Archive for January, 2012

I know they’ve moved me from Zone 5 to Zone 6, but I’m still planting based on the Zone 5 frost date of May 10.

I always plant a range of home starts, nursery starts (although fewer and fewer of those) and direct. I like to do traditional seed starting, and a little winter sowing.

The hardest part of all this is to make sure that you’re planting, first, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you, and second, so that your seedlings are ready to plant out when the proper weather hits– the cool weather ones in early April, the tender solanums not until almost June around here.

I use the wonderful “seed stash” tool at MyFolia.com to keep track of my seeds, but it’s most useful as a database. While it lets you note when you should plant indoors, and transplant, it doesn’t yet have a reminder function, and anyway, a pop-up box on my calendar or desktop is not a useful method for me. I like something really hands-on and visual, that puts it all in one place at a time.

I’m pretty organized, plus like all gardeners I get antsy (plantsy?) in the middle of winter and start wanting to do something–anything–that seems like gardening.  I used to sort by date into planting pots, but they tip over and get out of order. It’s really not optimal.

So what I’ve developed is a seed keeper system, organized not by type, but by planting date and method. It allows me to select out of the larger seed stash the seeds I’m actually planning to plant, so I’m not constantly pawing through seeds trying to remember what to do, and  I have a beautiful basket woven from recycled materials that a friend got me from Ten Thousand Villages which is a perfect size.

Here’s the method:

Make a card divider with the planting date on it, and list under it the method (indoor, winter sowing, direct) and the seeds you’ll plant. Those seeds go in front of it. I have my cool-weather, long growing season ones starting Feb 15 (leeks, brussels sprouts), then nothing for about a month. Here’s what they look like (hmmm, March 20 is a little bit early for tomatoes, may have to redo that one):

I use them year after year. As you can see, I used some old fliers from one of my clients. If I was the entrepreneurial type, I’d probably propose that NDiN market these with a logo and a guide book for the different zones!

Once I have my cards worked out, I pull out my seeds, all organized by type (as you can see, this task is yet to be completed) and start pulling packets, to load into the planting system.

When it’s all ready to go, it looks like this:

Ready to go.

How do you organize for the planting season?

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For the past 24 hours my kitchen table has been covered with a mound of seed packets, envelopes, and small paper bags. The other writers here at NDiN and I are organizing a private seed swap so we can share our excess between the (now) nine (!!!) of us. Since I’ve gotten the seeds out, eight inches of snow has fallen here on the lakeside and I’m finding myself more and more anxious for spring to get here. I’m excited to try out a potted garden this year and I can’t wait until the Farmers Market opens up again. Until then I’ll be daydreaming about having our own property again where I can grow a 4-season garden.

One of our lucky readers won’t be daydreaming – you’ll be planning how to extend your harvests throughout the next winter referencing The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses.

Using a random number generator, I got our winner!!

Comment number 32, Susan from Maine, will have the opportunity to learn about how to extend her crops through the brutal northeast winters!

Congratulations, Susan! Contact me via email (at whirliegigs at gmail dot com) so I can send a package your way!

Thank you all for joining and sharing your winter desires. It’s been fun to read through what each of you would like access to over the coldest months of the year. An interesting tidbit: Most of you desire to have the ability to grow your own greens – specifically kale, followed by spinach, then lettuces!


You can also find me at Unearthing this Life, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and a smattering of other places on the interwebs.

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It’s supposed to be winter here in the States, but it seems that Ma Nature is a bit confused as of late. While some of us are getting snow, others are flooding and getting sunburns. Stews, soups, and one-pot meals go right along with winter weather – when it happens properly! Here’s what our “Western” Not Dabblers have been busy preparing for our first Challenge challenge.


Even though the weather continues mild, I’ve been enjoying doing those wintertime stick-to-your-ribs one pot meals (Okay, 4 pots, a jar and two bags). Soup, chili, lasagna, casserole. You can see from the lasagna link that I didn’t do quite as well two years ago at making it through the Dark Days from preserved foods, but this year I’ve managed, with a little help from my year-round CSA, to stay local, even with the vegetables, and at that I’ve only needed to resort to spinach, chard, and frozen peas. I made a wonderful vegetable soup in homemade chicken broth (recipe: see what you have, throw it in a pot. Simmer until yummy. I did manage to stick to just one pot for this one.) Ate it while watching the State of the Union, and I thought it appropriate that the First Lady just happened to flash on the screen as I shot this!

