Optimistically Cautious

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Last Post

On Blogspot, at any rate.

After Mack's constant badgering to get my own domain, and to transfer platforms to Wordpress, I've finally done it. Effective today, I will be blogging at www.onlyhereforthefood.ca (for those who subscribe to and read my blog in an aggregator, you'll need to update your subscription to use my new feed address: http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/feed/).

Blogger has been great to me over the past year and a half, with its friendly interface and lovely blue spotted theme that I've gotten quite attached to.

Thanks for the memories, Blogger! I'll see the rest of you on Only Here for the Food!


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Food Notes

  • Mucho Burrito, a fast-food outlet which bills itself as a "fresh Mexican grill" just opened its first Edmonton franchise recently (10124 109 Avenue). A second is already in the works for North Town Mall.
  • The City Centre Market opens on Saturday! The updated vendor list isn't up yet, but I look forward to joining many other "scuppies" (socially conscious upwardly-mobile person)in our weekend best on Jasper and 104th (is it just me or are markets the new Sunday Promenade for those 20-35?).
  • Speaking of Farmers' Markets, Lex Culinaria linked to a listing of all of the approved markets in Alberta, complete with hours of operation and links to their websites.
  • Taken by their flashy silver packaging, I bought a bag of President's Choice brand (get ready for it) General Tao Chicken Chips. I wasn't expecting much with that name, so who knew I'd actually enjoy them? They taste like a spicier, more flavourful version of BBQ chips. Worth the $1.49 I paid.
  • Also on the cheap end of things, Mack and I tried the new $1.39 Iced Coffee from McDonald's over the weekend. Three flavour options were available to us: regular, vanilla and hazelnut. Between the regular and vanilla, the former was surprisingly better. Mack commented that while the coffee taste was more genuine than a Tim Hortons' Iced Cappuccino, he wasn't sold on the low price alone, and would still opt for a Starbucks Frappuccino. I, however, wouldn't mind another regular now and again.

Iced Coffee from McDonald's

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Culinary Q & A with Diane

Occupation: Career Counselor

What did you eat today?

Cereal, fruit, nutribar, cheerio snacks

What do you never eat?

Cottage cheese, yams, sage, relish, canned orprocessed meat, tofu, chili peppers, meats with fruits

What is your personal specialty?

Omelets, pancakes and scalloped potatoes

What is your favorite kitchen item?

My paring knife

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

Asian salad, cauliflower withwhite sauce, smoked ham, garden peas in their pods and tapioca pudding. No wait, the sampler platter at Yianni's and tiramisu!

Where do you eat out most frequently?

Lately, takeout from Fusion Noodle

What's the best place to eat in Edmonton?

Yianni's on a sunny Saturday afternoon

If you weren't limited by geography, where and what would you eat?

I would be in Greece, easting dolmades, spanokopita, humus with pita, lamb withgarlic, Greek salad with lots of olives and feta, rice, roasted potatoes, fresh calamari with lemon and onions - oh my goodness, my mouth is watering!

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: Red Grapefruit Chiffon Cake

Only the Dads and the children were supposed to cook for the Mother's Day potluck hosted by one of our family friends. Thus, I offered to make a Red Grapefruit Chiffon Cake, a recipe requested by my Mum.

It was my first time experimenting with chiffon cake, noted for its light and airy quality, so when I ended up with some yolk in my egg whites, I was worried that it wouldn't turn out. The final product seemed alright, albeit was a tad on the dry side. It would have been better served with a dollop of whipped cream and berries of some kind, in my opinion.

Red Grapefruit Chiffon Cake

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwiches, part deux

My sisters and I decided to make breakfast for our Mum on Sunday instead of taking her out for a traditional brunch.

Inspired by the Tim Horton's breakfast sandwich (which I love), and using a Bobby Flay recipe I have already tried in the past, we made our own sandwiches with bacon, over-easy eggs, and shredded marble cheese.

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwiches with egg, bacon and cheese

While Bisquick biscuits are undoubtedly quicker to make, nothing beats a buttery, flaky, hot-from-the-oven biscuit augmented by cheese and bacon. Yum.

