California Dreamin: Fabulous Mexican at Loteria

When I said that I spent a lot of time at The Farmer’s Market, I wasn’t kidding. In fact, our very first meal was there, at the wonderful Loteria Grill20140927_105644I first read about this place on The Amateur Gourmet and couldn’t believe that after an entire childhood of coming to The Farmer’s Market for lunch I could have missed such a gem! Loteria is a small outdoor stand that serves authentic Mexican food. It’s so popular that it has spawned several brick and mortar locations around town and is oft lauded as some of the best Mexican food in LA, which is really saying something.

20140927_105647Just order at the counter, watch your food be made in the open door kitchen or wait at your table, then get ready to indulge.

20140927_110147Agua frescas, nachos, and tacos…come to mama.

20140927_110059Nachos

I mean, who doesn’t love a plate of nachos? Even crappy ones are good, and these…these are great. Fresh corn chips smothered in stretchy jack cheese, cumin scented black beans and impeccably fresh, juicy pico de gallo. Best of all is a tangy tomatillo salsa layered on top, filtering its tart, fresh bite down the layers of cilantro and  oozing cheese. This is a mammoth portion, so please get the small, and don’t be scared to ask for some smoky but not too spicy house made hot sauce alongside.

20140927_110103Tongue tacos

Oh, HELL yes. These got better as I ate them. Springy bits of beef tongue in a spicy, rich, incredibly beefy juice spiked with fiery serrano chiles and sweet onions. It’s what I always think that tongue should taste like – delicious and reminiscent of filet, but with a little more chew. It’s hearty but not greasy, and the topping of buttery avocado tempers the peppers and rounds out the meat. Perhaps best of all are the tiny homemade corn tortillas – uneven in texture and with an earthy, overtly corn-y taste. This is pretty spicy, so I was in heaven.

This isn’t the cheapest option in the Farmer’s Market, but it isn’t crazy expensive and it IS crazy delicious. We went at 11 am and there was already a small line, so come early or pay the price! And don’t forget that a tongue isn’t just for talking – it’s for eating, too.

Stuffed Poblano Peppers

As you know, I’m from Southern California.

And the best thing about growing up in Southern California isn’t the beaches, the weather, or even In-n-Out.

It’s Disneyland Grad Night.

That’s right, an entire night where  the theme park is open just for the seniors in a few CAlifornia high schools. It’s all churros, Space Mountain, and shoppin on Main Street until the sun comes up. So, of course, you need to have a good foundation of food for the night ahead.

That night, my mom made me chile rellenos. I’m going to have to make those for the blog – deep fried smoky poblano peppers, stuffed with oozy mozzarella and cheddar cheeses encased in puffy batter. They are labor intensive, but so insanely delicious and great fuel for a night of running around.

But, for those times when you want a little less deep fried and a little more protein, you can go for these slightly easier versions, that you may like even better.

Stuffed Poblano Peppers

stuffed peppers

Ingredients:

4 poblano peppers

1-1.5 cups cooked long grain rice or orzo

1 lb. ground meat

1 small can Mexican style diced tomatoes

Assorted taco seasonings (oregano, cayenne, coriander, cumin, etc)

1 clove diced garlic

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for topping

hot sauce, salsa, guacamole, sour cream for serving

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1. Put the peppers on a pan and put them under the broiler for about 7 minutes per side, or until they are TOTALLY charred on the outside. We are talking black, burned, and they might pop in the oven. That’s okay. You need to get them completely charred. Dont forget to turn them so all sides get blackened.

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2. When they are charred all over, put them on a plate in a single layer and cover tightly with cling wrap. Leave until the peppers are cool enough to handle. Now, the skins should just slip right off.

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3. While the peppers cool, prepare the filling. Sautee the beef, garlic, and spices until the beef is cooked.

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4. Add the tomatoes….

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5. The rice, and the cheese. Taste for seasonings – the rice absorbs a lot of flavor, so you may need more salt or hot sauce than usual.

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6. Now split the peppers lengthwise and stuff them with the stuffing. I mean overstuff them. Pregnant with twins stuff them. It’s okay if they tear a little and are overflowing – that’s what you want. And yes, I top mine with extra cheese.

