What’s the difference between bisque and chowder? September 25, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: corn, corn bisque, corn chowder, corn recipes, corn soup
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been thinking that a warm, inviting corn chowder would make the perfect “farewell to summer” dish, creamy and corny as it is. I had an idea for the ingredients, since I wanted the soup to be rich and gorgeous but not bland. But before I actually made it, I wanted to check what other people were putting in their corn chowders. And somewhere in my search, I encountered corn bisque.
Bisque! Even if we’ve never had it, I imagine most of us have heard of lobster bisque, that elegant dish from a bygone age. (I can picture it being served with great pomp and style on the Titanic.) I’ve never eaten it, but I remember smelling it, with its delicate aromas of lobster, cognac (or sherry) and cream. Mmmmm!!!
But corn bisque? When is a creamy corn soup a bisque and not a chowder? Turns out, when the ingredients are pureed into a single smooth, silky consistency. Chowder, on the other hand, features chunks of its ingredients in a creamy base. Needless to say, it was considered the workingman’s version, since it took a lot more trouble to create a puree in those days without a food processor, immersion blender, or blender. It all had to be done by hand. And that perfect, silky-smooth texture didn’t come cheap. Especially when the crustaceans’ shells (I’m afraid so) were incorporated into the bisque, as was traditional. Eeeeewwww!!!
Well, give me the chowder any day. But I intend to try to compensate for the pureeing with canned creamed corn. See what you think of my recipe:
Silence’s Creamy Corn Chowder
2 (14.75 oz.) cans creamed corn
1 package frozen white corn kernels, or two large ears white corn, kernels cut off cobs
1 pint light cream
1 box veggie stock (aka broth), any brand
1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), diced
1 8-ounce box whole button mushrooms, minced
3 red new potatoes, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
4 tablespoons salted butter
salt and pepper to taste
To make the chowder, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, such as a Dutch oven. (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens for soups.) Saute the onion with the salt and pepper until it clarifies, then add the mushrooms, cooking until they release their juices. Add the new potatoes, cooking until softened and glistening, then the bell pepper pieces, then the fresh or frozen corn kernels. (If the veggies start to stick to the pan during cooking, add a splash of veggie stock/broth as needed.) When the veggies are aromatic and soft, add the cans of creamed corn and slowly pour in the light cream. Stir to combine and check the thickness; add veggie stock/broth as needed to thin out to the consistency you want. Heat through and serve.
As you can see, this is all about the corn, creamy, fresh, or frozen. I’m not, for once, even adding herbs or spices to distract from corn’s delicate flavor. You could add a pinch of basil, or a pinch of garam masala, or a pinch of ground fenugreek, or even a very small splash of white wine, sherry, sherry vinegar, or the like. But I’d recommend starting with the basic recipe and modifying it later if you thought it needed something. The flavor’s delicate but rich, like a good chowder should be, and it’s thick enough to hold its own as a meal with a hearty salad and a hot loaf of multigrain bread.
‘Til next time,
Why don’t astilbes spread? September 24, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
Tags: astilbe 'Professor van der Weilen', astilbes, growing astilbes, growing astilbes from seed, propagating astilbes
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Our friend Ben was sitting on our back deck the other night, enjoying the plump, seed-filled plumes of our favorite astilbe, ‘Professor van der Weilen’. (The good Professor is a cultivar—cultivated variety—dating back to 1917, with arching white flower plumes, as opposed to the upright plumes of most astilbes.) Our plant has formed a very handsome clump over the years, and this year, it’s especially impressive, with lots of arching seedheads.
But I’ve never seen a single seedling. Friends have given us many nice astilbes over the years, and they’ve all thrived in our shade garden, but they’ve never sent up any little astilbes, either. In fact, all of them came from divisions cut off from the mature plants, not from seed-grown plants. Given their vigor and longevity, our friend Ben would have expected to see a forest of astilbes coming up among the hostas, hellebores, geraniums, ferns, bleeding hearts, and other shade-loving plants in this particular garden. But no: The astilbes hold their own just fine, but that’s the end of it.
