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eG Foodblog: smallworld - Spring in Tokyo


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Good morning and welcome to my foodblog! I'm Amy and I'm blogging from Tokyo, where spring is just getting underway after an unusually snowy winter (by "snowy winter" I mean it snowed a few times, even piling up as much as 10 cm in some places).

I'm more of a lurker here on eGullet and mostly stay in the Japan forum-- I just checked and I have a grand total of 606 posts. I also just noticed that I joined in March 8th 2003, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate 5 years of eGullet membership than this foodblog.

I actually have a regular blog, which is almost a foodblog, but I post just a few times a week so this will be a bit more intense than usual. I think it will be fun though, and I hope you enjoy it. I'll be happy to answer any questions, although among the frequent posters in the Japan forum I am probably the least knowledgeable about Japanese food. I'm also happy to take requests: if there is any particular food or dish you are interested in I'll see if I can make it.

Let's get to it then. I just ate this:

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Fruit salad with strawberry, apple, banana and kiwi; homemade yogurt. Eaten in front of the computer, this was my pre-breakfast-- I'll have oatmeal later. I sometimes eat in stages like that because I don't have much of an appetite in the mornings.

I'll post a bit more about myself later, but right now it's time for my morning coffee. See you in a bit!

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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you are right. it is a bit more intense. think of it as your greatest teaching job in the world .... then relax and have fun with it. i'm looking forward to how you came to japan

and how you deal with any cravings for western food while there( i did read your blog about the jamaican food. great writing and with a sense of humor). blog on......

and i can relate to your eating in stages.

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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How exciting! Can't wait to read more!

It's spring in Tokyo already? OK, now I remember it - How the weather is like in Tokyo around this time of the year. (I'm still in the middle of winter!)

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Yay! Japan Forum represent!

I had a bowl of strawberries for breakfast as well, since they're ridiculously cheap at the supermarket. 180 yen for a punnet of small ones - why does anyone ever buy the big ones? I think the small ones are sweeter.

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Fruit salad with strawberry, apple, banana and kiwi; homemade yogurt. Eaten in front of the computer, this was my pre-breakfast-- I'll have oatmeal later. I sometimes eat in stages like that because I don't have much of an appetite in the mornings.

I like the way you think. I am pretty sure I need a pre-breakfast as well. Reminds me of that quote from Lord of the Rings: "I don't think he's heard of second breakfast, Pip." :smile:

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Fruit salad with strawberry, apple, banana and kiwi; homemade yogurt. Eaten in front of the computer, this was my pre-breakfast-- I'll have oatmeal later. I sometimes eat in stages like that because I don't have much of an appetite in the mornings.

I like the way you think. I am pretty sure I need a pre-breakfast as well. Reminds me of that quote from Lord of the Rings: "I don't think he's heard of second breakfast, Pip." :smile:

It's so nice to know there are others with this particular quirk. My SO and I also can't eat much in the mornings for the first meal, but another small one a little later suits well. (She's much more sensitive - only a few bites for the first one.)

We've taken to calling the latter 'second breakfast,' in complete seriousness.

David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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Oatmeal with raisins and toasted walnuts. I made it in my rice cooker, which is pretty ingenuous if I may say so myself, because it saves me from burning a pot and ruining breakfast. Which is what used to happen quite regularly (my kitchen is tiny and there's no way I'm going to stand in it watching my oatmeal for 20 minutes), and last month I burnt a good pot so badly that it took two weeks of soaking and scrubbing to get it back to normal. That inspired me to try it in the rice cooker, and to my great joy it worked, and to my greater joy the rice pot is a breeze to clean. It's not as good as properly made stove-top oatmeal (especially when the oats are toasted with butter first), but is far better than rolled oats.

My husband prefers rolled oats, sadly (it's a Japanese thing, same goes for rice and bread-- the whiter, softer and mushier the better), so I only make this for myself. He had some sweets leftover from a lunch that my sister-in-law made yesterday, but that was hours ago. He's long gone for work, and it's high time I started my day as well.

