30 November 2006

CBBP #2:Parcel round-up

If you haven't checked out the various participant blogs yet, here's the round-up:

Jenny of All Things Edible received this.

Kelli of Avoir Une Famille N’est Pas Comme Une Teleroman received this.

Paige of chef-girl.net received this.

Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice received this.

Sara of i like to cook received this.

Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas received this.

Linda of Kayaksoup received this.

Anne-Hélène of Les Chroniques de Villeray received this.

Lynette of Lex Culinaria received this.

Tiffany of Life Changes After Birth received this.

Ruth of Once Upon a Feast received this.

Sarah Lou of One Whole Clove received this.

Orange Souffle of Orange Souffle received this.

Sam of sweet pleasure:plaisir sucré received this.

As for me...

Well...those of you who followed CBBP1 know that Canada Post was very cruel to me and returned my parcel to Elizabeth.

This time...well, this time, Lynette and I have no clue where it is. Should the great postal gods in the sky (or the Postie who's hanging onto the parcel) decide that a box that's addressed to me should actually be delivered to me, we will be very pleased.



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28 November 2006

Onion Day!

Zorra of Kochtopf, the creator of the World Bread Day blogging event, came up with another fabulous blogging event when she declared yesterday as Onion Day.

"Onion Day?" you may ask.

Yes. Onion Day--to celebrate Berne's annual
Zibelemärit (onion market) that takes place on the fourth Friday of November. From Jessica's pictures and post, it looks amazingly fun and quite the event.

Onions, of course are part of the Allium genus, and have been cultivated and eaten since prehistoric times. The civilisation of Ur mentioned gardening onions and ancient Egyptians depicted the bulbous veg in tomb paintings and included them in inscriptions.

Ancient Egyptian attitudes towards onions were contradictory. On one hand they were appreciated and revered, but on the other they were the subject of taboos. The Romans introduced the veg to Britain and Columbus brought them to Haiti on his second voyage.

To me, onions are a kitchen staple. I can't imagine a savoury dish without them. Sweet, somewhat acrid or hot, onions are a favourite of mine.

So when Zorra sent out her invitation to celebrate this wonderful Allium, I knew I wanted to take part. Unfortunately, what I wanted to make (onion bhajia) and what I had time to make (instant coffee) were at odds.

And the more I thought of onion bhajia, the more I craved them. Sliced onions, dusted in spiced chickpea flour, balled together and deep fried.

Not too far from my office is a wonderful family-run South Indian restaurant. This is the place I go to when my parents are out of the country and I crave a taste of home cooking, but don't have the time or energy to get into the kitchen. My cravings got the better of me and I picked some up. George (the car) was filled with the slightly caramel scent of cooked onions, combined with hints of fennel and other spices. Thiru adds two dipping sauces -- a spicy yoghurt and a sweet and cool coriander-mint jelly.

Every once in a while, a plateful of deepfried numminess is the perfect supper.

Zorra -- thanks so much for organising this event!



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26 November 2006

But I missed the pudding

With those five little words, I knew the fate of this year's Christmas pudding was set.

You see, up until a few years ago, Christmas pudding was just that: Christmas Pudding. Each year Mummy would buy a red celloed plum pudding from the megamart. She'd steam it, sprinkle some cognac over it and then serve it with an equally boozy saucy icing. It was a tradition she picked up while in the Indian army, while getting her nurse's training.

Still heavily rooted in British tradition, a big fuss was made when it was announced the army cooks started making the holiday puddings. At Christmas the fruited cakes would appear in the mess, soused in alcohol and set ablaze. When she went to get her serving, the staff always gave her a little more than the others. It was their way of telling her they liked her and although she was a long way from home, she was still loved. My mum's eyes still light up when she talks about it.

Last year, as had become the norm, I made a sticky toffee pudding. Sometimes it was chocolate, sometimes it was vanilla. Mum always enjoyed it--it is sweet and luscious, and since I made it, she didn't have to fuss over it; but no matter how tasty it was, there was always a note of melancholy in her voice. When it was time to serve the pudding, not only did the sticky toffee bonanza appear, but a little plum pudding was also served.