Gardeners are often cautioned not to plant seeds of prized cultivars, since they seldom come true, i.e., replicate the parent plant. That’s fine, good advice and all that, but what if you don’t care if your seedlings grow up to look and act exactly like their parents, you just want, say, more astilbes?!! Obviously, some astilbe seeds must be viable, or breeders would never be able to create new cultivars. But why weren’t our plants giving us seedlings when they were producing so many seeds?
This time, my good friend Google gave me conflicting advice. Some sites said that astilbe seeds were sterile and the only way to propagate the plants was through divisions. But another group said they’d grown astilbes from seed after ordering them from seed companies and babying them like crazy.
Yowie kazowie. I don’t want to coddle any seeds around here, just let the seedlings come up where they will. And I certainly don’t want to be huffing and puffing with a garden spade dividing plants. I guess we’ll just be enjoying the astilbes we have, checking out plant sales, and thanking our friends for any divisions they care to share with us. Meanwhile, if you haven’t tried ‘Professor van der Weilen’ in your shade garden, at almost 100 years old he’s apparently still available. We think you’d enjoy making his acquaintance!
Happy Hobbit Day! September 23, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Hobbit Day, hobbits, JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
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Today, September 22, is Hobbit Day. And as huge fans of JRR Tolkien’s beloved book The Hobbit and all things hobbit, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac thought we’d celebrate with a quiz. See how much you really know about hobbits! The answers will follow the quiz, but no cheating, now:
1. Bilbo Baggins lived to be:
d) no one knows
2. Bilbo’s home was called:
b) Bag End
c) Bag Hall
3. Frodo Baggins was originally called:
a) Fungo, after a cartoon ferret
b) Drogo, after a horse lord from “Game of Thrones”
c) Bingo, after a toy koala
d) Groucho, after a popular comedian
4. A song was written as a tribute to Bilbo. Who wrote and performed it?
a) Captain Kangaroo
b) David Bowie
c) Michael Jackson
d) Leonard Nimoy
5. Who tried to steal Bilbo’s silverware, auction off his belongings, and move into his house?
a) a gang of trolls
b) Samwise Gamgee
c) the Sackville-Bagginses
d) the Black Riders
6. The wizard Gandalf came to Bilbo’s final birthday party. Why?
a) for old times’ sake
b) to shoot off fireworks
c) to check in on old Bilbo
d) to take the Ring of Power for himself
7. Where does Bilbo want to go when he “retires”?
a) to Laketown
b) to the halls of the Elvenking in Mirkwood
c) to Mordor
d) to Elrond’s halls in Rivendell (Imladris)
8. To which of these hobbits is Bilbo Baggins related?
a) The Old Took
b) Belladonna Took
c) Bullroarer Took
d) Peregrine Took (Pippin)
9. What do Bilbo and the creature Gollum do when they meet?
a) eat raw fish Gollum has just strangled
b) play chess
c) exchange riddles
d) show their childhood photos and exchange childhood memories
10. What is a hobbit?
a) a small, quiet, singular creature that inhabits Middle-Earth along with larger beings like dwarves, elves, and men
b) the name is a cross between rabbits and humans; JRR Tolkien created them to amuse his young children
c) a heroic small race whose attributes, though modest, enabled first Bilbo and then Frodo and Sam to save the day when no other race could
d) the hero of a parable: YOU can save the day (or the world), no matter how unimportant you—and everyone else—thinks you are
And now for the answers:
1. d) Bilbo sailed away with the Elves at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy; no one knows how old he lived to be.
2. b) Bag End. It’s basically in a luxury suburb of Hobbiton (as opposed to Bree or Bywater).
3. c) Frodo was originally called Bingo, after Tolkiens’s sons’ toy koalas. And Frodo was originally Bilbo’s son, not his nephew!
4. d) Leonard Nimoy. Good thing Doctor Spock mostly stuck to acting! Though you could certainly call his performance “out of this world.” Yowie kazowie!
5. c) Bilbo’s greedy, hateful, pretentious relatives, the Sackville-Bagginses.
