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Friendship: It’s what’s for dinner

February 25, 2015 2 comments

A guy stopped by my work who happens to be a brother in a small, struggling lodge. For the last two years, this brother has been a Steward, and has gone out of his way to make sure that there is dinner & refreshment for every meeting. He started small, and his efforts were rewarded by guys who started coming back to lodge to have a meal and hang out with old friends. They charged half price for the meal, making up the difference with some lodge funds in order to get the word out. The lodge looked like it was climbing out of the membership hole.

But the new WM this year decided that he didn’t want to spend more lodge money on dinners, and didn’t want the hassle of dinners at every meeting. So his “will and pleasure” was that there would only be dinners for degree nights, brothers must make reservations ahead of time, and they would be charged the full price $10 to $15.

Within 2 months, attendance had dropped off.

Now, dinners are not Masonic instruction. They aren’t even spiritual instruction. But they are a reason for members to come down: the pre-meeting dinners are a time to renew old friendships, to catch up with what old friends are doing, and to make acquaintances with the new members of the lodge.

You have new members of your lodge, don’t you?

There’s a lesson here, someplace. We need to give both the old members and the new members a reason to come down. It’s certainly not to hear the minutes, or to complain about the latest Grand Lodge requirement, or even to listen to some bit of Masonic history that they could easily have gotten from The History Channel.

What reason does your lodge have that makes it worth your time to come down?

Categories: Dinner, Freemasonry

Q: How many Past Masters does it take to change a light bulb?

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

A1: The lights never went out in my year!
A2: Hey, my grandfather donated that light bulb!
A3: Why should we change it? It always worked before.
A4: Light bulb? In my year, all we had were candles.

Once a year, on the second Tuesday of December, the Past Masters of Friendship Lodge No. 33, along with the Past Masters of Harmony No. 20 of New Britain (which merged with Friendship back in the 1990s), and any other Past Master that happens to be within asking range gather together for an evening of complaining conviviality and story-telling, and of course, eating and drinking.

Friendship Lodge
Past Master’s Dinner 2008

Like many new Masons, I figured that all lodges were like Friendship, and I had some eye-opening moments when I started visiting and really watching what happens in some other lodges. In Friendship Lodge, those “old Past Masters” do not sit around the lodge hemming and harrumphing, complaining about the state of ritual or how things were done “back in my year.” And we are very fortunate in that we only “repeat” a Past Master through the chairs about once every 25 or 30 years – a fact to which I can attest, having checked the dates once.

Oh, there’s no question that some of our PMs are active. Sometimes one will stay on as a Chaplain, and we always have them serving as a Treasurer and Secretary. Our PMs run the Trowel Club picnics and several other functions. The most recent PM is usually the Trowel Club President, and will take charge of the Past Master degree (usually a MM degree held in the fall). And the next to last PM gets stuck running the annual Past Master’s Dinner.

Because our lodge is active, we do like to joke that the PMs are no longer needed; at each annual dinner, we award the outgoing WM with a new name tag which he is to wear after the next WM is installed. It symbolizes the esteem in which he will be held as a new PM.

It’s a Friendship Lodge badge, with the name section left blank. His new title becomes “Worshipful Nobody.”

Yes, of course it’s a joke – but there is a certain poignancy to this. For one thing, it takes several months just to get used to people addressing you as “Worshipful;” whenever I heard that title, I kept looking around for somebody else. For another thing, many of us who have served as the WM of a lodge – especially an active lodge like ours – you have a very full year, what with all the programs, meetings, visiting, degrees, dinners, and the constant phone calls and emails from people who need to check in, ask an opinion, get permission, or ask questions. You are the center of attention, most of it good, for an entire year – generally starting about 10 minutes after your installation ceremony. People look to you and look up to you for twelve solid, non-stop months.

And then, suddenly, it all stops.

I can well understand that some PMs may try to recapture a bit of that sense of importance by nitpicking ritual, or by reminding people of the customs and traditions which they, the PMs observed. In lodges that do not have a constant inflow of new officers, PMs always have an opportunity to fill in a chair, but in active lodges, I wonder how many PMs simply drop out of sight after a few years, from feeling as if they they have nothing further to contribute?