Meanwhile, The USDA has now officially declared Chicago to be Zone 6A– that’s a movement of four half-zones since I started gardening in the early 90s. But there’s no such thing as climate change. Or something. Just ask a gardener.


I write this post on one of those unusually sunny Winter days in the Willamette valley. I cooked my ‘challenge’ dish on a cold and sultry day, however so i made one of those slow cooked, bubbly, warm dishes: chilly! I usually make one pot/pan meals, though the kitchen still looks like a tornado went through it when i’m done. Not sure why that happens…. Oh right, i’m a terrible house keeper and tend to be lazy AND messy. Dang. This week i got some tasty local ingredients to play with and even got out my new-to-me cast iron to make a new chicken recipe. The goat chilly/stew turned out awesome and featured local (10 minutes up the road) goat meat, homegrown/preserved tomatoes and local dried chillies (plus regular grocery store onions, dried beans and salt/seasoning). Pocket had a no-bowl meal of the same goat meat, gnawing on two neck bones for 3 days, tapping into her carnal predator and nourishing her whole body from gut to silky-soft fur.


Here at Unearthing this Life we’ve been using up the remnants of a couple of duck that we prepared. I like to try to eat nose to tail, but can’t always get over the taste of organ meat. So when I was faced with two duck liver I thought using them in a beef stew would be a wonderful way to disguise their potential iron-y flavor.

I used up the last of the garlic I’d brought up with me from Tennessee and sautéed them with some other traditional stew veggies: carrots, potatoes, and a few leeks I’d stashed at the end of the Farmers Market in fall. The only thing that wasn’t local was the organic celery and the salt.  I got both the beef and duck from the butcher down the road who purchases all of his meat from regional farmers. Toward the end of “stewing” I added the chopped liver, hoping it would stay tender and wouldn’t fall apart. Okay, so it didn’t help the liver from tasting like iron, but it was tender.

The broth was great, the vegetables cooked perfectly, and the beef was wonderful. I think we all decided the stew was fabulous … once we each took the liver out of our bowls.


Don’t forget to check out the One-pot meals from our Eastern participants. If you’re joining us for the Valentine’s Day sweets challenge, be sure to check out the dates for your entries!

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Our first challenge with the Dark Days Challenge. Soup and One Pot Meals.  We had a look last week to see what the WEST came up with for this challenge. This week the EAST gets to show off their stuff. I see a lot of very creative One Pot meals out there. Enjoy!


The SOUTH Region (MD, VA, NC, SC, GA) with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

Annie (MD) from AnnieRie Unplugged found herself with many eggs in the refrigerator and a one-pot meal challenge. She met this challenge head on with a beautiful frittata using all local and organic ingredients. Her frittata is loaded with onion, collard and beet greens. She also added baby swiss and topped off the whole thing with hydroponic tomatoes. She also used a unique ingredient to add a little bacon flavor – Bacon Jam! That sounds super interesting. Head over to her blog to find out about bacon jam and read more about her meal.

Susan (VA) from Backyard Grocery found herself uninspired for the one-pot meal challenge. She really wanted to challenge herself with something other than soup.  Between fighting a back that was in spasm and trying to figure out what to make she was about to just give up. Then it snowed! Suddenly she found herself in the mood for stew! Using venison along with other ingredients, including a walk out back into their “backyard grocery”  for turnips she came up with a beautiful stew. Susan also prepared a 2nd DDC meal this week – stuffed venison with mashed turnips. It looks delicious! Visit her blog for great photo spread and recipe for both of her meals!