6. a-c) Any or all of the first three would be correct as to why Bilbo’s dear old friend came to his 111th birthday party.
7. d) Bilbo had a fascination with Elves from the time he was a little hobbit, and when he actually saw Rivendell, he fell in love with them and their lifestyle.
8. a-d) Bilbo is a Took through and through on his mother Belladonna’s side; he’s related to all of them, even the foolish but lovable Peregrine Took (Pippin).
9. c) JRR Tolkien, a scholar of ancient Norse cultures and literature, must have found a connecting link across cultures in riddling. While it’s hard to imagine meeting someone now, especially a potential enemy, and challenging them to a game of riddles, Tolkien either found this plausible or didn’t want to scare his little boys, for whom The Hobbit was written.
10. a-d) All of the above. Hard to believe that Tolkien started out imagining hobbits as rabbit-sized people who lived in humanized rabbit holes, given the great importance they’ve taken on in the popular imagination. But there you are!
How’d you do? Happy Hobbit Day from our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders here at Poor Richard’s Almanac!
New stinkbug nightmares. September 21, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: brown marmorated stinkbug, carpet beetles, combating stinkbugs, stinkbug season, stinkbugs
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re familiar with any of my previous stinkbug posts, such as “When will stinkbugs go away?” (type this in on our search bar at upper right to read more), you’ll know how much I hate brown marmorated* stinkbugs, those creepy shield-shaped bugs that sneak into your house in fall, lurk unobtrusively in the curtains, then dive-bomb you when you’re, say, writing a blog post. Talk about a test of my cardiac fitness!
Not that they bite or sting or anything. Though I did have a friend who drank one in her coffee. (She said it took days to get the taste out of her mouth.) It’s just scary to hear a buzz come out of nowhere and a bug land on your tee-shirt, pillow, or whatever. They also don’t “stink” in the common sense of the term: They don’t smell like manure, like rotting food, like burned rubber or hair, like garbage, like body odor, like a fish market, or basically like anything else I’ve ever smelled. They smell like stinkbug. Once you’ve smelled one, you’ll never forget that smell.
This is stinkbug season, when the stinkbugs start migrating into house walls to spend a restful winter hibernating away from the cold and brutal outdoor conditions. And, always, some of those stinkbugs get into your house, and the dive-bombing begins. The news has been full of warnings about this. But yesterday, I saw the worst stinkbug news I could ever have imagined: Finally, we have a predator for these Asian imports.
Now, this should be great news. Normally, the reason pests like Japanese beetles spread and ravage our landscapes is that they’re inadvertently imported with produce or whatever and the predators that keep them in check back home aren’t. Once they arrive here, none of our native birds and other natural predators of insects want anything to do with them. So they proliferate, wreaking havoc on our fruits, veggies, and ornamental plants.
But a superhero bug has shown up to consume the evil stinkbug! Only it’s worse than any stinkbug could be for homeowners. At least, for homeowners like me. According to the article I read yesterday, stinkbug carcasses in your home attract carpet beetles. And carpet beetles, as their name suggests, are attracted to carpets. As Sue Kittek, author of the article, chillingly puts it, “after the [carpet] beetles are done with the stinkbugs, they’ll move on to eat woolens and dried goods stored in your house.” In my case, that means the priceless oriental carpets I inherited from my parents. Nooooo!!!!
Fortunately, Sue has an easy solution for this: Make sure you get rid of the dead stinkbugs, either by vacuuming them up or by hand-picking them and then disposing of them. This means regular patrolling of the house. We’re good about this here at Hawk’s Haven, and have never found enough to warrant vacuuming; we just pick up the dead ones and trash them, and pick up the live ones and toss them out the door. (If you do have enough to vacuum, everyone says that you should dispose of your vacuum bags to avoid a dreadful stink.) Whatever the case, don’t forget about those carpet beetles. Yikes! And during stinkbug season, always look in your mug or glass before you drink.
‘Til next time,
* Apparently, “marmorated” means “marbled,” given the ornate if unimpressive squiggles on the backs of their shells.