Happy Mother's Day, Mum!

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Chocoholics Unite: Chocolate Tasting at Kerstin's Chocolates

I really enjoyed my first experience at The Cocoa Room by Kerstin’s Chocolates, and having heard that they offered an inexpensive chocolate tasting every month for just $15, I jumped and registered for the next available date in April. So on Friday, Amanda and I headed to the subterranean Cocoa Room and joined eleven other people at this unique event.

I was happy to see that Nina, the clerk that made my initial visit such a positive one, would be leading the session. A former teacher from Germany, she was enthusiastic and eager to impart her knowledge onto the group. To start, Nina explained how the evening would unfold - she would open with a lecture on the history and process of making chocolate, and then we would be provided with samples to taste.

The lecture lasted about forty minutes, and was more detailed than I was expecting - from the very particular conditions the cacao tree (which apparently looks more like a tall bush) need to grow, to the European discovery of the beans and subsequent experimentation, and finally, the modern methods of chocolate creation. This last portion was most interesting to me - I had no idea the process behind chocolate making was so lengthy and labour intensive, from the initial harvest to fermentation, to roasting, crushing, grounding, conching, and finally - tempering by the chocolatier. Nina also said that although the trend is now towards fair trade chocolate, Kerstin's has found such chocolate to be of poor quality at this time, but are partaking in direct trade with chocolate makers (they purchase Criollo chocolate from Swiss manufacturers).

Amanda was eager to get on with actual eating of chocolate, so by the time Nina brought out lemon water and crackers to act as palette cleansers, she was rearing to go. We were handed pencils and a simple chart to keep track of our initial impressions of the different chocolates, and were asked to record details regarding the chocolate's aroma, flavour, and texture. Nina recommended that we incorporate air into our mouths as we chewed the chocolate (like with wine), and prompted us to consider hints of tobacco, fruit, and liqueur in the samples. Perhaps it could be attributed to the power of suggestion, but I did start to recognize subtle flavours like cherry and what tasted to me like blue cheese(!) in some of the different pieces.

Amanda and I had different preferences - she liked the milk while I leaned towards the dark chocolates. My favorites ended up being their in-house Chocophilia Venezuela (65% dark) and a very cool "2007 vintage" single-plantation dark chocolate from Trinidad & Tobago.

While I thought gift-wrapped toothbrushes would make ideal parting gifts, what they gave was even better - everyone at the tasting was entitled to a 15% discount on all products that day. I picked up bars of the Venezuela as well as the Hazelnut Crunch to try (while both are very good, nothing can top the aromatic Mocha Bean).

I would definitely recommend the chocolate tasting - it would make a great alternative date venue, night out for girlfriends, and of course, excite any chocoholic. Although the next available date won't be until September (when it's cooler, and a more ideal temperature for the tasting), it's well worth the wait!

Our plate (we were told to keep bits of each piece to compare at the end)

Surrounded by Chocophilia

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Self-serve Stir Fry: Mongolie Grill

Along with the tickets to Puppetry of the Penis, I was also lucky enough to receive a $25 gift certificate to Mongolie Grill from Vue Weekly. I decided to take advantage of it before a chocolate tasting, and met Amanda for dinner at the Jasper & 109 Street location of the restaurant on Friday.

Greeted by what seemed like one of five hostesses on staff, I was quickly led to a table and seated. It was still early evening, so the restaurant wasn’t that busy, but I could see that business would pick up as the night wore on. The dining room was a typical Western interpretation of Asian style – dark wood and dim lighting reminiscent of OPM. As I waited for my sister to arrive, I read over the instructions on the menu on how to build-your-own meal. Provided bowls were to be filled with vegetables, meats and seafood, and sauce(s) of one’s choosing, with each plate including soup, rice, and wraps to complete the meal.

