY:
    Chili

    THURSDAY:
    – Food truck night at the kids’ school!

    FRIDAY:
    – Leftovers

    SATURDAY:
    Curried Coconut Soup

    SUNDAY:
    – Chicken Vindaloo (nothing fancy, I just got a simmer sauce at Costco)
    – Rice, Broccoli and Naan

    Click here for the free printable of this week’s menu plus the shopping list!

    Sharing time! Let’s see what you’ve got cookin’ this week! Remember, all menus welcome! Fancy, simple, month-long, week-long, gluten free, whatever!

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  5. Friday, May 29

    Friday Show and Tell

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    Happy Friday! It’s funny, usually weeks that start with a holiday feel short to me, but not this one…Friday couldn’t come soon enough! 😉

    virunga on netflix

    I know I can’t stop talking about Africa (which is a reflection of my mind, which cannot stop thinking about Africa), but I have to share a documentary with you. Joe Kraus from ONE recommended the movie Virunga while we were driving around the Malawian countryside. Nate and I watched it this week and it is so beautifully made and thought provoking I had to let you all know about it. So many of the issues that I witnessed in Malawi are explored in this film, with the added complication of the war that Congo is experiencing. I literally sobbed my way through the movie (fair warning!). The movie is streaming on Netflix. If you want to support Virunga National Park, click here. Also, this article on Huffington Post provides an excellent summary of the movie and what it’s all about.

    raspberry rhubarb sangria from @janemaynard

    Okay, food link time!

    That’s it! As usual, please share your own stuff! Just updates from your life, recipes you’ve found during the week, links to your own blog posts…anything goes!

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  6. Thursday, May 28

    Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade

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    Summer is here! Well, sort of. Right now where we live it’s actually super cloudy, cool and misty every day. So, summer? Not so much. But if I do things like make lemonade then it will at least kinda sorta feel like summer, right?

    recipe for über flavorful strawberry rhubarb lemonade from @janemaynard

    Today I have an excellent use for the rhubarb simple syrup I shared with you last week: strawberry rhubarb lemonade. This über flavorful lemonade was a hit with every member of my family and we drank every drop. In fact, I made this last week to photograph then proceeded to wipe my camera’s memory card clean before downloading the photos. When I mentioned today that I had to remake the lemonade for photos, the kids and Nate alike were more than happy I was making more so soon and were glad that I made that mistake last week!

    recipe for über flavorful strawberry rhubarb lemonade from @janemaynardrecipe for über flavorful strawberry rhubarb lemonade from @janemaynard

    Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade
     
    Prep time
    Total time
     
    Summer in a glass!
    Author:
    Serves: 6-8
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup rhubarb simple syrup
    • 4 cups water
    • 1 cup lemon juice
    • ½ pound strawberries, washed and hulled
    Instructions
    1. Place 1 cup of the water and the strawberries in a blender. Blend until pulverized. POW!
    2. Mix together the strawberry puree with all the other ingredients in a large pitcher.
    3. Serve with lots of ice!

     

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  7. Tuesday, May 26

    Snapshots from Malawi: Teach a Man and Woman to Farm and They’ll Eat Forever

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    Over the last week, every time someone excitedly asks, “How was Africa?” I don’t know how to respond. There is no fast, small-talk response. “Amazing” pretty much covers it, but that word sounds trite and insincere. “Life changing” sounds clichéd, even though it’s completely true. On the other hand, “Malawi was wonderful and joyful and sad and informative and beautiful and heartbreaking and inspiring and frustrating and oh so much more” just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like “amazing” or “life changing” does. As a writer and extrovert, I rarely find myself at a loss for words. But my thoughts and feelings about my trip to Malawi have rendered me speechless.

    snapshots from malawi: heifer goats by @janemaynardThe Mtika Family’s Goat Pen

    While I struggle for a good response in daily conversation, there are a few things I always find myself mentioning in these far-too-short conversations. One of those things is that organizations like Heifer International are doing truly transformative work and it’s because of the way they do it that the work is making such a difference. You know that phrase, “Give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day; Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever”? THAT is what Heifer (and many others) are doing. And it works. I’ve seen firsthand that it works. People are eating every day because of what they have been taught.

    snapshots from malawi: the mtika family by @janemaynardThe Mtika Family

    Our first stop on the trip was at the home of the Mtika family. They live in a small village in the northern part of Malawi and have been working with Heifer for 4 years. Mr. Mtika is a lead farmer, meaning he helps train others in his community with the skills he has acquired through Heifer. I learned so much from Mr. and Mrs. Mtika, both about life in Malawi and about how Heifer works. The thing that stood out most to me, however, was their gratitude for being able to feed their children. When asked how Heifer has changed their lives, they responded that their children no longer go to bed hungry.

    snapshots from malawi: mtika family by @janemaynard

    snapshots from malawi: mr. mtika by @janemaynard

    Here’s the thing about Malawi. Poverty is everywhere. Poverty is the rule, not the exception, and the scale is mindboggling. We learned that for a diet to be considered nutritionally balanced, the goal is to get 6 foods into the daily diet. Malawians on average get only 4.3 foods. FOUR foods make up their ENTIRE diet. Even my most basic recipes have more than 4 ingredients. And, for that matter, the targeted 6 is still meager. These numbers were sobering to say the least.

    snapshots from malawi: cooking oven by @janemaynardThis is Rosie Bamoye, one of Mr. Mtika’s neighbors. She is fake cooking for the camera because she’s a good sport like that. These handmade ovens have improved the ability of these families to cook, including requiring 1/3 of the wood they used to need to cook. Rosie told us that she is herself transitioning from poverty to prosperity because of her goats that were passed on to her by Mr. Mtika. She has since passed goats on to others.

