Cheddar Cheese Straws

Cheddar Cheese Straws

Baking is always an adventure, but some recipes provide more thrills and chills than others. Case in point in this recipe for Cheese Straws that I ran across in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I had been invited to a Christmas gathering, and had been mulling over what to bring. The Cheese Straws in the Appetizer chapter sounded good–there would be lots of Christmas cookies to eat at the party, so something not sweet sounded like a good idea. And, they could be made ahead. Cheese Straws it was!

Minutes into the recipe I was sweating. It called for 1/4 pound of butter, and the dough was not coming together. It would never come together. I did a Google, and, sure enough, found another blog regarding this recipe–the unfortunate baker added water to the dough to help it come together. I know that in baking, water + flour = glue, so instead of water, I tossed in another stick of butter. Couldn’t hurt! This did come together, perfectly, and I realized there had been a typo. But all’s well that ends well! The straws were crispy and sharp with the Cheddar cheese. So good, that I’ve made them again–they will be perfect for an upcoming bake sale, and will make nice small gifts. Here is the (updated) recipe.

Cheese Straws

1/2 pound (2 sticks) of butter
2 cups flour
12 ounces finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cream the butter until light; add the flour, cayenne, cheese and salt. Roll out on a floured surface, and cut into strips 5 inches long. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden.

The original recipe called for a pound of cheese, but truth be told, nothing needs a whole pound of cheese in it. So I used a 12-ounce bag of finely shredded sharp cheddar, and it worked perfectly.

 

Two sticks of softened butter being thoroughly creamed. This is basically a shortbread dough, and creaming the butter well will help the dough come together and bake evenly.
I measured the flour and sifted it into the bowl. Again, helps to create an even-textured dough.
Adding in the shredded cheese, pepper and salt. I used a chipotle hot pepper powder, which adds a little bit of a smoky flavor, but cayenne is fine, too. Or, you could leave it out.
Smear the cheese and flour into the creamed butter. At first it may seem like it won’t work, but after about five minutes of determined kneading and cheerful whistling, you will see the dough come together. Don’t be afraid to knead it–it won’t be tough. Form it into a large log.
Cut it into four pieces.
Roll each piece into a cylinder about 12 inches long. Knead it a bit as you roll, so there are no gaps inside the cylinder.
Roll the log into a rough rectangle, about 1/4″ or a bit less, thick. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
The rectangle ready to be sliced.
Cut into strips about 1/4″ inch wide. (They will be about four to five inches long.) The end pieces can be baked for the birds.
Scoop some strips up with a spatula to transport over to the prepared baking sheet–no need to do it one by one.
Space about one inch apart, and bake until golden, about 6 to 8 minutes.
This makes dozens of cheese straws–my calculations came up with 12 dozen, or was it 16 dozen–could that be right? How ever many, it’s a lot.
Packed up in a tin. I sealed it with tape and placed it in a cool dark place. I will bag them up for the bake sale in a day or two. They are perfect with a glass of red wine.

This little sparrow seems to be saying “Merry Christmas,” and that is my wish to you. Peace to you. Fran

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas

This is an early visit, and St. Nicholas will be dropping off recipes, not presents. These are not new recipes, but rather, the best kind–old recipes. Tried and true old chestnuts. I have searched the archives of my blog, and have come up with the best of the best for you to consider making for the coming holidays.

The first recipe is for Glittering Shortbread Stars. I have made this recipe a dozen times, and it makes the best and easiest shortbread cookie you could wish for. The dough doesn’t need chilling, and is easy to roll out. I’ve made it into stars, but also into llamas. Go for it!

Glittering Shortbread Stars

Lumps of Coal are fun and easy to make. They are crunchy with a fudgy interior. Also, they are great conversation pieces, and go well at Christmas bake sales.

Lumps of Coal

When you have to bake, but don’t really want to or are in a hurry, Almond Cookie Brittle shows up to help. No rolling out or elaborate shaping. And the cookie is crisp and delish.

Almond Cookie Brittle

Moist, old-fashioned cookies, Brown Sugar Cranberry Cookies are like something Red Riding Hood would carry in her basket as she walked innocently through the deep dark forest.