Past Master’s MM Degree – 2008

June 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Every year, the next-to-junior Past Master of Friendship Lodge gets the the unenviable task of gathering together a large group of his predecessors for the purpose of putting on a Master Mason degree. We typically hold two sets of degrees, one in early spring and one in the fall, and the Past Master’s degree is performed at the Master’s discretion. Some choose to do it early to give them more time to study for their own degree.

If you’re having deja vu, it’s because I first wrote that two years ago, and again last year. This is obviously a sign that I’ve been blogging too long.

Last year, we did this degree in the Fall. This year, we did it in the spring because the WM has slacked off needs more time to prepare before he can do it well. I understand; the MM degree is long, and Friendship Lodge adds another dramatic section to the Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend, which adds to the memory work. In our state, some lodges choose to add sections to the degree that give more background, which helps the candidates to better appreciate the lessons of the story. A number of them add the same section that we do, and one of my lodges, Frederick-Franklin 14, adds yet another section which serves to give even more insight into the character of Hiram Abiff.

Anyone who has run an event comprised of all Past Masters can well understand the metaphor “like herding cats.” Some check their email daily, some weekly, some never. Some were going to be gone for the scheduled week, probably because it was close to the Memorial Day holiday. Some wanted minor parts, some weren’t going to make it for dinner, some wanted parts, but weren’t sure if they were going to be there at all.

Of course, it didn’t help matters when, not for the first time, I scheduled a rehearsal on Mother’s Day.

Lucky for me, I had just done this degree at my other lodge, so unlike last year, it was still fresh in my memory. One of my occupational hazards is that I’m often seeing, coaching, or participating in different degrees each week, and sometimes one degree will get stuck in my head and remain there for a couple of days. This becomes a problem when in the middle of a lecture or charge, I suddenly blank out and forget which degree I’m on. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem for me this year, and I somehow managed to get through the degree without any mental infarctions.

The junior officers put on a huge meal: a very tasty surf & turf dinner that was heavy on the cholesterol, for which they made no apologies. It didn’t seem to faze the dinner guests, and when I walked in I saw wall-to-wall smiling faces. How we all managed to stay awake after such a lavish feast is beyond my ken.

I took the East for the first section of the degree, and WB Richie took the West. We traded seats for the dramatic portion, and at the end of the evening had raised three new Master Masons. Those of you who are reading this, hoping for one of my little humorous tales of something gone wrong, are going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. We had an excellent crew of Past Masters, and by all accounts the evening was a success.

It was, however, the first year that I actually felt like a Past Master, myself. Last year the whole PM thing was still new for me, and I was still getting the hang of being the District Grand Lecturer. This year, though, I had more of a sense of how removed I am from the Oriental Chair. I’m not sad or melancholy, quite the opposite: I’ve had a long time now to look back and to think about what I liked, and what I might have done differently. The weekly phone calls from the current Master Worshipful Jim serve to remind me that my opinion and advice are still valuable, and I have come to appreciate that.

Past Masters need not devolve into moss-backed old turtles once they leave the chair.

When Bloggers Collide

April 9, 2008 Leave a comment

It was really only five years ago that I was the new guy, the young Mason attending Grand Lodge – or more correctly, the reunion and hospitality suites the night before Grand Lodge session. I’d taken the afternoon off from work and we’d spent the time prepping tons of food and drink for the wandering brothers. Several of the older, more experienced brothers took me around to visit some of the other rooms and introduce me to the brothers from other districts; I met a lot of nice people during the first year, and remembered most of them over the next several years. Grand Lodge is sometimes like the get-togethers you have at weddings and funerals: it’s the one time a year you might have to catch up on news and gossip. And I don’t know when it happened, but I’m no longer a new Mason. Last night Sunday night, it was my turn to be the older guy and take one of the new brothers around, and to explain how and why things work.

Yesterday Sunday evening, while most of the lodge parties were just getting underway, I met up with several other of the Connecticut Freemason bloggers. This was the end result of six months of emails and phone calls which began “Hey, we should all get together for dinner some night and talk about blogging.” After half a dozen missed opportunities, we managed to agree to meet the night before GL at the restaurant in the hotel. Fueled by the vapors of distilled grain, I had several hours of conversation with 3M of Northeastern Corner, the esteemed Traveling Man of Movable Jewel, and the Very Worshipful Charles Tirrell of Masonic Renaissance. We were missing MF (Metaphysical Freemason), whose father-in-law had to be taken to the hospital that morning. The pressures of work, family, geography, and of course our Masonly duties made scheduling one night a much more difficult task than you would have thought.