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These are the supplies for today's shopping trip:

Reusable shopping bags: all different, as I am forever searching for the perfect one-- still haven't found it.

Wallet: full of yen and ready to be stuffed with receipts, which I collect.

Tissues: it's hayfever season here.

House and bike keys: I'm shopping by bike today. It's a lovely day and I prefer to walk but this is the biggest shop of the week and my bike basket holds much more than my hands can.

Cell phone: huge and clunky by Japanese standards. Last year when I went home for a visit my brother saw it and said "aren't Japanese cell phones supposed to all tiny and cool looking?" and held his up for comparison-- it was smaller than mine. But it's waterproof and shockproof, which comes in real handy for a klutz like me. It also has an electronic compass, which doesn't really come in handy at all.

Shopping list: in the form of a little notebook and 100% inspired by the shopping list thread (I told you I'm a lurker). This is one of the greatest things I've gotten out of eGullet. Not that shopping lists are new to me, but remembering to actually bring them along? That's brand-new. Thanks eGullet. I've written in bus schedules and a wine vintage guide written on the front and back covers, which are both quite helpful.

Sunglasses: never leave home without them, all year long.

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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Thanks for the warm welcom everyone.

OnigiriFB, I will totally be doing some spring-related food. I love love love the way the seasons are celebrated through food here, and spring is one of my favourite seasons (what am I talking about, I say that for every season!)

Hiroyuki, it is certainly spring-like. The ume blossoms are out and today's high is predicted to be 14C.

Nakji, I'm so jealous. I haven't seen strawberries for under 300 yen yet, and I've only ever seen the small ones once. They were labeled "jam you" (for jam-making) for some reason. I love the small ones too and can't figure out why nobody else does.

I'm glad I'm not the only one to eat two breakfasts! I'd forgotten all about the LOTR "second breakfast" but I like it much better than "pre-breakfast".

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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I did my big shop at a discount supermarket which, because it's a bit far away (15 minutes by bike) and not on a regular route of mine, I only go to once every one or two weeks. But it's cheap and has good fresh seafood and meat so I go when I can. On the way there are a few smaller supermarkets, which I ignore, and a few vegetable stands. The one above is a good one, with lots of produce that lasts until mid-afternoon, but usually everything is sold out by the time I get there. Like most vegetable stands here it goes by the honour system, which I think is just great. A few local farmers have upgraded to lockers, but I suspect it's more to do with the inherent Japanese love for gadgets and machines than any problems with people stealing their produce.

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That's my bike in the centre, all loaded up. It was a present from my husband two Christmases ago and I love it. It has dual suspension and gears (just 6 though) like a mountain bike, but a comfy seat, low bar and shopping basket like a charinko (the cheap shopping bike favoured by housewives). I dreamed of such a hybrid for years before he found one. I do kind of want a rear shopping basket like on the two bikes behind mine in the picture, but that would make it much harder to park in a crowded bike parking lot.

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This is what I just bought. It all came to 5875** yen and everything except for the bananas and raisins is domestically produced. I try to avoid imports as much as I can, which can be expensive. Stuff like lemons and kabocha squash are easily grown in Japan but the imports are usually more widely available and are sold for half the price--or better--of their domestic counterparts. If it's kabocha than I just don't buy it, but there aren't many substitutes for lemons so I end up paying 100 yen or more for tiny domestic ones.

Nakji, you brought me good luck by mentioning cheap strawberries: this place actually had the little ones for 180 per pack. I was so happy I bought 4!

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Today's lunch: chirashi-zushi (scattered sushi). This is one of the special foods for Hina Matsuri (the doll festival, a holiday for girls). It is sushi rice topped with tobiko (flying fish roe), thin sliced omelet, sakura dembu (fish paste that is highly sweetened, dyed bright pink and dried to a moist powder), soy-braised dried shiitake, renkon (lotus root), boiled shrimp, nanohana (rapini) and ikura (salmon roe). It cost 598 yen and is a very fancy lunch; I usually eat leftovers or at the most will buy a few pieces of futomaki-zushi (thick-rolled sushi). It wasn't bad but was rather sweet and just reminded me how good home-made chirashi-zushi is (not by me-- I mean home-made by other people).