Brown Sugar Cranberry Cookies

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cranberry Pie maybe isn’t for Christmas dinner, but instead, for the day after Christmas–along with the turkey sandwiches. Easy and good, and a way to keep the celebration going.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cranberry Pie

Moist, spicy and delicious, and yes, more cranberries! Here is a recipe for Cranberry Gingerbread. Can be made a day or two or three ahead.

Cranberry Gingerbread

More cranberries! There’s something so perfect about them for Christmas. Here is a Fresh Cranberry Pound Cake, so pretty when sliced. Also can be made ahead.

Fresh Cranberry Pound Cake

Buttery and cinnamon-y–Jan Hegels are nice Christmas cookies. Can be made ahead and kept in a tin.

Jan Hegels

Okay. Even more cranberries! They are delicious in these Cinnamon-Frosted Applesauce Cranberry Cookies. A bit similar to the above Brown Sugar Cranberry Cookies, but these are glazed with a nice frosting, and are incredibly moist.

Cinnamon-Frosted Applesauce Cranberry Cookies

Find more good Christmas baking recipes by looking in the Something for (almost) Nothing recipe archives, in the “Decembers” of each year. Also find Christmas crafts such as the Squirrel Garland, found along with the above Cinnamon-Frosted Applesauce Cranberry Cookies. Peace to You. Fran

Squirrel Paper Garland

 

 

 

Baked Chile Chicken

Hi! Before we get to the delicious Baked Chile Chicken recipe, I’d like to mention that my new blog, called “My Illinois Nature Journal,” is up and running. Hope you can stop by, take a look, and sign up (at bottom of page) to receive notifications of new posts. Today’s post is about house sparrows, plentiful in Illinois as they are everywhere else! I have a page of sparrow watercolors, plus a photo. They are surprisingly individual and interesting little birds.

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Ok. Back to the delicious Baked Chile Chicken recipe! I am always seeking ways to make the ubiquitous chicken breast as tasty as possible, and I think this recipe does it. It’s easy (no frying, just stick it in the oven) and delicious (bright with the flavors of chile powder and garlic). Also, I add a whipped honey butter mixture to serve on top. (More about this later.)

Here’s the recipe:

Baked Chile Chicken

4 chicken breast halves (bone in)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper

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Ingredients. The salt is kosher salt, the oil is extra virgin olive oil.
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Mix the olive oil, fresh garlic, chile powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Coat the chicken breasts in the mixture (there are four in the bowl), and let them absorb the flavors for about an hour, if possible. Then arrange the chicken pieces in a foil-lined 13 x 9″ baking pan, and bake for about 55 to 60 minutes., or until juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with the tip of a knife.
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Meanwhile, for the whipped honey butter, you will need half a stick (4 tablespoons) butter and one tablespoon of honey.

Note: The idea for the whipped honey butter comes from a Chicago restaurant, which serves the butter on top of fried chicken. The combination is delicious, but for the home cook, baking the chicken is so much easier than deep frying.

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To make the butter, soften half a stick of butter in the microwave. (About 20 seconds at half power–but experiment judiciously.) It should be soft as shown.
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Add one tablespoon honey to the butter. This will make a slightly sweet butter, but you can add more.
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Mash the honey and butter together until fluffy. It’s easy to do this on a plate, and there is less cleanup than if you use a blender.
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To go along with the chicken, I decided to steam some “broccolini.” This is like broccoli, but with longer, tenderer stems. You could also use broccoli or rapini, which is leafier. Either way, the dark green vegetable goes well with the spicy chicken.
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I sliced the broccolini into individual stems.
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I steamed the broccolini stems (salting them first) for about 20 minutes, or until tender.
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Also, meanwhile, I gathered some apples for a super easy apple dessert we have a lot. These are four small Gala apples.
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Peel the apples, cut into quarters, and remove the cores. Then chop and place in a small saucepan along with about an inch of water.
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Cook over a medium flame for about half an hour, stirring occasionally until softened, like applesauce. These apples are naturally sweet, and I don’t add extra sugar, but you can, if you wish.
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The chicken should be done in about 55 to 60 minutes. Baste it occasionally with pan juices.
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With a dollop of honey butter and a side of broccolini (and a glass of red wine), dinner is served!
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Spoon the warm apples into a little bowl, and top with heavy cream. You can sprinkle with cinnamon, if you wish. The warm apples are sweet and delicious with the cream.