I looked at Mummy.

Sheepishly, she looked down and in the tiniest of voices she said,"But I missed the pudding," and proceded to spoon some of each pudding into her bowl.

Gosh, I felt awful. I didn't realise the boozy little cannonball meant that much to her...she never articulated its significance to me until very recently.

With my, and this year's Christmas pudding's, fate set in stone, I searched for a proper, lidded pudding steamer. I suppose it's a very British thing to have--perhaps 20 or 30 years ago we could have gotten one at Eaton's...but not today. I decided sometime last spring that if I couldn't find one by the end of September, I'd have order one in from the UK and hope customs wouldn't hold it up, nor would the Posties nick it...luckily I found one on one of my theatre trips to Stratford.

When Mummy saw it she was so happy. Normally she accuses me of wasting my paycheques on frivolous things, as mums are apt to do. Not this time. This was an important piece of kitchenware long missing from either of our treasure troves of bizarre, obscure, but still very useful kitchen gadgets.

A month ago she announced that she'd like to make at least two puddings. One for Christmas and one to give away.

That meant I'd need to find another steamer...and I couldn't get to Stratford. As luck would have it, my favourite bulk food store, the one with the black-humoured sales girl, had just brought in some steamers. I plucked one from the shelf (okay--it was WAY up high--at least six feet off the floor--and I had to stand on tippy toes to get it) and bought it.

Ready for the lecture on frivolous items (one steamer would be acceptable, but two was just too decadent and shouldn't I be using my money for something better, like my old age?) I set it in her kitchen. No lecture.

"Oh good. You found one. I was wondering how we'd do the second pudding."

Was this MY mum speaking? I can only assume that the prospect of a home-made Christmas pudding was clouding her fuzzy little brain.

She asked if I had a recipe as neither of us had ever made a plum pudding from scratch before. I have loads of recipes...given that a good 40 per cent of my cookbooks are from the UK, I knew I'd have several from which to choose. None of them seemed quite right. At least, not right enough for a first pudding. I searched the Web and found
Nigel Slater's recipe.

Did we follow the recipe exactly? No. I substituted this for that and that for this. I made up my own self-rising flour which probably wasn't as potent as the stuff in the store. Mummy, oh she-who-dislikes-all-things-animal-fatty, was incredibly unhappy that I insisted in using suet and claims if she knew that suet was used in puddings she'd never have eaten them.

She buttered the bowls while I mixed all the ingredients together. I must admit that I've mentally appended "Christmas puddings" to Otto von Bismarck's quotation pertaining to sausages and laws. Did we do the navigational stirring as is tradition? No. My inability to find North, even with a compass, is my excuse.

Mummy was hopefully convinced that there would be too much pudding for basin and we'd need to make a third, smaller pudding. Her face fell when she realized that Mr. Slater was a man true to his word and the mixture really did fill two 1.5 litre containers.

We tied and steamed the puddings. Afterwards she set them on the counter to cool.

"Can we eat one now?" she asked hopefully.


"Why not?"

"Because we need to steam them again before serving."

"Okay. If I steam them longer can we have one?"


"Why not?"

"You do know why we made the puddings this year as opposed to buying them, don't you?" (with Mummy's memory, one is never quite sure).

Her eyes fell. "Yes. I remember."

"Well that's why we have to wait until Christmas."

"Okay," she responded, dejectedly. "I've made a decision."

"What's that?"

"I'm not going to give away a pudding."

"Why not?"

"Because." A perfect Mummy reason if there ever was one.

After they cooled I sealed them up as Nigel instructed and Mummy took them away.

"You will remember where you've put them, won't you?"

"Of course I will, " she said with a glint in her eye. "This is the Christmas pudding."



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23 November 2006

Raffle prizes needed: Menu for Hope III

Hello all

Some of you may have received a note from Pim, the amazing person behind Chez Pim, requesting raffle prizes for Menu For Hope III.

Menu For Hope is an annual charitable raffle whose proceeds benefit humanitarian causes around the world. The first instalment assisted victims of the South East Asian tsunami and last year monies were collected for UNICEF to help those impacted by the earthquake in the Kashmiri region of India-Pakistan. This year funds raised will go to the United Nations World Food Program.