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7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is totally melted.

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8. Serve.

These are the perfect weeknight meal. Healthy, inexpensive, and tasty. The peppers are smoky and mild. However, when cooked with the rice and cheese, they really assert their flavor. It’s a great way to use up leftover rice – and if you have any canned black beans or corn, throw those in there, too! Fresh scallions – even better! It’s a great way to use up leftover rice and other stuff that’s about to go bad, in a way that is so tasty that no one will guess that it’s a leftovers meal.

And I can’t help but think of Disneyland every time that I eat them.

Taka Taka – Tasty, Amusing, and Also the Grossest Thing I Ever Ate

Conveyor belt sushi is incredibly fun.

You just pick up plates off of the conveyor belt that flows around the tables and are charged based on the color of the plate – different colors for the more expensive and less expensive rolls. However many plates your rack up determines your bill. The sushi isn’t the same quality as, say, Sushi of Gari, but it isn’t as expensive either – plus, it’s fun!

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When I headed to Taka Taka, a Japanese-Mexican restaurant that was part kitchen entrees, part conveyor belt sushi, this is what I found:

Some great stuff:

20140730_132517Japanese ribeye taco

This tastes like Yoshinoya beef, aka my favorite comfort food on the planet. The beef is tender and juicy, with tender onions and just a bit of cumin to bring out the Mexican taste. It’s wrapped in a warm, soft tortilla and is delicious when dipped in the citrus infused Mexican soy sauce. It’s rich, tender, and juicy – I could easily down 6 of these myself.

20140730_12583511 – rice and chives with spicy tuna and cucumber

My favorite of the sushi conveyor belt items. Fresh, spicy, and exactly what I want in a spicy tuna roll.

There was also the less than great:

20140730_131452Towi roll – shrimp tempura, avocado, and chipotle sauce roll covered with grilled jack cheese

This is literally the most disgusting thing that I have ever eaten. I hope that other people enjoy it, and more power to them if they do. I can’t imagine anything more wretched than this warm, rubbery cheese over fried shrimp and too much creamy chipotle sauce.

And this comes from someone who has eaten pig’s blood popsicles.

This place is fun and the atmosphere is cool – perfect for an after work happy hour. However, the service is a little scattered and the food is way overpriced – I know that this is SoHo, but there are great restaurants all over the place offering more for the same price or lower. We ordered a bunch of food and still left sort of peckish.

This is a very fun novelty and some of the sushi rolls were quite good. I would get that japanese taco again for sure – I’m still craving it.

But that jack cheese thing scared the willies out of me.

Sexy Mexican at Toloache

Another day, another chance to eat Mexican food, amirite?

When I was invited to come try the menu at Toloache Soho, complete with margarita pairing, I was like…OKAY!

And that’s it for the valley girl portion of the review, I promise!

The tasting menu was long and winding, so instead of featuring the  (very few) misses, I’m going to focus on the hits!

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Spicy guacamole (in the top right corner)

Maybe it isn’t the newest thing on the block but it might just be the best. The slow, smoky burn of chipotle with buttery avocado and salty cotija cheese is the ideal dip for freshly fried, almost saltless tortilla chips. The complimentary salsa is thick and smooth,with a fruity, very mild heat – perfect for those who are a little scared of spicy foods.

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Crispy tostada topped with avocado pure, crabmeat, sea urchin, and Oaxacan peanut salsa.

My favorite bite of the night, no question. The sea urchin is a little on the oceanic side, but I love that – if you only like mild Santa Barbara uni, this isn’t for you. For me, the salty uni with the sweet crab and crunchy, savory peanut salsa is a  dynamite starter. It’s maybe the best iteration of Mexican seafood that I have ever had. Of course, the tiny tuna ceviche taco you see ain’t so slouchy either!

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Brisket taco with horseradish crema (lower lefthand corner)

Mm-mm good. Very tender, with a strong beefy taste – not too many spices here to take away form the pure, mineral-y taste of the beef. The horseradish crema is extremely mild, but enough to accentuate the beef’s texture and cut through the fat.