Hope you enjoy! Peace to you. Fran

 

Warm Salsa and Hello

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On a frosty fall morning, a cardinal poses.

Hi Everyone. When I last posted I mentioned that I would moving over to a new blog and discontinuing “Something for (almost) Nothing.” So I’ve been working on the new blog, which is called “My Illinois Nature Journal.” It’s all about the natural world of Illinois–the birds, the butterflies, wildflowers and more. Creating a new blog is like building a house, and I’m finally at the point where I’m hanging the curtains and sweeping up the sawdust–it’s almost ready. But meanwhile, I keep coming across new, great, useful recipes and I want to share! So it looks like I’ll will go forward with “Something for . . .” adding new recipes when something irresistible comes along. And by next week, I will post a link to My Illinois Nature Journal.

So meanwhile, I have found a great salsa recipe to share. It’s from an excellent cookbook called “Nopalito: a Mexican Kitchen,” by Gonzalo Guzman, and is called Salsa Frita de Arbol. I’ve been cooking low carb, and looking for quick, flavorful additions to our dinner menu, and salsas fill the bill. (Jim has lost 30 pounds, and I have lost 20 eating the low carb way–we are converts!) Here is the recipe, which I’ve adapted a bit.

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Salsa Frita de Arbol

Salsa Frita de Arbol

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 dried arbol chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 clove of garlic, put through a garlic press
2 cups canned diced tomatoes and their juice
or a 14.5 ounce can
salt

In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chiles, turning occasionally until they are dark red, about 30 seconds. Transfer the chiles to a plate. In the same hot skillet, saute the pressed garlic, stirring so it won’t burn. Add the tomatoes and and salt and bring to a simmer–let cook for about 10 minutes.

Allow the mixture to cool off a bit, and then puree in a blender (see safety cautions below) until smooth. Taste and add salt. Can be served warm or cool.

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The ingredients. I found the chiles arbol at my local grocery store. You could also check at a Hispanic grocery. This is a pretty commonly used chile. Notice that it’s dried! The recipe calls for 2 cups of diced tomatoes, but the 14.5 ounce can worked perfectly.
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Here’s the Nopalito cookbook, plus an interesting book on peppers by Maricel Presilla. I guess you can tell I’m into peppers right now!
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A closeup of the arbol chiles. Most have lost their stems during the drying process. Arbol peppers are hot–they are hotter than jalapeños.
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This gives you some idea of the size of the chiles. (Only use one garlic clove in the salsa–not the whole head!)
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If they have stems, remove them, and then shake out the seeds.
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I didn’t bother to measure the extra virgin olive oil–just poured in two glugs. Heat the oil over a medium high flame and add the chiles and cook for about 20 to 30 seconds. They will give off some fumes, so stand back! (You might want to keep a clean kitchen towel at hand to place over your mouth and nose while the chiles are cooking. The fumes aren’t bad, but they could cause coughing.)
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The sizzled and darkened chiles.
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Remove the chiles and set aside. Add the pressed garlic and stir briefly. It won’t take long to turn gold–watch carefully!
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When you add the tomatoes, there will be a lot of sizzling–you might want to cover the pan briefly with a lid until it settles down. I added back just half of one of the small chiles. It made for a hot salsa. The salsa will be pretty hot even if you don’t add back any of the chiles.
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Be careful when processing in the blender. Let the mixture cool off a bit before pouring into the blender. Fold up a kitchen towel, put on the blender lid, and hold the towel and lid down firmly. Hot liquids can burst out of a blender if you are not careful. Just “pulse” the mixture a few times, and then briefly (20 to 30 seconds) puree it. I like this salsa to be a bit chunky.
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This shows the chunkiness of the salsa, though you can puree it longer if you want it to be smooth.
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What did I do with the salsa? I set it aside, and marinated three chicken breasts in salt, pepper, olive oil, a bit of chile powder and some fresh lime juice. Then I baked them for about an hour at 375 degrees.
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While the chicken was baking, I chopped up a big bunch of broccoli rabe, also called rapini. It’s a bitter green, and tastes good with roasted or baked chicken.
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I sautéed the chopped broccoli rabe in olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh garlic. It cooks down considerably.
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Okay, maybe not the greatest food photography, but I was hungry! I hope it shows that if you eat fresh, colorful food, honestly, you don’t need the potatoes. With a glass of merlot, this tasted good! For desert we had fresh strawberries with cream (no sugar).