Planning for Menu for Hope III, scheduled from 11-22 December 2006, is well underway and this year, monies raised will support the United Nations World Food Programme.

This year, each geographic area has its own host blog. Pim asked me to look after Canada, and knowing what a great event this is, along with how important the UNWFP is, of course I said yes.

Dear readers, this is where your help is needed.

If you are able to provide a raffle prize to this worthy endeavour, we'd all appreciate it. Here’s a link to last year’s list to give you an idea as to what has been donated in the past: http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/2005/12/a_menu_for_hope.html . If you can donate something, here's what you need to do before December 1:

  1. Come up with a gift, or a set of gifts, to offer as a raffle prize. Prizes don’t have to be expensive or swanky (but we won’t turn down expensive or swanky gifts): a jar of home-made preserves, a good-condition cookbook or two, gift certificates at a local restaurant or shop. Remember that you will also be responsible for shipping the prize to the raffle winner, no matter where they live. So, please make sure you could afford the shipping cost as well.
  2. Provide two images of your gifts, one at 75x75pix thumbnail and another a bit larger at 240x160pix.
  3. Provide a description of your gift. We need your help in selling tickets, so make your prize description wonderfully persuasive!
  4. Email all of the above to corresponding host blog in your region:
During the live campaign, Dec 11-22:

  1. On December 11, write a blog post about the campaign and your raffle prize. Ask your readers to donate money to buy virtual raffle tickets to support WFP. Each US$10 ticket buys one virtual raffle ticket for a prize of their choice. Ticket buyers can specify their desired prize in the comment area of the donation form.
  2. Be active during the time our campaign is live. Monitor how your raffle prize is doing on our fundraising page, and encourage more of your readers to donate. You may also write about other prizes that your readers might be interested in.
How does the money collecting work?
In interest of transparency, the online fundraising company, First Giving will collect ticket monies and pass them along directly to the UNWFP. We're also pleased to let you know that First Giving has agreed to reduce their administration fees to three per cent (from four) of funds collected--every little bit helps!

Tickets will be sold at US$10 each. Last year's raffle raised more than US$17,000 and we are hoping to beat that this year.

We hope you can help us out this year. If you have any questions, or concerns, please feel free to email Pim at pim@chezpim.com or me (address in my side bar).

Thank you so much in advance for your help.


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edits: updated contact list

21 November 2006

Was it just a figment?

I remember wondering if the recipe for Vanilla-scented halibut in Andreas Viestad's Kitchen of Light would actually work.

I remember the cool flesh of the half-kilo of halibut as I rubbed it with salt, along with the sliminess of scraped vanilla seeds while I rubbed them all over the fish. The ebony-like pods were chopped into 2-cm pieces and tucked under the meat...and strewn on top. The 125ml of dry white wine sloshed over the pallid fillets. The little boats of vanilla pod floated on the liquid before settling down. The ends of aluminum foil were crimped round the dish as the oven reached 400F/200C.

I recall taking the dish out of the oven when the fish was cooked 20 or so minutes later. Steam escaped when I peeled back the foil, giving me an alcoholic facial. I wiped the droplets from my lenses. The fish was opaque and firm--a good sign and bespeckled with teeny beans. Also a good sign.

I plated it, with some wilted spinach and settled on the couch.

I poked at the fish.

I ate the fish.

It was supposed to be scented with vanilla...it sort of was. The texture was okay--a tad overdone, but not to the point it was disgusting. I remember thinking there was too much wine. I also remember thinking I wouldn't do it again.

What I don't remember was where I put that picture.


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19 November 2006

A belated thank you

Just before I came down with this whatever-it-is (or, more accurately, before I admitted that I came down with this whatever-it-is), a padded envelope found it's way to me...I'm just sorry it's taken me this long to get this photo up.

The very sweet
Kelli of avoir une famille n'est pas comme un téléroman sent me a little gift. In the envelope was a lovely hand-knitted dishcloth, as thanks for organizing CBBP2. Thank you so much Kelli!