Chewable toothpaste. September 17, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: thyroiditis, toothpaste tablets
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Silence Dogood here. For most people, brushing your teeth is just another routine chore, like taking a shower or clipping your nails. But for me, it’s a dreaded ordeal. I have thyroiditis, and, for whatever reason, when I stick a toothbrush in my mouth, it usually makes me throw up. NOT fun!
So you can imagine how excited I was to read about toothpaste tablets in yesterday’s newsfeed. Toothpaste tablets?! I instantly pictured the equivalent of Greenies and other dog treats that cleaned dogs’ teeth while they chewed on them. The thought of chewing on a toothpaste tablet, even if I had to do it for ten minutes, spit out the remains, and wash out my mouth, sure beat throwing up.
I rushed to my good friend Google to see if this was true, or too good to be true. It turns out to be a little of both. There actually are toothpaste tablets, marketed both for children who are toothpaste-averse and for travelers who don’t want to carry tubes of toothpaste on planes. But in every case, you chew up the tablet, then brush your teeth. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me at all. Rats! I’m not prepared to start chewing Greenies myself, so it’s back to the drawing board.
‘Til next time,
Don’t tread on me. September 16, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, critters, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Ben Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, Don't Tread on Me, General John Stark, Join or Die, Live Free or Die, rattlesnake, Rattlesnake and American freedom, Rattlesnake and American Navy, rattlesnake and Libertarians, Rattlesnake and Tea Party
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to explain why a rattlesnake became a major symbol of American resistance and independence. Our friend Ben recently asked me if the yellow flag with the coiled rattlesnake and “Don’t Tread on Me” motto hadn’t been created by our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. Then Silence Dogood said, “No, Ben, that was the flag of the rebellion in New Hampshire.” Well, no.
Ben Franklin does get all the credit for promoting the rattlesnake as a symbol of the American spirit. In 1751, Franklin, publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette, satirically suggested that, since Britain made a policy of sending criminals to America, America might return the favor by sending rattlesnakes to England. Then in 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published the first-ever political cartoon, showing a rattlesnake cut into eight pieces to represent the 13 Colonies (all New England was compressed into the head) with the message “Join, or Die.”
This “cartoon” was so powerful that it was used in the opening credits of the marvelous TV docudrama “John Adams,” and it was what our friend Ben was thinking of instead of the “Don’t Tread on Me” coiled rattlesnake flag. During the vote to ratify the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Franklin echoed the sentiment in his famous statement “Gentlemen, we had better all hang together [i.e., ratify the Declaration], or we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
So where did the “Don’t Tread on Me” (originally “Dont Tread on Me,” punctuation wasn’t that great in the Colonial period) flag originate? In South Carolina, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden designed the flag, based on a concept initiated by the first American Marines, and presented it in 1775 to the first Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, who flew it on his mainmast. No wonder OFB and Silence found it in the Naval Academy gift shop on a recent trip to Annapolis! Historians usually refer to it as the “Gadsden Flag” for that reason.
It’s easy to see why Libertarians adopted the flag as their symbol: They want to mind their own business and for the government to keep out of their private affairs. But when the Tea Party took it up, that sort of tainted it, turning it into a symbol of intolerance, bigotry, and reactionary thinking. How demoralizing for everyone who would like to display the flag as a comment on their personal feelings, without any connection to the Tea Party! It’s rather like when the Cross of Christ was co-opted as the masthead of the Spanish Inquisition. Many good Christians were tortured and died while being shown the very Cross that was the foundation of their faith.
So there you have it: What Benjamin Franklin began in 1751 and immortalized in 1754 with “Join, or Die” morphed into “Don’t Tread on Me” in 1775 and electrified the U.S. Navy into victorious action. By then, Ben’s snake cut into eight parts had indeed been united into one, coiled and ready to strike, with 13 rattles representing the 13 Colonies. More than any other symbol of American freedom, the rattlesnake ended up standing for us.