Cooking notes: The arbol chile is hot, so if you are a hot sauce beginner, I would not add back the chiles before pureeing in the blender. The oil the chiles cooked in will be spicy enough. On the other hand, adding half a sautéed chile made the sauce pretty darn hot, so you need to  know your own tastebuds. By the way, one of the big pluses of this recipe, besides it tasting so good, is that if you have some diced canned tomatoes on hand, along with the dried chiles, you can make this fresh salsa any time of the year, even when it’s hard to find a good tomato. Hope you enjoy. Peace to you. Fran

 

A New Beginning

Sawtooth sunflowers at Horlock Prairie, St. Charles, Illinois.

Dear Reader:

I’ve been blogging since January of 2011, and have had a great time. I’ve been grateful for the readers from all over the world who have visited my blog, often year after year, cookie after cookie. But I’m ready for something new and to move forward. I can’t help but think of the Monarch butterflies Jim and I have raised and released this summer. They flew off over the treetops: It was time for the next chapter of their lives. So this will be my last Something for (almost) Nothing post.

I am already working on the format and topic of my new blog, which will be on Nature Journaling. When it’s ready to go up, I will post the name and url here, and I am hoping you will consider joining me there. It will feature nature journal pages, and more bird and butterfly photography, plus eco gardening. I have to admit–I’m really excited about it! The older I get, the more the natural world moves, inspires me and nurtures me. Meanwhile, heartfelt thanks to you all. Peace to you, Fran

 

PS Here is my newest Nature Journal page, taken from what I observed at Horlock Prairie, here in Saint Charles. See you soon!

 

Fluffy Sriracha Dip

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce is having a moment now–you may be familiar with its red bottle emblazoned with a rooster, and its jaunty green cap. It has long been a cult favorite, I think because of the cute bottle, but, also, for a hot sauce, it’s not super hot. At any rate, the other day, while wandering through a thrift store, I found a 97 cent copy of “The Sriracha Cookbook,” by Randy Clemens and quickly found myself wanting to add Sriracha to everything.

This all leads up to why today’s post is about a Fluffy Sriracha Dip. Why is this dip so fluffy? Well, when I went to the store to buy goat cheese, which is one of the ingredients, I accidentally purchased spreadable goat cheese. This recipe started as a Sriracha cheese log, but because of the spreadable goat cheese, it ended up as a delicious, fluffy dip. And so new dishes are discovered. Who needed a cheese log, anyway? The dip is spicy hot–but not incendiary–and creamy with a green herbal note. So good with fresh cut-up veggies. Here is the recipe. (Don’t freak out about the fresh herbs–more about them later.)

Fluffy Sriracha Dip

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsely
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-8 ounce package Neufchatel cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces spreadable goat cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons Sriracha
1 clove garlic, put through garlic press

In a small bowl, combine the chopped herbs and the pepper. Toss together.

In a larger bowl, combine the cream cheese, goat cheese, Sriracha, garlic and most of the herb and pepper mix. Mash with a fork until evenly blended.

Scrape into a small bowl, and serve with cut-up fresh veggies.

First, thing, I went to pick the fresh herbs from my garden. If you don’t have fresh herbs, consider chopping some fresh parsley with a couple of green onions, and using that.

 

I also picked a hot pepper to use as a garnish. Again, this is optional.
The freshly ground black pepper and the chopped herbs.
Ingredients. The Neufchatel cream cheese is lower in fat than regular cream cheese (it’s made from milk, not cream), but is still good tasting and creamy.
I’m not always the brightest bulb in the pack, and I spent several moments trying to shake the sauce from the bottle, not realizing there was an inner seal. So this is an FYI.
The original recipe called for mixing wit a stand mixer, but it’s so much easier to use a fork. I mashed with a fork, and then brought it all together at the end with a spatula.
Scrape the mixture into a pretty little bowl, and top with a blob of Sriracha. Swirl through the mixture with a knife.
Swirly, fluffy dip. Sprinkle on remaining chopped herbs or parsley.
I sliced the hot pepper and used it as a garnish. It looks like a strange, hot pepper sea creature.
Yum.
We had it for lunch!