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Carne Asada

This is the stuff. This skirt steak is cooked perfectly – that’s not an exaggeration, it is textbook perfect. Charred on the outside with a pink, tender interior that is neither raw nor chewy – how do they do that so well? It’s marinated in something sweet that goes well with the best gratin I have had outside of France. It’s classically made – thin, tender potatoes in a creamy, cheesy sauce that is equal parts gooey cheese and delightful burnt edges. The mole is way too bitter and heavily spiced for my tastes – some mole, like this, tends to taste like tobacco to me – but the accompanying guacamole is delicious.

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Roasted Pineapple Tres Leches Cake

Get this. Do not be swayed by the excellent churros nor the appealingly jiggly flan. Go straight for this – it’s pina colada in cake form. Intensely sweet pineapple, made even sweeter than usual because it is roasted, sits atop a cloud of whipped cream. The cake, soaked in heavy cream, milk, and sweetened condensed milk, breaks apart if you look at it the wrong way. It’s sweet, creamy, and rich.

That’s what she said.

Toloache excels at meats and most desserts. Stick to them and you will be pleased. Oh, and that uni tostada. And those chips are really swell…

What am I saying? You can’t go wrong here. It’s busy and trendy – perfect for a date or a night out with a best friend. 

Oh, and why didn’t I mention the margaritas? Because I couldn’t choose just one to feature. Every single one was top notch. Fresh, potent, and all too drinkable.

And those margaritas are why Mexican food is ALWAYS a good idea. 

Disclaimer: I was here for a press meal. My meal was covered by the restaurant. I was not required to write a review and my opinions are my own. 

Otto’s Tacos is A Taste of Home

I’m not going to fool around with some twee opening about how I love NYC but I miss California’s Mexican food.

Because I have already done that.

I’m just going to say it.

I found a piece of home at Otto’s Tacos.

Otto’s Tacos was opened in late 2013 by Otto himself. You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy. He is always at the restaurant and is the first to tell you that he isn’t a cook – he just loves and misses southern Californian taco trucks. That’s where the idea for the restaurant came from. He assembled a top-notch culinary team and brought the restaurant to life.  the joint is super casual – order and pay at the counter and then eat the food at your seat. It isn’t huge and it isn’t about atmosphere – it’s nice and clean but this is about EATING. The restaurant makes its own corn tortillas every single day, multiple times a day, and you can see the shells for your soft tacos being pounded out as you order. The prices are really reasonable, and a couple of tacos will only cost you about 7 bucks. But come on…how satisfying could that be?

How about majorly satisfying?

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Carnitas taco

Usually my favorite type of taco. This pork is expertly made - juicy and tender but not mushy. It retains a bit of a bite, which is a pleasure compared to overly greasy versions at big box chains. It’s so juicy that it almost saturates the tray – really flavor packed with porky taste. It’s accented by a slightly spicy salsa verde and a sprinkling of cilantro and chopped onions. And that tortilla…wow.  Thick and pleasantly lumpy and doughy in some places, charred and crisp in others. It’s the difference between a hearty 7 grain bread and Wonder bread…amazing how much it adds to the final product.

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Carne Asada

That same fabulous tortilla, this time with charred, chopped steak. It’s crispy but not fatty and chopped finely so there are no unwieldy or chewy pieces. Wow…it’s actually even tastier than the carnitas, which I rarely say. This is a great amount of steak, especially for the price – not gristle or overdone, gray meat here. It just needs a hit of the hot sauce on the table and it’s a complete meal.

 Well, almost…

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Masa chips

NOW the meal is complete. These masa chips make tortilla chips look like child’s play. They are pillowy inside and very crunchy outside, with an intense, corn-y taste. Otto says that these came about by accident – they had made some dough too thick for chips, so ende dup frying the thick, un-dried dough and voila! The moisture content is what results in the crisp-fluffy texture. Dip it in the accompanying spicy chipotle sauce for a creamy sauce with a gentle heat that builds – skip the guac, which needs more lime and cilantro to make it a contender.

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Finally, don’t forget the churros.

My dining partner isn’t the biggest fan of churros and was sure he wouldn’t like  these.

Guess who ended up stealing the last one?