I’ve spent a little bit of time in and after meetings with both VW Brother Charles and with MJ, but this was the first time we’d been able to hang out without any particular agenda. And none of us have been able to spend much time with 3M, mainly because his district is down in New York (well, it seems that way anyhow). A pleasant and thoughtful young man, 3M was only raised a couple of years ago, making him the newbie. Nobody else from his lodge was able to make the trip up.

VW Charles brought up some officers from his own lodge, also younger Masons, and we spent a pleasant couple of hours having drinks and sandwiches, and just getting to know a little about each other. All of us being Connecticut Masons, we had the opportunity to discuss not just blogging and internet Masonry, but also topics concerning local, district and state events. Table conversation ranged from praising (and poking) other well-known bloggers and some of the recent topics, internet Masonry and how it can be better utilized to the benefit of the Craft (we’re in favor of more of it), District Blue Lodge Council meetings (some people find them to be a waste of time), the state of ritual (to some degree), and some of the items up for discussion at Grand Lodge (oh yeah, there’s a session).

After a dinner of sandwiches and frits (the French word for “fries,” I was informed), we retired upstairs to VW Charles’ room, where 3M treated us to some finely crafted hand-rolled cigars, which we enjoyed out on the balcony – smoking being prohibited in the hotel rooms. While enjoying the aroma, not to mention the invigorating New England air, we continued our discussions. The non-blogging junior officers lost interest, and retired to the warmth of the room, where they kept themselves occupied with a Wii, iPods, laptops, and various other electronic gear.

As Charles mentioned in his own post on this subject, we found it surprising that with Connecticut being such a small state, the four of us had managed to develop notably differing ideas and opinions about Freemasonry. This wasn’t so obvious when discussing our ideas for how to improve the quality of meetings and Masonic education, but was more noticeable when we discussed our positions on those states which have yet to fully recognize the Prince Hall jurisdictions, and how our UGLE-related fraternity intersects with orders that have long since split off: La Droit Humain, Grand Orientes, and Co-Masonry. Fortunately, real Masons manage to subdue their passions when discussing such potentially divisive subjects, and we soon veered off those topics to discuss the proposed legislation and some of the rumors that had been making the rounds. We also traded stories about some of the lodges that we’ve seen that are doing it wrong (and some that are doing it right), and kicked around some of our own ideas for what could make for better lodges.

Charles is a very progressive-minded brother who has a number of great ideas for lodges on his own site, including utilizing Pay Pal or similar services to collect dues money. We also thought that the dreaded dues increases would hurt less if we allowed the members to pay in monthly or quarterly installments; we noted that most dues are, um, due right around the holidays – just when people are already ticked about paying bills. Perhaps a subscription service might be a better way to go for some of the brethren. We also discussed having some of the brothers “pay” in service, rather than in coinage; some brothers could agree to a certain number of hours doing maintenance, cleaning, repairs, etc., in exchange for some abatement on dues. We also – and I hope he doesn’t mind my mentioning it here – tossed around the idea of recording video interviews with notable brothers; not necessarily the oldest or famous, but brothers with an interesting perspective on the fraternity. Any Connecticut brothers with video editing experience who are interested in lending some help might want to contact VW Bro Charles.

Eventually we had to go home – at least, some of us did. TM wandered off to his car, and I took 3M for a tour around the hotel to meet the members of Friendship Lodge. A couple of brothers were at the room, and others appeared as we were having a drink. I left 3M in the fraternal care of our SW Eric, who promised to look after him, and I left for home around midnight. Since 3M was staying overnight, I was reasonably certain that he wouldn’t get into much trouble. I later found that natural supposition to be erroneous, but that’s a topic for another article.