Making notes: As I’ve mentioned, the fresh herbs are optional. The parsley, green onion mix will work fine. Also, this dip is all about the Sriracha hotness along with the creamy texture, so, again, don’t sweat the herbs. If you can only find “regular,” not spreadable goat cheese, make a cheese log! Either way, it’s good.

Standing in the sunny garden this morning, I’m aware that we are in bee season. There are bumble bees, honey bees (not sure, but I think so), and many smaller bees, all gathering pollen while the sun shines. The butterfly is our last Monarch, released a few days ago. I will miss them! Peace to you. Fran

Bumble bee on phlox.
Honeybee? Not sure.
Small, unidentified bee-like creature.

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Chineasy Cucumber Salad

I’ve never been a big fan of cucumbers. Not that this is a big deal or anything, but the cucumbers of my youth had thick skins, were heavily waxed, had a lot of seeds, why were we eating them, etc. Also, my mother didn’t like cucumbers, and it’s surprising how that can influence you. But vastly improved cukes are showing up in the produce department, and I have had a change of heart, cucumber-wise. So when I saw this recipe for Chineasy Cucumber Salad in a book called Lucky Peach: 101 Easy Asian Recipes, I decided to go for it with the tender-skinned mini-cukes from Aldi.

The result was a spicy, cuke-y, nutty salad that will go well with the rather mundane hamburger patties we are having this evening. The recipe also calls for bashing the cucumbers with a wok cleaver, and that was fun. Or at least, my idea of fun. The cracked cucumber slices will imbibe more dressing. Here is the recipe.

Chineasy Cucumber Salad

1 tablespoon malt vinegar
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 “mini-cukes,” or Persian cucumbers
1 teaspoon toasted seseme seeds
1 tablespoons roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

Mix together the vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, sugar and salt. Set aside.

Cut off both ends of the cucumbers. Halve them length-wise. Set them cut-side down on the cutting board, and thwack them with the side of your cleaver or chef’s knife. Experiment! You don’t want to reduce the cukes to a pulp, just to crack them apart a bit. Cut the cukes cross-wise into 3/4-inch thick half moons.

Toss the cukes with the dressing and spoon into a nice bowl. Top with the toasted sesame seeds, the roasted peanuts and the chopped cilantro.

First, toast the sesame seeds. I used a small iron skillet, and stirred them constantly over high heat.
In about five minutes, the seeds will have browned. Set aside.
Ingredients. The recipe called for Chinkiang vinegar, also known as Chinese black vinegar. Our local grocery store, which has a pretty extensive assortment of Oriental foods, did not have this, so I used a malt vinegar instead. I know it’s not the same, but it worked well. It’s possible that balsamic vinegar would work. Next time!
Four mini-cukes, each about five inches long. Slice each cuke in half, lengthwise.

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Turn the cukes face down and thwack them with the side of your wok cleaver or chef’s knife–just enough to crack them a bit.
Slice the cracked cucumber halves into 3/4″ thick half moons. Toss with the dressing, and transfer into a pretty bowl.
Top with the toasted sesame seeds, peanuts and chopped cilantro. I also made a little cucumber fan for decoration.
I’ve had these books on Japanese Garnishes for years, and found the directions for the fan in the “More Japanese Garnishes.”
Cut a 3-inch section from a mini-cuke, and slice off one side so that the section sits flat.
Slice the two long sides off.
Make thin length-wise cuts, leaving 1/4″ uncut at one end. Press down on the slices so they fan out.
I also made a chain of cucumber slices, which was surprisingly easy, but for another post!
Before serving, taste carefully, especially for salt. The delicious sesame flavor should be pronounced, so you might want to drizzle with a bit more oil.
Our fourteenth monarch, posing before she flies off. A lump-in-the-throat moment.

My latest Nature Journal page had me struggling with depicting a squirrel holding a black walnut. Had to learn a bit about squirrel anatomy. Apparently squirrels enjoy black walnuts so much that sometimes you see them with the brown dye on their cheeks.

Peace to you. Fran