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Here is an example of good home-made chirashi-zushi. Yesterday my husband and I went to my sister-in-law's place to celebrate Hina matsuri with her husband and daughter, 3. SIL made a great feast, with a healthy grown-up type of chirashi-zushi topped with smoked salmon, ikura and omelete. It was way batter than today's lunch.

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For dessert she made sakura mochi, which is sweet red bean paste wrapped with mochi (sticky rice) and a preserved cherry leaf, and dango (rice flour balls) with mitarashi (a thick sauce made with soy sauce and sugar) and sakura-an (sweet white bean paste flavoured with preserved cherry blossoms).

Hina matsuri is really for girls and their families, and since I don't have kids we don't celebrate it and I don't know much about it. But if you're curious there is a thread about it in the Japan forum here.

** I'm going to just use yen for this blog since I don't really follow exchange rates. According to the Currency Converter, 100 yen is currently worth 0.97 USD, 0.96 CD and 0.64 Euros.

Edited by smallworld (log)

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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Forgot to answer some questions.

OnigiriFB, I've met Kristin and her family once, at a non-food related event: we were part of a panel /audience for a TV show-- Kristin has been on TV so many times she is practically a celebrity! I really do hope there is a Tokyo eGullet get together soon so I can see here again and meet some other folks.

Suzilightning, there are only a few cravings that can't be fulfilled here, as Tokyo has nearly every type of cuisine there is. The only three items I've never ever been able to find are patties (I mean Jamaican hot patties), smoked mussels, and pierogies. Certain cuisines, like Greek, can be hard to find, and some international foods are either not authentic or inauthentic in different way than in Canada. Pho falls into the former category (I've yet to find good pho here) and Chinese in the former (I like the Japanized Chinese food here but it's not the same as Canadianized Chinese food).

When I can't find something here I usually just wait until my next trip home-- I get back every two years or so. After all, there is a LOT of good food here to distract me. Sometimes though I just go ahead and attempt making it myself. I've done patties (good but not close enough to the real thing to justify all the work) and pho (well worth the effort) and will hopefully do pierogies soon.

As far as ingredients (like those smoked mussels) go, my mom kindly sends me a few care packages a year and a few times I've done an exchange with people who got in touch with me through my blog, where I send stuff from Japan and they send me stuff from N. America. I'm always touched that strangers are willing to be so helpful. I find though that the longer I live here, the less I need stuff from home.

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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This was a wonderful surprise first thing on a Monday! I am looking forward to this! I have always wanted to see more of what life is like in Japan, but have yet to make the trip. Now I can some from home!

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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OK, here's a bit more background (by "a bit" I mean "several pages"-- sorry for the length):

I was born and grew up in Brampton, a suburban city northwest of Toronto. I never imagined I’d go to, much less live in, Japan, but I always did have an interest in Eastern cultures. One of my few memories from my elementary school days was when we studied Japan in grade 3, I found it fascinating.

I have a younger brother, who still lives at home with his girlfriend (our basement has been remodeled and they have quite a place to themselves) and an older sister, who married an American and lives in San Antonio with their 4 kids. All three of us helped in the kitchen when we were kids, but I didn’t really learn to properly cook until I became a vegetarian in high school. That lasted about a year (I became an ex-vegetarian by giving into a craving for Genoa salami—I scarfed a half-pound down in my parents’ car in the deli parking lot), but I continued to like the “exotic” stuff I had been exposed to, like tofu, eggplant and the like.

We grew up eating standard 70s and 80s North American fare. “Ethnic” foods included Chinese (buffet or delivery) and Italian. I loved our trips to a tiny Italian take-out place where we would eat panzarotti (which doesn’t seem to exist in the rest of the world—is it the same thing as calzone?) and drink Brio. I didn’t even like Brio, but I loved the specialness of it so I’d always order it. My mom, whose mother came to Canada from Sweden as a girl, would occasionally made split-pea soup, Swedish meatballs or hard bread. Apparently they are the only things my mom learned, as her father was a die-hard meat-and-potatoes type.