Rebecca (VA) from Eating Floyd had already planned a mid-winter party and soup was on the menu, so it fit in perfectly with this challenge. While the rest of us were cooking up a soup or one-pot dish, Rebecca made 4 soups (count them…4) plus relish trays, pickles & relishes, condiments and other tasty treats for the party and I was very impressed at the LARGE percentage of local ingredient used! Tuscan White Bean and Kale Soup, Easy Cassoulet, Spiced Butternut-Pumpkin Soup, Chicken Noodle Soup. This is truly inspiring. Head over to her blog to see all the recipes and locally source ingredients. This is truly an impressive post.

With winter-like weather finally making its way to the DC area, Victoria (MD) from The Soffritto figured that her favorite way to warm up was perfect for this one-pot meal challenge. Italians call it pappa al pomodoro, but she calls it Heaven on a Spoon. Tomato Bread Soup. She worked hard this past summer to preserve many things and time to use some of those wonderful things; canned tomatoes, frozen pesto cubs and frozen chicken stock. Now there is room in the freezer (prime real estate she calls it) for some of the soup she just made. Click on the link to see her recipe and information.

Jessica (SC) from Eat.Drink.Nourish. made Pigs in a Blanket for her one-pot challenge. Don’t let the name fool you, this is not what you are thinking. This is the first time she has made this recipe in her own kitchen. She used a recipe of polish/Slovakian decent that has been passed down in her family through more generations that she can count. Now that is history. She visited a farmer’s market that she had never been to before and brought home some nice stuff. Go to her blog to read the details and find out where her ingredients came from.

Jackie (NC) From Southern Fried Goodness challenged herself within this one-pot challenge. She said, “No shopping for ingredients” and she made a successful meal. A wonderful chicken and cabbage stew.  Her stew looks both feeling and tasty. She really came through using things from her pantry and refrigerator. Everyone went back for second helpings, including the friends they had over for dinner. Head over to her blog for her 100% made up receipt.


Ohio Valley
leader: Susy Morris from Chiot’s Run

Here in the Ohio Valley winter has finally arrived, we’ve had snow, freezing rain, temperatures down in the single digits – perfect for a one pot meal.

Margo from Thrift at Home wasn’t super excited about the one pot meal challenge because she likes a little more color and variety in her meals. Nevertheless she managed to make something called Bounty Rice in a big cast iron dutch oven. It seems like the perfect winter meal chocked full of things like: organic cabbage, bell peppers, home-canned tomatoes, organic garlic, ground beef, homemade yogurt, organic raw milk cheese, organic beets, organic cucumber dills, sour cherries, organic ww pastry flour, milk, organic eggs.

For her second DD meal she went vegetarian (which may or may not be one of our future challenges). With Vegetarian Crab Cakes make from zucchini from the freezer and a host of other healthy ingredients. Add a salad and baked sweet corn on the side and you’re got yourself a great Dark Days meal!

Cristina from C & J Homemade missed a few weeks because she realized the Dark Days Challenge was a little harder than she expected. That’s OK though, she back strong this week with Cabbage, Chicken and Bacon Saute – she had me at bacon. I can only imagine how wonderful this tasted, I love cabbage, I love bacon and I love them together! She certainly came back to the DD challenge with a bang!

Jenelle from Delicious Potager (don’t you love that blog name?) made Asian Fusion for week 7 of the challenge. I must admit, a good stir-fry makes my stomach happy and hers looked fantastic, especially since it was made with venison.

For her second DD meal she almost ate it before remember to take a photo – now that’s some good Roasted Chicken with Shallots. Roasted chicken is probably one of the best Dark Days meal, you should be able to find local chicken easily in any part of the country. Side it with whatever vegetables you have at the moment whether fresh from the garden or from the freezer and you’re ready to eat. For Jenelle, this simple meal brought back lots of good memories – funny how food and flavors can do that.

For her one pot meal, Jenelle came in with Borscht made with venison stock. She’s getting so SOLE that she’s roasting up venison bones for stock. There’s something so beautiful about the ruby color of the borscht, something I’m definitely going to have to make soon, despite a funny childhood memory about it.


with The Other Emily, from Tanglewood Farms

This is the first week I have been so inspired to try a bunch of the recipes and meals posted by our Dark Days Dabblers! Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, elegant or simple, I know that as soon as I finish recapping our participants I’m going to be adding to my grocery/market list!