If you haven't had the opportunity to check out her blog, please do: a wonderful slice of life that encompasses her family, her community, and her creativity (foodish and knittish).


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15 November 2006

See this jar?

In it is a magical elixir that revives the dead.

Well...not quite...but close enough.

I've been felled by a horrid chest cold. One that made me sleep for at least 12 hours a day and pretty darned-near-useless for another nine. You can't do much with only three good hours a day. Those of you who've received messages from me are probably giggling at what I'm claiming to be communications. Those of you who've spoken to me are still looking for verification that that voice was mine. I made the mistake of heading into work yesterday, thinking I could handle it...I couldn't I came home after three hours...and slept for three-and-a-half.

I started taking this brew yesterday...and my word...I was able to stay mostly lucid for six hours (yesterday) and 10 (today). Needless to say, I'll be back at my desk tomorrow.

What's in the jar?

Family secret.

Why didn't I make it earlier?

A mucus-swathed brain.


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12 November 2006

Testing my personality...again


Now I know what to say when someone asks me if I'm a good cook....

You Are an Excellent Cook

You're a top cook, but you weren't born that way. It's taken a lot of practice, a lot of experimenting, and a lot of learning.
It's likely that you have what it takes to be a top chef, should you have the desire...

Thanks to Sean of Hedonia (who, as of *this* moment is Foodieblogs.net newest member) for bringing this to my attention.


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11 November 2006

WCB #75: Oh woe is Beanie

I walked into the livingroom to find this little scene...

I guess he just got tired of me spending more time with
Dorie's marvelous book than feigning to roast a chicken (and yes, I do know that he hijacked my blog a couple of weeks ago, flirting with a few of you and trying to convince others to send him chicken...silly boy). Perhaps he wants me to make these treats next?

For whatever reason, he's gotten into the habit of sleeping with his head on a pillow...or a book...or an extension cord reel...


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07 November 2006

Cookbook Spotlight: Baking: from my home to yours

Baking: From my home to yours
By Dorie Greenspan
Houghton Mifflin, New York City
Hardcover; 514 pages; C$55/US$40
ISBN-10: 0-168-443336-3; -13:978-0-618-44336-9

Thanks to Sara, the wonderful mind behind i like to cook, I was invited to participate in the next Cookbook Spotlight series. Without hesitation I said yes: I had such a wonderful time with the last title, I’ve been hoping to be invited back. Thanks to Sara and the very kind people at Houghton Mifflin, 25 of us received our very own copies of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: from my home to yours to cook from and blog about.

I nearly spat up my evening tea when I read Greenspan’s introduction:

Until I was a junior in college, my sole cooking experience consisted of burning down my parents’ kitchen when I was thirteen, after I tossed frozen French fries into boiling oil and covered the pot. For the next half-dozen years, I remained blissfully clueless about all things culinary.

My eyes vibrated in that way they do when seemingly conflicting thoughts start my synapses firing—“How does someone go from setting her kitchen ablaze to writing nine cookbooks?” was battling with “Will this book be salvageable? combined with a little bit of “OMG, will I have a kitchen by the end of this adventure?” (and yes, there was the “Speaking of which, where is my fire extinguisher?” question thrown in, but I know where all three are).

Greenspan’s story is an interesting one. Married at 19, she was forced to learn how to cook (what 19 year old newlywed student can afford to eat out every meal?). By the time she finished her doctorate in gerontology, she had an epiphany: she actually liked cooking and, more to the point, she’d rather bake than continue a career in academia. With sheepskin in hand, and her husband’s encouragement, she found her way as apprentice pastry chef in a number of famous pastry kitchens. In time, she began writing columns and cookbooks. She’s worked with notable chefs such as Julia Child and Daniel Boulud to pen chef recipes into recipes normal, everyday people could successfully repeat in normal, everyday home kitchens.

As with every cookbook that enters my possession, I read Baking cover-to-cover, with my usual attitude of "can this writer immerse me, hold my interest and make me want to try these ideas of hers?” Will she be a knowledgeable friend who, will via good, clear language find a comfortable place in my kitchen while passing on advice and perceptions based on her own experience or (as I’ve put it before ) esoteric-to-me knowledge. Yes, I want my cookbooks to speak to me and not down to me. I also want to know that the person who wrote them not only understands cooking but has a modicum of common sense.