We went on a lot of road trips, driving across the northern states to Vancouver, down the east coast to Jekyl Island Georgia, and a big trip where we circled America. We all loved trying the different foods each region offered and I have an enduring fondness of the truck stop.

I didn’t really fall in love with Asian food until I went to Bali with a friend when I was 21. We stayed for almost a month and I was just blown away by how good the food was. I also loved the place itself and vowed to get back to Asia as soon as I could.

Which was a year later, in 1996. It was actually my back-up plan: I was living in Vancouver at the time and hoping to work at a ski lodge north of the city for the winter (where I could finally learn to ski in my free time) and then plant trees in the summer. The idea was to spend a year or two raising enough money to backpack around Asia, after which time I’d hopefully have sorted out what exactly I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately winter came late to Vancouver that year and by the end of January I gave up and headed to Tokyo to begin what I imagined would be a working holiday in Japan followed backpacking trip across the rest of Asia. I chose Japan because it seemed to have the right blend of differentness and familiarity and also was the most promising for finding work. As luck would have it there was a snow storm the day I left and my flight was almost canceled—if only I’d stayed put a little bit longer I could have stuck with my original plan.

But then I wouldn’t have met my husband. We were introduced by mutual friends within a few weeks of my arrival (which means we’ve been together for just over 12 years). Neither of us took the relationship seriously at first because I was still only planning to stay a few months, but we quickly fell in love and the rest is history.

I loved Japanese food from the minute I landed, although there were a few flavours that took some getting used to. I didn’t learn to cook it until I got married, 3 1/2 years after I arrived (I wasn't in Japan non-stop during that time as I went back to Canada for a few extended visits to get visas in order and do a little soul-searching before deciding to marry) and it was a very steep learning curve for me. My parents-in-law live in Osaka and we visit just 2 or 3 times a year, so I never learned to cook from my MIL. I also had hardly ever eaten real home-cooked food, so had little idea of what most dishes were supposed to look or taste like. I learned from cookbooks and magazines, both in Japanese and English (my Japanese reading ability improved at the same rate as my cooking), and also Japanese cooking shows (of which there are many).

I still have a lot to learn and there are so many things that just don’t come naturally. I don’t know what goes with what or how to properly serve food and set the table. I’ve only recently managed to remember the placement of the rice and soup bowls (it’s rice on the left, soup on the right) and still can never remember which direction a whole fish is supposed to point. My husband is of limited help as he cared little about such details when he was a kid and then lived in Southern California for several years from when he was 18. When we met he’d only been back in Japan for a year and a half or so, and now he has a big gap of general knowledge about his country.

About half the food I cook is Japanese, the rest is a mix of Chinese, Italian, “Canadian” (or general “western” food), and the occasional “other” (Southeast Asian, Indian, Mexican/Tex-mex, Jamaican, French). It really goes in phases though and I can happily go weeks without eating Japanese food or weeks eating nothing but. These days I'm in a Japanese food phase, which tends to happen when the seasons are changing. I guess it's because all the food from the previous season is still available and I realize I have just a short time left to eat it, and at the same time the food from the next season is coming onto the market and I get all excited and want to try it as soon as possible.

One final thought: I may occasionally make a negative comment about Japan, and I hope nobody is offended. I actually totally love it here and am quite sure that I'd have just as many complaints if I was living back in Canada. It's just that I'm a venter by nature and making the odd complaint is a form of therapy.

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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I like the way you think. I am pretty sure I need a pre-breakfast as well.  Reminds me of that quote from Lord of the Rings: "I don't think he's heard of second breakfast, Pip." :smile:

Or Homer Simpson: "I've discovered a new meal between breakfast and brunch".

Smallworld, thank you for sharing your week of food-related activities. I also appreciate the detailed biography - it sure helps tell the story. (BTW I went to Brampton Centennial Secondary School for five years - there were five grades of high school back then).

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I'm so looking forward to the rest of your blog. I'm fascinated by Japan and especially Japanese home cooking.