The four of us got together out of curiosity – indeed, we’ve been trying to find some way to get together for months, but just haven’t been able to get our schedules together. When we decided to meet, it was because we thought that we had two things in common: Freemasonry, and a desire to share our experiences and perspectives via this medium. There are five of us who blog about the Craft, not counting the few people who mention Freemasonry on their MySpace and LiveJournal pages. While it doesn’t sound like very many, it does, in fact, make up a significant portion of the Craft-bloggers extant on the internet; more impressive when you consider the size of our state. In an age in which internet communication is becoming more utilized by new and potential members, I’m glad that such a great group of brothers has been able to spread some light through this new medium, and I’m sure that all of us look forward to doing this in the future.

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Secret Sauce

January 29, 2008 1 comment

“So, what’s your secret recipe for this great tomato sauce?”

I heard this from at least 8 or 9 people on Saturday night, when my wife and I served up 65 pounds of ziti and 480 meatballs, all covered in almost 25 gallons of our home-made tomato sauce. No, I don’t have a big family; this is a now annual fund-raising dinner to help out the confirmation class of the First Congregational Church in downtown Southington.

I know, I know – you came here to read about Freemasonry, not about my cooking skills. I’m getting to that part.

My wife and I had started cooking the sauce a week previously, using the 8 burner stove and large pots available in the church kitchen. I’m sure that the church meeting hapll must have smelled like an Italian restaurant by the end of the week, and by 5:30 pm – a good half hour before the advertised time – because people were ready to stampede lining up to get good seats. We started serving at a quarter to six, and didn’t get a lull until well after 7:00, at which time I was able to walk around, fishing for compliments asking for feedback for the next year. And that’s when I noticed something: even though I told people what I put in my sauce, everybody acted as if I were being cagey about the answer. But that certainly was not the case; I’m usually more than happy to tell people what my own recipes are, and in fact, I’m going to tell you right here how I make tomato sauce.

Yeah, yeah, I know – you’re waiting for the part about Freemasonry. It’s coming, really.

A word of caution: if you’re the type of person who enjoys “recipes” that include such syrupy metaphors as “Add a cup of courage, a teaspoon of tolerance, stir with passion, and serve with L O V E“, then get thee hence! This blog is a NO GLURGE ZONE. Sure, those cutesy sayings were funny the first six or seven hundred times I heard them, but enough already. The 70s are over, and those little naked kids with the big eyes and hearts over their heads are has-beens. Deal with it.

Yes, yes, I’m getting to the part about Freemasonry. Really.

Now, I take a dim view of people who refuse to share good recipe. I don’t care if your great-great-grandmother carried it in her boot when she came from the old country, or if you just discovered it while messing about in the kitchen. In my opinion, the kind of people who won’t share their recipes are merely feeding their egos while they feed you a meal. When they invite you to dinner, it’s either to brag or to play the “I’ve got a secret” game and are, in essence, saying “Hey, I’ve got this really great thing and I’m only going to let you have a little taste in order that I might feel special. But don’t worry; come back next year and I’ll let you have another little taste, just so you can remember how special this is.”

Even more odious are those that purport to give you the recipe, but hold back a key step or ingredient, thereby making you think that you are stupid for not being able to follow directions. A pox on all of them.

What? Oh, yeah – the Freemasonry part. Sorry.

When the first few people asked what I put in my sauce, I told them “A hell of a lot of tomatoes.” It was funny at the time, and very true – we bought over two dozen of those large restaurant sized cans at the local warehouse store, along with salad for 200 people, dressing, grated Parmesan, and sundry other items. We started by sauteing several bulbs – that’s bulbs, not cloves – of crushed garlic in olive oil. Once the smell started wafting through the church hall (I should point out that I did this during one of the services in order to remind people of the upcoming dinner) I added a few scoops of the crushed tomatoes, and some of the typical Italian spices: oregano, parsley, basil, and a bit of fennel seed. I let this cook for a good thirty minutes, and then put some into each one of the five large pots. This served as a base, to which we added the rest of the canned tomatoes. One pot we reserved as a marinara sauce, and to the others we added some cooked ground beef (left over from the Rally Day picnic in September), and some minced and cooked Italian sausages, both of which had been cooked and minced previously in order to save time. We cooked the sauce for about six hours that day, and then came back for a few hours mid-week, and put them on again first thing Saturday morning so that they had another good eight hours to simmer. Usually I put some red wine in the sauce to counter the bitter taste from the tomatoes, but after a few people had concerns about sensitivities to the sulfites in the wine, this year I opted to add some sugar and salt.