This book combines Greenspan’s obvious love of all baked sweets with a desire to demystify the sometimes scary world of baking. Her voice is warm and friendly and she injects humour and anecdotes throughout, including the time she was served her own “World Peace Cookies” and how a cake, the “Chocolate Armagnac Cake,” got her fired. She also includes her version of the dessert-maker’s glossary of ingredients, tools and techniques.

Her recipes are divided into six broad chapters: Breakfast Sweets; A Cache of Cookies; Cakes of All Kinds; Pies and Tarts; Spoon Desserts, and Indispensables. Each section is then divided even further. For example, Pies and Tarts has sections devoted to apples; fall holiday pies, and creamy pies and tarts; fruit pies and tarts. Each chapter and section has its own introduction, filled with practical information written in a way to calm the nerves of someone who has never tried that sort of cooking before. If you’ve never tried making a fruit tart before, you may be comforted to read

At its most basic, a fruit pie or tart is just fruit or dough, give or take some sugar, spice or maybe a little butter.
It’s this sort of simple, reassuring language helps muster up the courage to bake a double-crusted blueberry pie.

Her recipes are well written and presented in an easy fashion. The technique section is broken down in to logical steps, but also contains sections about tweaking ingredients to make a different, but just as lovely dish. She gives information on how to serve the dessert and how to store it. Not every recipe is photographed, but those that are beautifully done in a manner that denotes home cooking—the image of the mixed berry cobbler that overbubbled in the pan, leaving slurpy drips running down the side is not only gorgeous, but comforting because it isn’t a perfect image.

What I think are the most useful parts of Baking are her lemony-yellow pointer pages. For example, if flaky scones and biscuits elude you, her hints on page 20 tell you all you need to know. Quite honestly, it’s her wonderfully written tips on pie crusts which, I think, solved my pastry-making problems.

There are very few things I fault in this book—and they aren’t the author’s doing.

This book is marketed and sold outside of the United States, but these audiences aren’t taken into consideration when addressing such things as measurement (sticks of butter, lack of Metric measurement, and the habit of using volume measures for things that many people in the world weigh); without a conversion chart, some recipes may not translate well to a non-US audience. Personally, I would have loved to have a recipe title index (either at the beginning of each chapter or at the end)—it would make finding recipes easier. The last point is my own pet peeve with the publishing industry: the Canadian cost has been calculated as if our dollar trades at less than 63 US cents. The Canadian dollar hasn’t traded at that low a level in about four years (currently it is about 90 cents US); if the publisher based the Canadian price at the 01 November 2005 rate, it would be about 85 US cents, or a cover price of about $46 ($9 less than the current list).

Those things aside, this is a really, really good book. I think the highest compliment I can pay any cookbook author is that I keep cooking from it. Most tomes get a few tries and then get shelved indefinitely. Not this one. It stays on my coffee table because I cook from it at every opportune moment (which, unfortunately, have been lacking as of late). Why? Because the results are predictably successful and predictably delicious.

When I review a cookbook, I normally choose four recipes before the book gets shelved. So far I’ve made seven recipes and with plans to bake more. Everything I’ve made has come out perfectly—normally I make notes about adjusting amounts or cooking times or oven temperatures. Often I cross out ingredients and write in things that would work better (proportions, flavours, etc.). I don’t have to do any of that with this book. I know that I can just take this book, pick out any recipe and make it and the results will be more than satisfyingly scrumptious.

Even my MOTHER, she-of-the-snarky-comments-about-all-TV-chefs-and-most-cookbooks, LIKES this book and LIKES everything she’s snuck out of my kitchen. She’s even riffled through pages, marking things she wants me to make for her and her friends. (Okay, maybe that’s another negative—people will want you to bake for them more often now that you have this book).