I echo BarbaraY's comments. I'm very excited that this week's blogger is in Japan.

I'm fascinated by the prepared foods available in Japan - like your picture of "chirashi-zushi (scattered sushi)" above. If possible, could you post photos of other prepared foods from your markets and/or convenience stores? I suppose one of the reasons that I am fascinated by these foods is that they are so different from what is available where I live (southeast US). Pretty much all of the prepared food that you find here, in common supermarkets or convenience stores, is nearly revolting!

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I try to avoid imports as much as I can, which can be expensive. Stuff like lemons and kabocha squash are easily grown in Japan but the imports are usually more widely available and are sold for half the price--or better--of their domestic counterparts.

I'm curious to know what the reason is for avoiding imports, if you care to share. Is it something most people in Japan would try to do?

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Nakji, you brought me good luck by mentioning cheap strawberries: this place actually had the little ones for 180 per pack. I was so happy I bought 4!

So glad to have been of help! I was wondering why ours were so cheap, but then I thought maybe because I live near Izu or something.

Pho falls into the former category (I've yet to find good pho here) and Chinese in the former (I like the Japanized Chinese food here but it's not the same as Canadianized Chinese food).

I'm going to a pho place tomorrow in Fujisawa that I've gotten a strong recommendation from some co-workers about. I'm a pretty harsh critic, having lived in Vietnam, so I'll let you know how it turns out. Are you the sort of person who'll make a field trip for good noodles?

Your journey into Asia sounds a bit like mine. My husband and I just got on a plane one day, shocking our family, friends, and (suddenly former) employers and have never looked back. We never intended to stay, it just happened that way. Sometimes I don't know if I'll ever be able to feel comfortable in Canada again...

I've been teaching myself Japanese home cooking, since imported foods are more expensive. Fortunately for us, my husband and I have no standard with which to compare my efforts! I learned nikkujyaga from Torakris's eGCI course, and Hiroyuki's threads on home cooking, especially the Soy, Dashi, and Mirin ratio thread have really helped me cook with confidence using Japanese ingredients. Helenjp's bento tips have saved me tons of money on conbini lunches. Without eGullet, I don't think I could have survived my first few months in Japan financially! What resources have you used to learn Japanese techniques and recipes?

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Oh, yay! I have read your blog "Blue Lotus" off and on for some time, after finding the link on the "Just Hungry" site one day :smile: And I have to say I am very impressed with your Japanese cooking abilities--even more so by the fact that you are self-taught!

Needless to say, I am excted that you're blogging on egullet :biggrin:

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      After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.
       

       

       
      Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.
       


      The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.
       
      Then you have the ritual hand washing part.
       

       
      Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before  entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.
       

       
      On a nearby table is this
       

       
      Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.
       

       
      with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.
       
      This is  油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.
       

      L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.
       
      Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.
       

       
      Let the eating, finally, begin.
       
      In no particular order:
       

      Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato
       

      Bamboo Shoots
       

      Duck
       

      Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.
       

      Egg pancake with unidentified greenery
       

      Stir fried pork and beans
       

      Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)
       

      Pig Ears
       

       
      This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs. We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.
       

      Stir fried Greens
       
      Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).
       
       
       
       
      Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.
       
      Roll on dinner time.
       
      On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.
    • By shain
      It's been more than a year in which international travel was challenging to impossible, but gladly this is changing, as more countries are able to vaccinate their population.
      Greece had managed to return to a state of near normality, and opted to allow vaccinated individuals to enter. And so I decided to go on a slightly spontaneous vacation (only slightly, we still had almost a month for planning). To the trip I was joined by my father, to whom I owed some good one-on-one time and was able to travel on a short-ish notice.
       
       
      Many people are yet unable to travel, and many countries are suffering quite badly from the virus, and therefore I considered if I should wait some time with this post. However, I hope that it will instead be seen with an optimistic view, showing that back-to-normal is growing ever closer.
       
       
      We returned just a few days ago, and it will take me some time to organize my photos, so this is a teaser until then.
       
       
       
       
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