These arrive piping hot, drenched in cinnamon and sugar. Try not to burn your moth as you dip int into the sweet dulce de leche dipping sauce.

I would come back here in a heartbeat. The price is right, the food is great, and it’s the next best thing to a flight back home.

Plus, I can take the subway home instead of sitting in traffic on the 101.

Disclaimer: This was a press meal and the restaurant paid for me. I was not required to write a review and the opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Creamy Mexican Corn Dip

Remember when I made that awesome corn recipe last summer but I never quite posted the recipe?

So sorry for that.

I am here to rectify the situation, no matter how late.

And I rectified it in the winter! In a way you can eat it with chips!

And…I hate to say..it might even be better than it was this summer.

After all, it’s cheaper, it can be made ahead of time in vast quantities, and we wear big coats to hide our spare tires. 

Creamy Mexican Corn Dip

corn dip

Ingredients:

3 cans corn

2 serano chiles, diced

2.5 cups nonfat greek yogurt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

3 chopped chipotles in adobo, with some of the sauce

3/4 cup fresh cilantro, cleaned and chopped

Juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lime

1 bunch scallions, chopped

1/2 block feta or cotija cheese, crumbled

1.5 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. each cumin and coriander

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1. Put the corn and jalapenos in a very hot and heavy skillet or grill pan. The idea is to char it over high heat so there are some burned, crunchy parts. It should take about 5 minutes.

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2. In the meanwhile, mix together all of the other ingredients.

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3. Add the corn mixture to the bowl with the other ingredients.

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4. Refrigerate for an hour and then taste for seasonings. I tend to like mine on the tarter, spicier side, but you can make your own decisions.

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5. Serve with tortilla chips.

This stuff is so delicious – this makes a huge portion and it was gone within an hour at our Superbowl shindig. It is sweet and savory and spicy and creamy. The heat is very mild but enough so that you sit up and take notice. The char on the corn brings an earthy, savory note and the lime juice perks everything up. Don’t forget to use full fat mayo, because it rounds out the tangy taste of the yogurt. However, most of the mixture here is made from nonfat yogurt, so it really isn’t that bad for you. I mean, it is if you eat it with a ton of beer and some mini chicken Parmesan sliders like we did.

This is perfect for those who are kosher, gluten free, or vegetarian. Though, it might be even better by crumbling in some smoky bacon.

Hmmm…that would be good….

Expect yet another version of this recipe soon.

Slow Cooker Low Fat Carnitas

As promised, I am breaking out my slow cooker this year!  I present to you a recipe that is not only easy, it is lean and it is insanely flavorful.

Carnitas is basically Mexican pulled pork. Traditionally, it’s slowly cooked for hours with a very fatty cut of meat and tons of herbs and spices until the meat breaks down into juicy pieces. Then, it’s fried in its own fat until some pieces are juicy and tender and others are crispy and crackly. It’s often served in warm tortillas with tart tomatillo salsa.

This is the easier, leaner version. And it’s fantastic, if I do say so myself.

Don’t skimp on the fresh orange juice – it totally transforms the taste of the pork. And also, don’t expect it to be as delicious as carnitas made from a fattier cut of meat – fat is always best. But considering how tight my jeans are, loin is really a better choice here.

Besides, I topped it with quite a hefty amount of guac and Greek yogurt, so I got my fat in that way.

Booyah.

Slow Cooker Low Fat Carnitas:

carnitasIngredients:

1.5 lbs. pork loin, cut into chunks, fat left on

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 large onion, cut into thick slices

juice and zest of 2 oranges

1/2 cup of beer

2 bay leaves

3 smoked chipotles in adobo, plus the sauce from the can

2 tbsp. each taco seasoning(including salt), coriander, and cinnamon

toppings: scallions, lime juice, cilantro, guacamole, etc.

IMG_06171. Dump all ingredients except garnishes – yes, ALL ingredients – into your slow cooker. Turn it on high and let it cook for 6 – 8 hours.
IMG_06202. When it is falling apart and tender, it is done. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. You can eat this like a hearty Mexican stew or…
IMG_06313. You may refrigerate it over night. Just ignore that grease that hardens on top. It’ the flavor and there is so little fora huge amount of meat that you really need it. I recommend letting this sit for a night because, like most slow cooked food, this gets much better with some resting time over night.
IMG_06354. Shred with a fork, a la pulled chicken, then reheat gently in a saucepan.