I was a tad weary of the service I might receive, after a warning from Mack that staff weren’t that attentive, but I found our waitress pleasant and quite competent at juggling a few tables. She took our orders for soup, gave us our bowls, then explained that after choosing our ingredients, we would have our creations weighed, stir-fried, then brought to our tables directly.

A plethora of options greeted us at the fresh food bar, all clearly labeled, with a fair number of sauces to choose from as well. To be economical, knowing how heavy comparable ingredients are would help (e.g. mushrooms are fairly light), but overall, I liked the do-it-yourself concept because it does allow for healthy eating and balanced portions. At the same time, if the end result is inedible, one only has him or herself to blame.

I loaded up my bowl with a variety of vegetables, thin slices of AAA beef tenderloin, and ladles of honey garlic, teriyaki and Thai chili sauces (a combination recommended by the attendant). My bowl ended up with a price of $14.65. My sister stacked up her bowl, drizzling it with only teriyaki sauce, and had her portion priced at $21.23.

When we returned to our seats, small bowls of soup and bamboo steamers containing wraps and rice were waiting for us on the table. My hot and sour soup was too spicy for me to discern flavour from it, but Amanda’s corn chowder was quite good and hearty to boot.

We actually weren’t even finished with our soups when our plates arrived. I thought Amanda’s serving looked better than my own, but mine actually tasted better, if not only because I included more sauce than she did. The peanuts and tofu were a definite plus, but the lack of baby corn and onion had me wishing that I had lingered longer at the food bar. Unfortunately, the beef was tough, but this was not unexpected given the fact that the cooks are asked to blindly stir fry whatever is in a bowl at the same time.

Without the gift certificate, I would have considered our dinner a rather pricey one. But still, if your party includes those that are particular about what they eat, Mongolie Grill provides a comfortable and efficient venue for dining.


Fresh food bar

My bowl before cooking

Amanda’s bowl being weighed

Stir-fry station

Steamers with rice and wraps (I loved how tall the water glasses were)

My plate

Amanda’s plate

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The Cooking Chronicles: Breakfast Pizza

Inspired by the version made by Pizzeria Prego, Mack and I decided to try our hand at making a breakfast pizza, customizing it to our tastes.

Using a Giada de Laurentiis pizza dough recipe from the March 2007 edition of Bon Appetit, we had to wait an hour for the dough to rise. That gave us more than enough time to prepare our toppings – shredding mozzarella cheese, dicing tomatoes, slicing mushrooms, microwaving bacon, and scrambling eggs.

After kneading and forming the dough into a circle (okay, it turned out more like a heart), we piled on our toppings. We waited the recommended fifteen minutes, and took out our creation. It wasn’t bad, but for next time, I’d make sure the bacon was extra crispy (there is no opportunity for it to crisp up under the layers of additions), undercook the eggs slightly (they, on the other hand, would continue to cook in the oven), and to add the basil after the pizza is out of the oven. Cheddar would have also been a better cheese to pair with the smoky bacon.

In the end, though the idea of a breakfast pizza makes a great and unusual dinner (or brunch) dish, the execution never seems to do the individual items justice – this is one example where the sum isn’t greater than the parts.

Breakfast pizza

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Friday, May 09, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: Lemon Muffins

I had spied an interesting recipe in the April/May edition of Taste of Home for Lemon Crumb Muffins, and thought they would make an ideal treat for my coworkers.

I started the recipe a little later than I originally intended, but with my Mum’s help, was able to get them in and out of the oven just after midnight. The crumb portion of the recipe didn’t work out (was I supposed to use brown and not granulated sugar?), so I ended up omitting the topping all together. The muffins came out a little paler than I was expecting, and not as lemony as I wanted however, so I’m not sure I’d make them again. My coworkers didn’t seem to mind the imperfections though!

Lemon Muffins

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Ezio Faraone Park Photowalk

Finally following through with my intention on wandering the trails leading down from Constable Ezio Faraone Park, I asked Mack to join me on a leisurely photowalk on Thursday afternoon.

It’s funny how easily I took the surrounding area for granted, and though the greenspace (yes, finally getting green!) was so accessible and just down the road from my office, how I never took the time beyond occasional coffee breaks to explore the trail.