Angela (DC) from Bumblelush used the One Pot Meal as a chance to practice her lamb skills for Easter. She made a beautiful Crown Roast of Lamb with Root Vegetables, and I can’t believe how simple such an elegant meal sounds to make! After reading her post I feel prepared to try some of the more difficult cuts of meat, especially this one!

Because I have a lot of Appalachian roots, and I enjoy a challenge, I couldn’t help but want to follow Stacey (NY) from Fessenden Farm‘s lead. She posted a great recap of her experience with some particularly fussy grits. Despite the grits’ finicky directions that she was able to dig up on the farm’s website, she was able to complete them and they paired nicely with the rest of her breakfast meal.

Karen (NJ) from Prospect: The Pantry found a fantastic way to use the One Pot Challenge to her advantage in planning future meals throughout the week. She made a beautiful Sunday Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables and Cider, and from this one meal she was able to keep leftovers for other meals, including making stock from the chicken bones. I love the thrifty inspiration behind this, and as always her photos have made me seriously hungry!

I’ve been meaning to delve into frittatas, and Monica (NJ) over at Monica Tries to Cook has reminded me that I need to do so! Her frittata this week was full of swiss chard and smoked gouda (who can go wrong with smoked gouda?) and apart from the usual salt, pepper, and olive oil, everything she used was local!

Arlene (Eastern Canada) from Living my Dreamlife on the Farm has gotten off to a great start with the Dark Days Challenge. Her One Pot Meal was a delicious sounding Lamb Soup in broth. Her blog has a very detailed recipe that I think would cure anyone with the chilly winter blues.

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Since my husband and I decided we would switch our corgi, Pocket to a raw diet, we’ve done quite a bit of meat shopping. I’ve never been much of a meat eater, so the whole process is new to me, and much easier when i can find a local farmer who can give me advice and whom i can feel confident buying from. It’s especially nice when i get to see a flock of happy Boer goats watching me drive up the lane. We paid a visit to a local farm last week to pick up some meaty bones for Pocket, and some goat meat for us. Winn’s Livestock and Hatchery just north of Corvallis has affordable meat raised by a 4th generation farmer and his very friendly wife. April chatted back and forth with me via email to decide what was best for us to purchase, and we ended up with a freezer full of bones for Pock, a pound of ground goat meat for us plus a shoulder steak that i’ll cut up into stew meat in the next week or two.


You can read more about my delicious ‘goat chilly’ at An Austin Homestead. You may be wondering about my choice of meat. Goat isn’t overly popular here in America. But guess what: it’s the most popular meat in the rest of the WORLD. There’s great reason for that: goats are small, able to graze on non-ideal pasture (read sticks and blackerberry brambles), have a relatively high dressing percentage to their body mass, and have some of the most nutritious meat of any livestock. This article has a lot to say about the boons of eating goat meat, as does this one. What you’ll find when studying about goat meat is that it has lower calories than beef (and even elk, venison and chicken!), less fat and cholesterol, and is guaranteed not to have any growth hormones added as the USDA has not approved their use. Goats are easier on the land than their big boned beefy counterparts, and can often thrive in areas that would otherwise require massive amounts of irrigation and pastureland to grow larger protein critters. Due to its leaner meat, goat DOES have to be cooked more slowly to avoid tough texture. Read more about the fat and calorie comparisons of goat meat to many other popular meats at www.elkusa.com.

Another reason to raise goats: they’re really fun, personable and friendly. Along with my change, April came out with a 4 day old bottle baby Boer, and boy what a cutey she was! We plan on raising dairy and fiber goats, with an eye on edible breeds. Miniature Nubians have decent dressing rates, though Kinders are better. We’re only two people and a dog, so we’re less concerned with the larger amounts of meat from the bigger meat breeds. According to April some of her Boer goats can ready 300 pounds. That’s a lot of goat! Goats can be like family pets, and we can’t wait to have some around. We realize that butchering one of those cute little kids will be hard to do, but the nutritional benefits of eating homegrown and super lean meat far outweigh the sentimental drawbacks. For me at least (i’m still working on convincing the husband of that one.)