Incidentally, Silence’s mistake comes from New Hampshire’s official motto, “Live Free or Die,” penned by its Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Do you know your state’s official motto?
Why eat out? September 15, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dining out, eating out, reasons for eating out
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Silence Dogood here. Why do you go out to eat? Is it the convenience, a chance to get together with friends, a break from cooking, a “date night” with your spouse or partner (or a date, period)? Is it nostalgia for a neighborhood favorite that your parents took you to when you were growing up, the place you always went with your high-school sweetheart, or just a craving for fries, burgers, hotdogs, wings, milkshakes, and all the other bad-for-you things that you really, really love but would get a scolding for at home by the health police?
When I go out to eat, I sort of fall on the bad-for-you spectrum. My goal when dining out is to eat foods I would never make at home, and since I have a serious aversion to grease, that includes anything deep-fried or even shallow-fried. (Sauteing’s about my limit.) I’m also not a big fan of home baking, since it requires precise measurements and a lot of mess and cleanup. (Kneading, anyone?) Woking and the like aren’t exactly my specialty, either: The super-high heat and precision required are just too much for my nerves and poor coordination. Apparently, everyone else on earth can brown cubes of paneer (soft Indian cheese) and tofu effortlessly; when I try, they fall apart into pointless crumbles and never brown.
That’s why, when I go out to eat, I’ll get the baked spinach balls or flaming kasseri cheese or spanakopita or eggplant rollatini or crispy tofu triangles or tempura vegetable sushi or onion kulcha or something else that I’d never, ever make at home. None of it’s expensive, but it makes eating out such a luxury. And yes, every once in a blue moon, I’ll go for a veggie burger with crispy fried onions, barbecue sauce, and French fries. And I’ll enjoy every high-cal, deep-fried bite.
‘Til next time,
The alien phone. September 14, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: blog humor, landline phones, malfunctioning phones, Steven Wright
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Silence Dogood here. Being a Luddite, I still use a land-line phone. (Our friend Ben was finally seduced by a smartphone.) But recently, my phone has malfunctioned, directing callers to voicemail on the first ring, buzzing rather than giving me a ringtone, not letting me answer incoming calls, make calls, or access voicemail. What’s the deal, was I late with a payment? (As the comedian Steven Wright said, “If you think nobody cares if you’re dead or alive, try missing a payment.”)
But this didn’t prepare me for last night’s drama. At 1 a.m., OFB and I were awakened by the unbearably loud barking of our giant black German shepherd, Shiloh, as she charged the front door. When OFB went to investigate (while I, of course, cowered in the bedroom), he found two police officers outside! They said my phone had been dialing 911, and they had come to see if anything was wrong.
The phone had been dialing 911 by itself. I quickly disconnected it so it wouldn’t continue to call officers to the scene, and wondered who else it had been calling. Rushing to my good friend Google, I found that this had happened to other people, and that the most frequent cause was a damaged outdoor cord that had allowed water to get in and short the phone out.
Believe that if you choose, but I have another theory: That an alien has entered our home, assumed the appearance of my old phone, and been trying to contact the Mother Ship. I’ll be pitching my story to The National Enquirer next week.
‘Til next time,
In praise of marmalade. September 13, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: marmalade, marmalade recipes, uses for marmalade
Silence Dogood here. Marmalade, a less-sweet cousin of jams, preserves and jellies, is in my opinion an underrated kitchen hero. Long gone are the days when you could only get orange marmalade, often stuffed with sugar (or, gasp, high-fructose corn syrup) and sadly lacking in actual orange and orange zest. Now real all-fruit orange marmalade, lemon marmalade, lime marmalade, grapefruit marmalade, blood orange marmalade, even ginger marmalade is available.
So okay, you’ve got your jar of marmalade and you’ve got it home from the store. Now what? Well, it’s great for breakfast on toast, English muffins, croissants, crumpets, or as a glaze on hot scones. (With butter, people, butter.) But that’s just the beginning. Because marmalade isn’t super-sweet but is super-flavorful with its citrus or ginger hit, it’s perfect on other things as well. Think of it as a glaze on cheesecake or chicken, or paired with feta cheese in a phyllo wrap or cream cheese in a wanton wrap or topping baked Brie. And think what some marmalade could do to add complexity to your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce!