IMG_06375. Serve with accompaniments and enjoy.

This is why the slow cooker rocks. It makes a vibrant, healthy, wonderfully tasty meal with almost no work at all - just some very simple prep. The beer makes the pork tender and savory and the chipotles add a smoky, gentle heat. The orange juice is a key player here. It adds a sweet, fresh tang to the meat – that’s why lime juice, which echoes the citrus, is so great as a garnish. The meat is very tender, like short ribs, and though it can be a little dry (because it has almost no fat), it’s ideal in a burrito or taco salad.

IMG_0642Spicy, soft, meaty, and low fat, to boot…if this doesn’t convince you to buy a slow cooker, I don’t know what will!

Mad Square Eats – Bring Your Stretchy Pants

After many years of letting this semi-annual event pass me by, I finally dragged myself to Madison Square Eats

And then I had to roll myself home.

This foodie haven consists of various restaurants, carts, and food purveyors who gather near Madison Square Park for a month each season to stuff you with all the goodies your blood pressure can handle. We went on a Tuesday night and it was relatively crowded, so leave the Saturday nights to chumps and go there early in the morning if you must make this trip a weekend one. However, that night, the crowds were manageable. We even managed to score a small table (by watching its dawdling inhabitants like hawks).

And the food. Was. Great!

Roberta’s

IMG_20131001_200837_109First and foremost, we visited this station because, really…how could we not? Roberta’s is known for its pizza, and it really delivers. Thin, supple crust with an earthy, deep char that makes even a  vegetarian pie taste meaty and satisfying. IMG_20131001_200827_219 I must be the only person on the planet who does not love the Bee sting – the sauce is sensational – really spicy – but the honey is just too prevalent for my tastes. I’m not a fan. The special Supe Lace pizza, above, however, is dynamite. I can’t get over the crust – its’ just masterful. The sauce is bright and so vibrant that it’s practically alive, (in a good way, not a creepy way) and the cheese is both plentiful and tasty, but really…it’s the crust that takes the cake. It’s so delicious that I am literally dreaming of it. No matter how long this line is stand on it.

And get two pies at least.

I mean, we’re not fooling around here.

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Delaney BBQ taco stand.

So delicious that I ACTUALLY almost cried. That freakin awesome.

IMG_20131001_194820_056Their brisket is just so good. Tender, juicy, and really well seasoned – salt and pepper in every bite. It has a satisfying steak-like chew and it’s expertly  hand chopped. But the best part here are the accouterments. The soft, pliant tortilla, the acidic onions, the sharp cheese melting int he warmth and that chile sauce.

Be still, my heart.

That. Chile. SAUCE. Seriously wonderful. It isn’t hot at all, just heartily spiced with roasted chiles, cumin, and garlic. It reminds me of Taco Bell in the best way possible (is there a bad way to remind one of Tco Bell?)

I wolfed it down.

Trust me, you will, too.

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Vinh Dog at AsiaDog

IMG_20131001_194154_190This banh mi style dog is da BOMB mi.

Yes, I went there. It’s my blog, so I can do stuff like that.

Anyway, AsiaDog is really great! The hot dogs are juicy and not too salty, with an audible “snap” as you bite into them. The buns are well buttered ant toasted, adding to the taste and texture of the dish instead of just being a supporting player. At first, the cold, crisp vegetables are a little odd, temperature wise, next to the dog, but by the third bite, you will be hooked. They could have a heavier hadn with the pate but a little squirt of sriracha and mustard helps bring the umami flavor home. I would totally go back to Asia Dog and highly recommend it!They were also extremely fast in delivering your food.

I didn’t’ even get to half  of the eats that I tasted or half of the food that was offered! Brig some cash and bring some stretchy pants – and don’t wait as long as I did to get to Mad Square Eats!



 

Bone Marrow Guacamole

Fat on fat is generally a good thing. Think bacon on cheeseburgers. Sour cream on chili. Whipped bream on…well, everything.