    As a food writer I was excited to try Malawian food. I learned quickly on our arrival that there really isn’t much traditional Malawian food to try. When people would find out I was a food writer they would excitedly ask, “Have you had nsima?” Nsima is a porridge-like food made with corn and water. That’s it. Corn. Water. For the duration of the trip I made sure to eat nsima at every meal where it was served.

    snapshots from malawi: cooking nsima by @janemaynardDorothy Mtika (11) making nsima in the family’s improved kitchen space.

    Gin and tonics are especially popular in Malawi. But even that seemingly fun fact was in reality a sobering discovery – tonic water contains quinine, an antimalarial ingredient. Bottom line: food and drink are quite simply about survival for most people in Malawi.

    snapshots from malawi by @janemaynard

    While visiting the Mtika’s village, a little girl in a grey dress was walking alongside me for quite some time. She had a bright smile that was never ending. I finally stopped to ask if she wanted her picture taken, which she did. Funny enough she would never smile for the camera like she did in person, but she still loved looking at herself on the small camera screen. After the photo she asked me something that I could not understand. I grabbed one of our drivers, who was able to translate.

    “Do you have a water bottle I can have?” was her question.

    I did in fact have one and readily handed it over. The driver was curious as to why this is what she asked for, so he asked her why she wanted it.

    “We use it so we can have lunch at school. We put maize in the bottle and add a little water. By lunchtime the maize is softened and that is what I eat.”

    Oh, this sweet girl. My heart just about burst.

    The driver and I asked her if she would take one more photo, this time holding her bottle. After much prodding we were able to get this one, joyful, smiley shot.

    snapshots from malawi by @janemaynard

    During our time in Malawi we did have delicious food, including fried chambo (a fish from Lake Malawi) and tons of Nali Peri-Peri sauce. I actually came home with 6 bottles of Nali because, apparently, I am crazy for African hot sauce.

    snapshots from malawi: fried chambo by @janemaynard

    snapshots from malawi: nali peri-peri sauce

    Needless to say all that I observed and learned about food in Malawi has been constantly on my mind. It has certainly made me even more grateful than I already was for what I have. And I can honestly say that making my daughters’ lunches each morning has transformed from a chore to an honor.

    And, when I start to feel emotionally overwhelmed thinking about food in Malawi, I think of the Mtikas and the many other farmers we met. Given the right resources and know-how they have been able to turn their lives around. These parents are now able to feed their families thanks to their own skills and abilities. It is a beautiful thing and is the key to having food “forever.”

    I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.

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  8. Sunday, May 24

    Week 435 Menu

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    I simply cannot believe I have been home from Malawi for a week already. Time flies! I prepared a few menus before I left on that trip, but those have all run out and it’s time to get planning again!

    week 435 weekly menu from @janemaynard including FREE printable meal plan and shopping list!

    MONDAY:
    – Happy Memorial Day! Cookout on the grill (hot dogs, hamburgers, the usual)

    TUESDAY:
    – Busy night, so leftovers/cereal/whatever we can scrounge up

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Asian Spinach Salad

    THURSDAY:
    Caprese Paninis

    FRIDAY:
    Chili

    SATURDAY:
    – Takeout night

    SUNDAY:
    – Leftovers

    Click here for the free printable of this week’s menu plus the shopping list!

    As always, THANK YOU for sharing your menus! Keep it coming!

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  9. Friday, May 22

    Friday Show and Tell

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    Happy Friday! Hope you had a good week. Mine was okay. It was actually kind of rough coming off of Malawi – I was pretty emotional all week. But whenever I looked at these photos of Allison (from Heifer International) and I jumping in Lake Malawi, it made me happy!

    jumping into lake malawi from @janemaynardPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    Just two food links for you this week!

    On Babble:

    On Parade’s Community Table:

    You know the drill – share your stuff! And have a great weekend!

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  10. Thursday, May 21

    Rhubarb Simple Syrup

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    I’m back in the kitchen! Yay! Today I have a fun seasonal recipe for you – rhubarb simple syrup!

    rhubarb simple syrup from @janemaynard

    Whether or not you like rhubarb you’ll like this syrup. With all the sugar involved it is anything but tart, and it adds a nice, subtle flavor twist to lemonades, punches, cocktails and more. You could even just drizzle a bit over ice cream or plain yogurt!

    rhubarb for simple syrup by @janemaynardrhubarb for simple syrup by @janemaynard

    I will have a recipe on Babble soon for Raspberry Rhubarb Sangria (including a alcohol-free version) that I will for sure share a link to when it goes live, and next week I just might have a Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade recipe for you, too. (Okay, I do, but you have to wait!)

    rhubarb simple syrup by @janemaynard

    Rhubarb Simple Syrup
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Perfect for flavoring drinks of all kinds!
    Author:
    Serves: ~9 ounces
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup chopped fresh rhubarb, ½" pieces (about 2 stalks)
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Combine sugar, water and rhubarb in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat.
    2. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer mixture for 25 minutes.
    3. Strain mixture though a fine mesh sieve.
    4. Store in the refrigerator. Makes a little more than 1 cup of syrup.

     

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