I consider recipe testing like a good graze at a buffet table: I want to try a little bit of everything. The four I chose were:

Fresh Mango Bread
I’ve never tried mango bread before—in fact, I’d never heard of mango bread before. The recipe reads very much like a carrot cake, and I’m sure one could substitute carrots or courgettes for mangoes. One of the problems living where I do is that we don’t get good mangoes in the bigscarymegamarts—sure they look ripe, but they aren’t. I used canned mangoes instead, in hopes that they would be better than the fresh ones around here. They were (marginally). The bread came out beautifully—dense and very, very moist. It wasn’t too sweet. I ate a slice for breakfast every morning for days and I never got tired of it.

Tribute to Katherine Hepburn Brownies
When I received this book, I had a huge craving for chocolate brownies. I hemmed and hawed over the various options, and settled on this one. How could I NOT make something that’s a tribute to screen legend? I hadn’t made brownies in about 15 years, so I was perfectly out of practice…you would never have known. Dense, slightly coffee-flavoury and fudgey combined with crunchy pecans made these incredibly amazing. The only problem with them is that they disappear very, very quickly.

(I noticed that the wonderful
Ruth of Once Upon A Feast also made these. Here’s the link to the recipe she posted.)

Tiramisu Cake
Yes, it’s très 1996, but still. It’s tiramisu. The cake layers were nicely spongey and soaked up the espresso really well, and will be used in future trifley-type puddings. The marscapone-whipped cream filling was amazing. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to put it together in a half-decent way, but Greenspan’s well-written directions helped me turn out a beautiful, delicious cake that everyone in my office raved about.

All-American, All-Delicious Apple Pie
If you’ve never made a pie before, and have been afraid to try one, this is a good one to try...as long as you know what types of apples to use. Greenspan doesn’t give any guidance as to the sorts of apples that should be used, which may be a problem for novice piemakers. That said, the spicing was nicely balanced and there was a zippy lemonniness from the zest. Yes, I know that has a lot to do with the apples.

If you’ve never made pastry before, or if every pastry crust you’ve made has been as tough as beef jerky, leaving you to believe that your only option is to buy frozen crusts, this is a good one (“Good For Almost Everything Pie Dough”) to try out. Please note, I don’t have a food processor, so I did it by hand—I’m not a great pastry maker, but I’m not the world’s worst either (maybe second-worst)--the pastry came together perfectly and baked up flaky and gorgeous. In fact, if you need only one reason to buy this book…this pastry crust recipe is it. If you need a second one, then the hints to make a good crust will more than do.

Anyone interested in baking should seriously consider adding Baking: from my home to yours to their repertoire. This book would make an excellent gift for a novice baker of any age. Equally helpful to novice cooks and experienced domestic doyennes, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking will become a well-loved, well-thumbed, and well-enjoyed source of delicious memories.

At a Glance:
Overall: 4.25/5

The Breakdown:
Writing: 4/5
Recipe Selection: 4.5/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Yumminess: 4.5/5

Kitchen comfort-level: all
Pro: Well-written recipes that cover a vast number of types of baked desserts.
Con: Conversion charts and recipe index would make this book easier to use.

I hope to have recipes posted in a while, when my schedule slows down a bit.



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04 November 2006

Time to start a petition

I thought it was just me. In the couple of weeks before Hallowe'en I was looking for a sentimental favourite in the bags-o-candy section of the bigscarymegamart. Yes, I was looking for molasses toffees.

The little molasses toffees, in orange, yellow and black wrappers were a mainstay of Canadian Hallowe'ens (much like UNICEF boxes). The candies had a distinctive, smoky flavour. But gawd, they were sticky. I mean really sticky. Kids with fillings ran the risk of losing their dental work, children with a wiggly tooth or two would be a quarter richer because those loose teeth would miraculously fall out. The longer you waited to eat the candy, the harder they would get.

There was something reassuring seeing those toffees in the stores. Regardless of the numbers of new and funky candies, chips, or (heaven forbid) chococovered raisins, these Halloween Kisses meant that things were right in the Hallowe'eny world.

But this year they (like UNICEF boxes) did not appear in stores. According to Cadbury Schweppes, the makers of Allan Candy Molasses Kisses, these candies are passe. Production stopped in Sept 2005.

I wonder how many signatures we'll need to get them back into production...


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