Here are a few of the pictures I took with the hopes of enticing you to take advantage of pedestrian-friendly pathways (the complete set is on Flickr).

Framed by trees

"Share the Trail"


At trail's end (or, where we chose to turn back)

Ezio Faraone Park (turns out I've been omitting the 'a' in 'Faraone' all these years)

Ezio Faraone commemorative statue (with the Legislature Building in the background)

Historic High Level Bridge


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Thursday, May 08, 2008

More Bakery than Cafe: Breadland Organic Whole Grain Bakery

After reading a backstory about the owners of Breadland Organic Bakery (11642 104 Avenue) in Vue Weekly last fall, I included it on my list of places to hit.

I convinced Cristy to come to Breadland with me for lunch on Wednesday. It took us a while to find the non-descript storefront in the maze of Oliver Square, but we eventually located the bakery next to Second Cup.

Breadland is known for their use of organic ingredients and spelt flour, a whole grain version that is apparently easier to digest. We entered the empty space, greeted by a quaint seating area decorated with care, and racks of fresh-baked loaves behind the counter. Two coolers held various desserts and lunch items. Breadland also sells organic chicken eggs and coffee from St. City Roasters.

I was hoping for more substantial lunch choices (as alluded to in the Vue Weekly article), but all Cristy and I had to choose from was a daily soup (vegetarian chili that day), a pizza, and a quiche. We agreed to split a slice of the sprouted spelt crust vegetarian pizza ($5) and a spelt spinach quiche ($4).

The servings were unfortunately small (or fortuitously small, allowing for consumption of dessert), and cold. We didn’t ask to have our portions heated, so perhaps it can be done, but I would assume that most of Breadland’s nearly year-old business comes from customers interested in takeaway only. In any case, the pizza, topped with an interesting mix of lentils and beans, was as good as a cold slice of pizza could have been. The quiche was the main attraction, however – with a base of buttery crust, the custardy filling was streaked with velvety cheese and spinach.

For dessert, we chose to share a chocolate croissant ($3), and a gluten free coconut cashew ball ($4). The coconut confection wasn’t my favorite, but the croissant was fresh – crisp and buttery, I would have actually preferred no filling, as the chocolate was a tad too sweet and concentrated for my liking.

More expensive than your conventional café and without too many options, Breadland isn’t an ideal place for lunch. That said, I wouldn’t mind stopping by to try out a loaf or two in the future.



Fresh bread!

Dessert case



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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Food Notes

  • It looks like they are just putting the finishing touches on the Sobeys Urban Fresh (10404 Jasper Avenue), which opens this Thursday. I am excited to hear about the local products they will be offering (Greens, Eggs and Ham, among them), and the partnership they have with the City Centre Market.
  • A new Wok Box is under construction in the old bakery space on Jasper Avenue next to Who Cares?
  • Judy Schultz mentioned a new deli in Edmonton in her Bistro column last week - Careit Urban Deli (5236 199 Street) apparently specializing in healthy takeout meals.
  • Check out 630 CHED's website for gift certificates priced at half their value every Wednesday at 10am. This week, they were offering $100 vouchers at Von's Steakhouse for $50.
  • Kerstin's Chocolates will be offering their first ever chocolate making course next week.
  • Mack sent me a link about a new service where dialing "#PIZZA" on your cell phone will not only connect you with viable delivery options, but also recommend new places to try, based on customer ratings and research and the cheapest eats.
  • The Olympus Stylus 1010 camera has a "cuisine" function! Too cool.
  • The FN Dish, a web show on the Food Network, focused on food blogging last week. Ed Levine, one of my favorite NY-based bloggers, is featured in the interview.
  • The New York Times sent nine writers to review chains in the suburbs, and the consensus was one of pleasant surprise. A few write-ups in particular are deliciously condescending, including one on The Cheesecake Factory: "On a recent Saturday night, there were at least 150 people in their best jeans and T-shirts, beepers in hand, happily waiting 30 or 40 minutes for tables." Worth a read.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Teatro la Quindicina: "Revenge of the South Sea Bubble" & "What Gives?"