I have to say that this was one of the best batches of sauce that I’ve made in a few years. Even my wife will attest that this year it was particularly good, and the compliments from the hungry crowd was certainly a testament to how it turned out.

Yes, yes – I’m coming to the Freemasonry part directly.

I told every person who asked me exactly what I used in the sauce – which, as you can see, are just regular Italian spices. Every person had the same reaction: If I’m just using regular spices and ingredients that you normally find in sauce, then why did this batch come out so well? Certainly I’m leaving out a crucial step, a secret ingredient, a particular item that made this come out better, right? After all, you can’t just throw some tomatoes and spices in a pan and expect it to come out like that, right? Right?

Apparently, my sauce admirers miss the essential point.

They had the list of ingredients that I use, and I even gave them some little tips. And while in theory there might be some small differences between brands of tomatoes or spices, in practice I’ve never noticed any significant difference.

So, what is the point of all this?

The raw tomatoes contain a lot of water, which needs to cook off. In that process, the heat breaks down certain proteins and acids, releasing certain chemicals, and causing others to bond. Five gallons of sauce in a pot takes hours to get up to the proper temperature, with constant stirring to prevent the bottom from burning and tainting the rest of the sauce. The heat also breaks down the chemicals in the spices, and the stirring allows the flavor to gently infuse throughout the pot of warm liquid. Eventually, the acids break down and dissipate, and the sauce itself tastes of the fragrant basil and oregano, perhaps mixed with the spicy saltiness of the sausage.

The secret, you see, is not the ingredients at all. It’s the time.

Those people who are accustomed to opening a jar of grocery-bought sauce simply can not conceive of the investment of time that one must make to cook a good, home-made tomato sauce. Despite the stereotype of old Italian ladies standing at a stove all day, few people really understand that it’s the process of cooking that makes the difference between a rich, thick, savory sauce and a thin, slightly bitter one. Too often we try to make up for the lack of flavor by adding extra garlic, salt, basil, or other spices. But these serve merely to cover up the fact that the sauce itself is a hastily prepared affair.

Even the cooking shows on television offer up tips on how to make good tomato sauce, especially tailored for busy people who only have an hour or so. And now question about it, some of those sauces are tasty. But they’re not the same; indeed, if I may be so bold, they’re not even in the same class.

Let me make this clear: In sauce making, as with so many other things in life, there is no substitute for the investment of one’s time. It is only through the lengthy process of cooking that the unwanted and unnecessary ingredients break down, and are replaced by the desirable aromas and textures. It is only through time that certain agents can be make their way around the large vat of liquid, moving here and there until the gentle stirring combines them with other agents to produce something delightful to the senses. And certainly, the larger the pot, the more time is needed.

Time.

Speaking of which, it looks as if I’ve run out. It appears that I’m just not going to get around to discussing Freemasonry, doesn’t it?

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The Shape of Masonry

August 20, 2007 Leave a comment

In Connecticut, it’s common for lodges to shut down in July and August for a summer break (please do not call it “going dark”; that term applies to lodges that turn in their charter and close permanently), although often the various business committees continue to meet. I may have mentioned elsewhere that I forgot to duck when they voted on officers for this board, and my inattention has caused me to be President of the Southington Masonic Temple Corporation for the last three years. Earlier this month we had to get together for a couple of hours to go over some changes to the building and to talk about ways to introduce some new ideas to the rest of the lodge in September.

Generally, we meet on the first Monday of the month, but since most of the members were away on vacation, we rescheduled it for a Wednesday evening a week later. Since most of us would be coming straight from work, the Secretary ordered up some pizzas and beer (Rolling Rock, naturally. Why? The mysterious number “33” on the bottle makes it the official beer of Friendship Lodge No. 33) and we all showed up around 5:30 (yes, even me) in order to get to work.

After an hour or so of yammering hammering out some details, the eight or so of us took a stretch break. Most of us were standing up, a few eating a cold slice of pie or hoisting a brew, when the door to the hall opened up. In walked an older gentleman who stopped and looked around quizzically.