Marmalade is also a very versatile substitute for other sauces and dressings. You can use it in place of duck sauce, orange sauce, General Tso’s sauce, and the like if you find yourself out of them and need dipping sauce for spring rolls or egg rolls or sauce for Chinese dishes. It’s delicious as a substitute if you run out of chutney and are serving Indian food. (Ditto for adding to dal, baked beans, lentil stew, and the like.) It’s also great mixed with oil, Dijon mustard, and vinegar in a salad dressing for fruit- or cheese-based salads. Not to mention as a glaze for piecrust, or a topping for cake or vanilla ice cream. (Our favorite is Ben & Jerry’s.)
For the adventurous, I’d suggest an omelet stuffed with cream cheese and/or shredded Swiss cheese and a (very) thin layer of orange marmalade. It’s the adult version of Dr. Seuss’s famous “green eggs” (made by scrambling eggs with Concord grape jelly, which turns them green); your choice whether to add the ham (or Canadian bacon). With adequate salt and some toasted, buttered English muffins, you might become addicted. Try it and see!
‘Til next time,
Cats and sliding glass doors. September 12, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets.
Tags: cats, cats and sliding glass doors, escaping cats, indoor cats, keeping cats safe, outdoor cats
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve had a nightmare the past year with our two indoor cats, Linus and Layla. They’re half-siblings (cats can have kittens by multiple fathers at the same birth) who were born outside at our country cottage, Hawk’s Haven, to a feral cat who was hit by a car or, more likely, shot by some monster we later discovered was shooting outdoor cats for target practice, when they were just kittens. So we brought the kittens inside and raised them as indoor cats.
That’s been seven years now, and they’ve both been very happy with us. However, the sliding glass door that opens onto our back deck has always been an issue, since that was where they were born and lived as kittens before their mother died. Every now and then, one or the other would rush out the door before we could shut it, no matter how vigilant we would try to be about monitoring their whereabouts. This usually had to do with getting our black German Shepherd, Shiloh, in or out of the house. Mercifully, the escaping cat would usually recognize that it had made a terrible mistake and let itself be “caught” and brought back inside immediately.
But over the past year, we’ve had both cats run out and stay out for months. First, our beloved Linus escaped last summer and didn’t allow himself to be “caught” until winter was almost upon us. First, he simply vanished without trace. But a month or so later, he returned and lived on the property, showing up and yowling like mad to get our attention, until he finally let me grab him and bring him back inside on Christmas Eve, the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. As soon as he was back indoors, he acted as though he’d never been away, displaying zero interest in a second escape attempt.
But then this spring, Layla, not to be outdone, escaped from the same door in the same manner and remained outdoors until this week. She, too, simply disappeared for a month, then returned and hung out around the house, yowling and following us around, demanding to be petted but refusing to come inside. (Of course, we put out food and water in both cases.) Finally, I got her to come in, and just like Linus, she acted like she’d never been away.
Last night, I had a nightmare where we had a third outside cat, who was grey like Layla but lacked her white markings and peridot-green eyes. As with Linus and Layla, I was simply terrified that she’d be hit by a car or shot by the crazy neighbor. (Mercifully, I think he’s left our area now, since neither Linus nor Layla was murdered.) What a relief that it was just a dream!
Point being that I don’t know how to secure a sliding glass door when I’ve opened it to go outside, and especially not with the dog in tow. I try to watch as vigilantly as I can, but sometimes it just takes a second or two too long. (I say “I” here because this has never happened when our friend Ben was taking the dog out.) Our dog Shiloh recognizes that her job on returning to the house is to chase Linus to make sure he doesn’t try to escape, and she’s usually good at that. But it’s not fair to place responsibility on her for keeping the cats safe.
Do any of you have good ideas for keeping cats from running out sliding glass doors? We’d be so grateful to hear them!
‘Til next time,