That’s what she said.

Anyway, that’s where the idea came from for this guacamole. Today, September 16, is National Guacamole Day. Well, in honor of that, I simply HAD to concoct something awesome. I love me some traditional guac, but come on, let’s mix it up a little!

And what better way to mix it up than with marrow?

I sing my praises for marrow here, and they are sincere. I simply love the slippery, soft texture and the wonderfully fatty taste. It is reminiscent of foie gras, but guess what? Since it isn’t technically an organ meat, that fat is unsaturated! So what could be better than pairing it with my other unsaturated fatty favorite, avocado?!

This uses traditional accompaniments to bone marrow like shallots and parsley and uses avocado’s best friend, a hit of acid. This is unlike any guac you have ever had.

Bone Marrow Guacamole

Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado

1 tbsp. bone marrow (roasted until brown on top and totally opaque)

1/2 shallot, roughly chopped

1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped

1 splash champagne vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

IMG_03411. Combine the avocados, shallots, parsley, and a splash of white wine vinegar.  IMG_03452. Add the warm bone marrow. Mix the marrow with the avocado mixture, add salt and pepper to taste, and keep on tasting. You may need a touch more acid or salt – the fat eats up those flavors.  IMG_03493. Serve immediately.

Yes, it’s really that simple. Just cut a few produce items, cook a coupla cow bones, and there you have it. The shallots and white wine vinegar are the unsung heroes of this dish – they tie together the fatty, creamy components and add both crunch and brightness. The marrow will likely melt into the avocados, which is why you should serve this immediately – no one wants a cold, congealed hunk of marrow. This is elegant and a bit more subtle than the traditional jalapeno laced version. Even if you are making this for 3 or 4 people, only use the one avocado at first – this is so rich that you won’t want more than a few bites on a tortilla or pita chip. IMG_0350And now you know that the only thing that makes fat better is: more fat.

Baked Figs, Greek Rice, and Mexican Corn: The “So Close” Files

I try to be a good blogger. 

I tell you about my favorite restaurants.

I do giveaways of awesome cheese and chocolate.

I even take one for the team and eat copious amounts of fat and salt(tough job but somebody has to do it).

However, every now and then I really mess up.

Like when I cook truly fabulous dishes, photographing every step of the process…and neglect to take a beauty shot of the final product.

I mean, what’s a blog without a beauty shot?

It’s like Honey Boo Boo without Go-Go Juice. 

There are some dishes that I really wish I had properly photographed.

pix 065Like these  baked figs.

Figs are great right now and they are going to get even better later in the month. If you cut them in a cross pattern not ALL of the way through, but just until they sort of open like a blossom, you can then bake them at 350F for 20 minutes. When they start to leach a sweet, sticky syrup and are very soft to the touch, they are done. Serve them immediately with sweetened, slightly thickened (or totally whipped) cream, and they will be the hit of the night. Sweet, creamy, warm, and cool. I made this at a dinner party, and my guests were shocked at how quickly dessert came together and how delicious it was. Something this seasonal should have been blogged.

pix 044Like this loaded Greek rice.

It’s just plain old converted rice with sauteed onions, garlic, and zucchini mixed with some rice, dill, lemon zest, and feta cheese. However, did you ever wonder what makes the rice at Chipotle so delicious? Here’s a hint: it isn’t the cilantro. It’s oil. So, by adding the cooked rice directly to the veggie sautee pan, the rice gets a slight sheen of oil that totally transforms this dish. It is lush, bright, and so satisfying. Something this satisfying should have been blogged.

pix 011Like this Mexican style corn.

Sure I mostly just followed this recipe, but I used chipotles in adobo instead of dried chipotle powder, fat free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and added cumin and pulverized jalapenos. I slathered in on freshly steamed corn cobs and whoa…it was incredible. Sweet, rich, salty, spicy…it actually lived up to my hopes. Something this tasty should have been blogged. 

Yes, these should all have been blogged. There is no excuse – I was just hungry or tired or there was a Real Housewives reunion on tv and I got distracted.

I promise to do better in the future.

*If anyone is interested in the detailed recipes for these dishes, please leave a comment and I’ll happily post them!*