I was so excited for the first Teatro la Quindicina show of the season (The Exquisite Hour, back in July of 2007, was the last Teatro play on stage) a double billing of the new Revenge of the South Sea Bubble and a revamp of What Gives? While not wholly disappointing, the evening was a mixed bag.

On the website, the Revenge of the South Sea Bubble is presented to be "a captivatingly convoluted noir-ish tale of deceptions compounded by lies, and speculations masquerading as conjecture." Unfortunately, the one-act is as vague as the description. Involving two librarians, a Marilyn Monroe-esque dancer, a waiter, and a plot that was bereft of any real amusement, it really isn't worth discussing further. Farren Timoteo as Vasco was endearing in his hyperbolic mannerisms however, and by the end of the evening, thoroughly reminded me of both Mark Meer (in his accent delivery) and Jeff Haslam (in his physical comedy).

What Gives?, a musical comedy, thankfully made up for the first show: "a pair of inspirationally bereft Broadway tunesmiths have their world turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of a pair of Canadian chorines." Lighthearted and funny, the dialogue really allowed the actors to shine. I particularly liked Kendra Connor's turn as Allure Potemkin, especially her showstopper of a "Baby Legs" number (Connor has the charm of Andrea House and the sass of Leona Brausen). The staging of "The Shanghai Stir-Fry" was also fairly clever, and as with most productions that don't take themselves too seriously, it was easy to enjoy.

A Rocky Night for His Nibs is up next in July.

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Quick as Atalanta: Opa Souvlaki

Looking for a quick pre-show dinner, Mack and I headed to Opa Souvlaki (8209 104 Street). May had good words to say about this chain, so I was excited to see if their food lived up to the expectations.

I'm not sure I'm totally sold on the design of the restaurant - the order counter is right by the door, potentially creating a logjam of patrons on busy days - but I can see how the friendly and engaging employee used it to his advantage, warmly greeting customers immediately as they entered Opa.

Mack and I surveyed the menu board above, and decided to order a Souvlaki Pita each ($4.99, 50cents extra for feta cheese). We had the choice of chicken, lamb pork, gyros, or fava, and we both opted for chicken. Mack also wanted to try their version of calamari ($4.99 for a side order).

Two pitas and two chicken skewers were placed on the grill, and once warmed through, we moved down the assembly line to have our wraps customized with tzatziki, tomatoes, onions, and jalepenos. The calamari was freshly fried, tossed with salt and pepper and garnished with diced red onions.

We sat down at one of the handful of tables to savour our supper. The calamari was nice - crispy, light batter adorning rather large pieces of squid, it beat out similar dishes offered at more supposedly "high end" restaurants (Mr. Mike's comes to mind). Secondly, the pita was great - haunted by memories of too much lemon at parsley, I was pleasantly surprised to find the tzatziki only mildly herby. The sauce complemented the tender chicken well, and supplemented with bites of fresh vegetables, made for a comfortably filling dish.

Inexpensive, efficient, and tasty, Opa Souvlaki provides a solid option for fast food on Whyte.


Pita assembly station


Souvlaki Pita with Chicken

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Coffee Oasis: Marcello's

Beckoning through the glass and beyond the courtyard of Telus Plaza was the mysterious Marcello’s (10025 Jasper Ave, Unit #63).

I’ve been meaning to go for months since seeing what looked like an independent coffee shop across the way from my morning Second Cup, and now, having been, I wonder why I didn’t make the trek over sooner.

Marcello's, it turns out, bills itself as a "market & deli", has locations in six cities in Canada, and offers much more than just coffee. With a self-serve hot breakfast station featuring scrambled eggs, sausages, and home fries, a plethora of freshly-baked muffins, and a convenience store selection of dried cereals and sweet treats, even picky eaters would not go hungry.