So, with more iron, potassium and thiamine together with less sodium than other ‘traditional’ meats sold her in the USA, 50% less fat than beef, 45% less fat than lamb and 15% less fat than veal…. what reason do you have not to try goat meat for your next meal? None! Find a local farmer’s market or farm and get yourself some cabrito, chevre or goat meat. It does a body/planet good!
Read more about Miranda, Pocket and their adventures in goats and cooking at An Austin Homestead.

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How many of you have ever bought (pasteurized) whipping cream for some random project, shoved it in the fridge, and forgotten about it for a while? I certainly have. Now, I’ve fed my share of soured cream and spoiled dairy to the chickens, but I’ve also found that as long as the cream is simply soured (broken down, by lactic acid forming bacteria) I can still use it.

Now, keep in mind this is a post about what I have done, not what you should do.

So. Soured cream is not quite the same as sour cream. Well, actually it is, but while soured cream is soured by bacteria that won’t harm us, it can also have additional creepy crawlies growing in it if it’s been exposed to other sources of bacteria. Sour cream is cream that has had either lactic acid, or additional harmless lactose-eating bacteria added to give it a consistent and safe sourness.

Theoretically, soured cream was once regular cream, and assuming it was pasteurized (I don’t suggest doing this with raw milk) all of the harmful creepy crawlies were killed off in the process. After that, the cream was likely poured into a sanitized container and sealed. Assuming this container stays free of harmful creepy crawlies, it’s likely that the cream will stay fresh for quite long until it finally succumbs to the lactose-eating bacteria that is still present. I’ve been known to use slightly soured cream to make a particularly tasty topping for fresh fruit, and I’ve baked into bread, but there is one use for soured cream that surpasses all others…

Last summer I had ordered several containers of cream in anticipation of a big project, and unfortunately the project for which they were intended was forgotten… as were the containers of cream (I think they were behind a few other projects in the fridge, including the pickled radishes). By the time I discovered them, I found that I’d let over $12 of cream go to waste! Grrr…

After a brief brainstorming and a few google searches I had the perfect remedy, and it wasn’t feeding it to the chickens. Are you ready for this?

Salted Caramel Sauce!

I know, right? Soured cream doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to end up in a delicious ice cream topping, or drizzled over fresh strawberries, but it was a very successful experiment indeed.

Basically when making any caramel sauce, you bring sugar to the caramelization point (or sugar and water, depending on your method) and then you cut the caramelized sugar with a liquid – most often cream. The caramelization point is approximately 320º, and there are few harmful creepy crawlies that can live when exposed to temperatures half that temperature, so using soured dairy to cut caramel is (in my very unscientific experience) fairly safe.

I set about making “wet” caramel, which means you begin heating the sugar after moistening it with a bit of water. When it his 320º, instead of adding cream, I added the soured cream. It boiled and frothed and got super gooey and sticky and I was convinced I had ruined it, but sure enough after I stirred and stirred and stirred I was left with a thick and gloriously tasty caramel sauce that everyone should try at some point.

So tonight I decided I needed caramel sauce for a recipe I was working on, but we were out of cream altogether… but what did I find in the back of the refrigerator this time? An unopened container of sour cream! Divine intervention, that was.

I substituted sour cream for the soured cream that would have substituted for the fresh cream and within 20 minutes I was trying desperately to slap my own hand away from a cooling batch of delicious caramel. Seriously. I couldn’t stop licking the bowl. I was like a little kid. I’m still considering going back into the kitchen to see if I missed any spots…

Anyway, I wanted to share this recipe. I feel like it’s pretty indispensable when it comes to folks with sweet tooths. I think next time I may try it with buttermilk to see if there’s a difference in taste; will it be more butterscotchy? Hmmm…

Not-for-the-chickens Creamy Caramel Sauce 

The Players:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups sour cream, soured cream, heavy whipping cream – at room temperature, or slightly warmed
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt (sea salt, fleur de sel, whatever you choose – make it flavorful, though)

– Measure everything out ahead of time. Trust me. You’ll want your cream on hand precisely when you need it – not ten seconds later.