“Can we help you?” several of us asked at almost the same time.

“Um, yeah, ” he said with just a trace of hesitation, “Weight Watchers meeting?”

“Next door, at the American Legion,” said one of our members, helpfully.

The gentleman nodded, and backed toward the door. He quickly eyed the beer and pizza and glanced pointedly at the large men scattered around the room. “Yeah, should have known,” he chuckled. He thanked us and quickly left.

Most of us being living testaments to the great meals that we serve regularly at our lodge, we laughed along with him. One of the the brothers looked around at the rest of us, saying “Right, Weight Watchers. He won’t make that mistake again.”

I just closed my eyes and shook my head. “I am so blogging this,” I told him.

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Categories: Blogging, Dinner, Food

The Haitian Degree

December 13, 2006 15 comments

On Thursday, November 16th, the brothers from Connecticut’s newest lodge, Universal Fraternity No. 149 treated their brothers of Sequin-Level No. 140 to dinner and a play.

The “play” of course, was a well-performed Master Mason degree, in which the officers of Universal-Fraternity assumed the chairs for the evening. Done in Connecticut form, the brothers added several small touches of Haitian influence, giving the onlookers a new and different perspective on the drama of Hiram. Fascinating as the degree was to watch, the event was even more impressive when one considers that in the last year, our new brothers not only had to learn ritual in Connecticut form, but also to give the degrees in English instead of the French customarily spoken in Haitian lodges.

Haitian Degree
Click on the picture to see the online photo album


Preceding the dinner was a short flag presentation at which the Haitian flag was presented and displayed with the collection of other flags at Sequin-Level. Afterwards, the brothers joined in singing the Haitian National Anthem.

A degree without dinner is like a day without orange juice, and not content with showing off their ritual skills, several of the officers of Universal Fraternity showed up at Sequin-Level early in the afternoon to show off their culinary skills. They prepared several traditional Haitian dishes, and steaming pans of seasoned rice and beans accompanied various trays of chicken, pork and seafood; more than enough to serve the 90 brothers in attendance for the ceremonies.

The evening ended with RWB James McWain Grand Jr. Deacon and MWPGM George Greytak congratulating the members on their degree work. Certainly, it was a fantastic example of how Freemasonry crosses the borders of language and culture.

~~~~~~~

For those that do not know the backstory, Universal Fraternity Lodge was charted “UD”, or Under Dispensation back in 2005. The brothers were already well-versed in Haitian-style degree work, but in order to be fully chartered by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, they had to re-learn their degree work in Connecticut form, and in English. The brothers worked hard at this, and at the 2006 Grand Lodge Annual Communication, they were awarded the charter with the lodge number of 149.

I happened to be there – literally at the door – when our Haitian brothers arrived during the 2005 Annual Communication, and also happened to be available on the evening before the 2006 meeting. Actually, it was more like 2 a.m., when several of the nervous brothers popped into the room with an entourage of brothers from other lodges. They had vowed not to sleep until they knew for certain that they would be granted a charter, and had wandered the hotel looking for other Masonic night owls. Several of my officers were still up, so we shared fellowship and hospitality, and compared the differences between Haitian ritual and our own.

Several of the officers of Friendship Lodge came to see the degree work at Sequin-Level, and once again I happened to be in the wrong place at the right time; after assisting to see the four candidates were duly prepared, I was asked to escort one of them during the degree itself (I am an affiliate member of Sequin-Level). Although I was barely able to move after the fantastic dinner, somehow I managed to walk around the lodge room, following their Sr. Deacon (who did a fantastic job during the evening). I should also mention that the Master, WB Daniel did his best to make the degree a particularly memorable evening.

I was pleased to see a large number of brothers staying for the entire degree, and counted several purple aprons in the number of onlookers, including at least one from the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge. The brothers from Universal have been getting a lot of publicity lately, and personally I think that it is well-deserved. Every time I run into them – an easy thing to do, since they seem to travel all over the state – they are always cheerfully spreading harmony and good fellowship. And when one considers that many lodges in the state – indeed, around the US – are closing their doors, we should celebrate those who so amply demonstrate their dedication and perseverance.

That reminds me: I really need to get the recipe for that paella-like dish; it was delicious!

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