As for coffee - count me amazed - Marcello's serves no less than two dozen varieties of coffee every day, with more than a handful of flavoured varieties (my personal favorite). At $1.50 for a medium, it is also slightly cheaper than a similar-sized jolt at Second Cup.

Look to Marcello's when you're short on change, want more coffee options than Second Cup has to offer, and desire to avoid jostling for space and seats in the nearby Starbucks.

Marcello's in Telus Plaza

Hot breakfast options

Muffins galore

Coffee, coffee and more coffee!

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Cooking Chronicles: Apple Cranberry Crisp

Like picking the perfect restaurant for a special occasion, I agonized in a similar manner over what dish I should make for a dinner Mack's Grandma was hosting.

Desserts to be served with berries (zabliogne, trifle) were out of the question due to the fruit being out of season, and heavier choices (chocolate cake) wouldn't have paired well with the healthy salmon she was serving as a main course.

As a last resort, I browsed the Food Network Canada site (much more quick scan-friendly than the American version, in my opinion), and came across Anna Olson's recipe for Apple Cranberry Crisp. It seemed the perfect spring dessert - warm, rustic, and light.

Using frozen cranberries and Granny Smith apples (Mack had fun with the apple corer), it was a cinch to pull together. We placed the fruit in a glass baking dish, topped it with the crumble, and snapped on a lid to transport it to Grandma Male's house. We had to borrow her oven to heat it up, but the timing worked superbly; it finished baking in the time it took us to dine on the main dish.

We ended up serving the crisp with a scoop of Smarties ice cream (only $1 at Superstore's "Dollar Days"!) instead of the vanilla we bought and absentmindedly left at my house, but the chocolate added some nice sweetness. The apples were lovely - warmed through and softened somewhat, accented with bursts of cranberry freshness and a citrus note reminiscent of summer days.

I highly recommend this dessert - it would be ideal served on an outdoor patio in the spring.

Crisp before baking

Crisp plated and partially eaten

Salmon with Dill Sauce, Stuffed Potatoes, and Salad (Mack's favorite!)

Grandma Male, Bry, and Tom peruse old photos after dinner (absolutely lovely picture)

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Big Box of Meals: IKEA

I spent an inordinate amount of time at IKEA (1311 102 Street) this weekend.

After an initial furniture-buying spree on Friday, Mack and I ended up returning to the big blue giant on both Saturday and Sunday to pick up odds and ends.

Though the environment wasn't too happy with our errand-running, this did give us ample opportunity to try out the many food items IKEA has to offer. With cheap, fast, crowd-pleasing eats, the edible fare made the many trips there less of a drag.

Day 1: Supper

A discovery of the coolest little carts made my day. For those ordering multiple plates of food (or having to carry more than one tray back to the seating area), IKEA now ingeniously offers push carts that accommodate up to three trays!

Tray carts

I've written about their meatball plates in the past, so I won't go into any more detail except to say that I am always satisfied with the consistent quality of their food.

Day 2: Breakfast

Trying to make the most of our day, we thought it would be best to start off early and shoot for the economical $1 breakfasts offered in the restaurant until 11am daily.

For one dollar, a small croissant, two sausages, home fries and a scoop of scrambled eggs can be had. Of course, most patrons opt to buy a drink or two as well, helping with the profit end of things. Even for a few extra dollars, there's nothing like starting off a weekend in the bustling, bright airport-hangar of a cafeteria.

Who doesn't love a good deal?

Day 3: Brunch

By the time we reached IKEA on Sunday, we had already missed the breakfast window, but I was actually keen on having something sweet anyway. The bistro on the main floor (next to the Swedish food mart) serves takeaway items like hot dogs (only 50cents!), soft drinks, and ice cream.

On that day, I decided upon the $2 cinnamon bun and coffee combo. While the bun could have been warmer, for that price, my complaints wouldn't go very far.

Cinnamon bun

Probably encouraged by all of the children running around with similar confections, Mack decided to top off his carb treat with a non-fat frozen yogurt cone ($1).

Imitation ice cream makes Mack happy

So whatever you're looking for - home furnishings or food - IKEA has it.

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