– Place sugar and water in a medium sauce pan and stir to moisten the sugar and distribute the water. Heat this mixture over medium to medium-high heat, without stirring. I know you’ll want to stir it, but seriously, don’t. Agitation can cause the sugar to crystalize and then you’ll end up with a weird, chunky, sticky mess.

– If you’re concerned about crystallization, you can brush the sides of your pan down on the inside with water occasionally to keep sugar crystals from forming along the edge. I don’t usually do this, and I’ve only had it crystalize once… and I stirred it… A lot.

– Once the sugar begins to boil, place a candy thermometer in the mixture and slowly raise the temperature to approximately 320º, which is the point that sugar caramelizes.

– As soon as the sugar reaches the caramelization stage, slowly pour the cream into the sauce pan. The mixture will get super grouchy and sputter and boil and bubble. Using a wooden spoon or a metal whisk, stir quickly to incorporate the two liquids as they hit a mean temperature. If you get a big ol’ clod of thick caramel in the middle, remove the pan from the heat and work to scrape and scumble the clod around until it breaks up and begins to rejoin the rest of the liquid. If your sauce ends up kind of lumpy, fret not. Simply run it through a medium-fine mesh sieve (or even a colander would work) and it’ll turn out just fine.

– After the two liquids are combined fairly well, return the mixture to a boil just for a minute or so and then remove from heat.

– Add the vanilla and salt last, stir and then pour into containers. Keep the sauce refrigerated (though theoretically you could can it in a pressure cooker – or in a hot water bath if you’re daring and playing by ‘old school’ rules. Sugar is a pretty good preservative. Still, I don’t particularly condone the canning of dairy products via hot water bath!)

The sauce will thicken over the next few hours into a fantastic drizzley, sweet, sticky goo that is perfect for icecream, fruit, yogurt, bundt cakes… and spoons. I prefer spoons. 🙂

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens and her livestock, her insatiable sweet tooth, her quest to become a cottage foods bakery and her adventures in leasing a small 19th century cottage and orchard in SE Michigan.

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Football Funds

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be blogging about the Superbowl (especially here of all places!). While the husband is a huge football (Indianapolis Colts) fan, I can live with or without it.  This past season was a rough one for Colts fans, but the city of Indianapolis is now gearing up to host the New England Patriots and the New York Giants for this year’s Superbowl XLVI.

Being impartial to the whole process of Superbowl preparations over the past few years, I haven’t paid much attention to what the city has been up to.  Sure, I’ve heard bits and pieces now and again, but all in all I have more important things to worry about!  Over the past few weeks, it’s been getting harder to avoid as it’s been on the news, radio, and most other media outlets CONSTANTLY!  Excitement is definitely building as the finishing touches are made, not to mention the economic possibilities that many in the city are counting on.

This morning I had  the news on to watch the weather (crazy stuff going on around here!), and I caught another Superbowl story… yet this one was different than most of the others I’ve heard.  It’s actually really cool!

As clueless as I am about this whole process, I learned that the NFL gives each Superbowl host city 1 million dollars (I can’t even type that without picturing Dr. Evil from Austin Powers!) to be matched locally to renovate, expand, or build a youth center in a disadvantaged neighborhood to leave a lasting legacy of the impact the  “big game” has on the community.  The news journalist went on to explain all of the state of the art fitness and health programs the new Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center will provide for the community’s residents.  While I thought that was nice, I was even more surprised to hear the rest of the story…  The center will also include outside gardens, a greenhouse, and an educational kitchen.  These wonderful additions will not only be used to teach the families there how to grow their own local,  healthy food, but also how to prepare it!

While trying to research the facts more online, I noticed that most of the focus was on the sports/fitness/community center aspect of the building, but I’m still impressed by the fact that they’ve considered the importance of adding these tools for the city bound people of this neighborhood.  You can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out to see the outcome of this special project.  I’m in a rural suburb of the city, so I’m blessed with land to plant my own garden, as well as a car to drive me to get the things I can’t provide for myself.

So what do you think about “the big game”?  What are your thoughts about projects of this nature?

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