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Raw chicken parts floating in cold water.

For some reason I didn’t get a picture of the yummy broth I got from this pot, but you can imagine. Although I haven’t been posting don’t think I haven’t been cooking. I do have a life outside of blogging, you know. I’ve decided to start planning out my meals for the week, and Monday’s supper was flu chaser soup, a New England Soup Factory recipe that was adapted on this blog (thanks to the birthday girl Jen for sending this to me). This is such a delicious soup, and perfect for flu season. It has three, count ’em, three heads of roasted garlic, lemon juice from three lemons, 3 tbsp. of ginger, and lots of yummy basil and mint. Wellness in a bowl! The thing about it though, is the recipe makes a lot and calls for 12 cups of chicken broth.

The only pot I have that’s big enough for that is my lobster pot, which is ridiculously big, so I usually just make it in my dutch oven, simmer uncovered for a while and then fill with water to the right consistency. It turns out wonderfully. There really is nothing like good home-made chicken broth for a soup like this; I do keep bouillon cubes in my pantry, but just for emergencies. Instead, when I want to cook chicken I buy a whole chicken and cut it up myself. I’ve gotten rather good at butchering a chicken, and one of these days I’ll post about that. Usually I don’t need the backs or necks, so I just keep them in a ziploc back in my freezer. When I’ve amassed enough I just throw them into some cold water with some celery and onion, bring to a boil with a teaspoon or two of kosher salt, and then simmer for an hour or so. Skim off the foam as it cooks, strain, and use however you wish.

There are a million different ways to make chicken broth, and this is certainly not the most refined, but it works well enough for me and is SO EASY.

I’ve been thinking about cornbread a lot lately and don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten my quest for my perfect cornbread. I’m still on the trial, but have gotten sidetracked by work (I do have a day job) and mothering a toddler (that’s my other day job). Also, we’ve decided to take a last minute trip to the Yucatan and leave on Wednesday! I’ll post before then, hopefully. Stay tuned.

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Surprisingly enough, this is my first attempt at frying chicken. Standing over a pot of oil has never been my favorite way to cook, and the mysteries surrounding the crisp skin and moist meat was something I happily left to other people. But, yesterday my husband announced that he was craving fried chicken and I figured I should make it for him since he’s been pretty good about helping out around the house lately (nothing like encouraging good behavior with naughty food). Besides, I figure it’s high time I fry myself a chicken.

I decided to use Martha Hall Foose’s recipe from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. I chose this one because it seemed to be pretty beginner-friendly. She has a lot of  helpful notes in the margins, and admits up front that there are a million different ways to fry a chicken, none of them wrong. She recommends that beginners use an electric skillet, which of course, I don’t have. I can really see how it would help though; keeping the temperature constant was difficult. You can see in the picture that some of the pieces ended up rather dark. It didn’t affect the taste as much as I thought; these were some delicious pieces of bird. I added a brining step, which I always do with chicken when I have time. It adds so much flavor and moisture. Usually I’d brine for 8-12 hours, but I didn’t have that much time on this one. So, I brined it (1/4 c. of kosher salt to 1 qt. water, mix enough to cover chicken) for 3-4 hours.

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Foose recommends soaking in buttermilk and  hot sauce, so I figured I’d try it. It didn’t seem to make the chicken spicy, but I’m sure it added something to the final taste. I soaked the pieces in 1 1/2 c. buttermilk and 2 tbsp. of hot sauce for about 3 hours. Then, I was ready to fry. After letting the pieces drain on a wire rack, I patted them dry and put some flour into a ziplock bag, along with salt and pepper. I shook one piece at a time in the bag so that they were fully covered and placed them back on the rack so that they would be ready to go once the oil was hot enough.

I melted the last of the neutral lard I rendered in my dutch oven. It wasn’t quite a cup, so I added about another cup or so of vegetable shortening so that the melted fat was a little over 1/2 ” in the pan. Then, you have to use a thermometer to make sure the oil stays a constant temperature. Bring it up to 365 degrees then gently slip the chicken into the oil skin side down. I fried in two batches; half of the chicken at a time. I didn’t want to overcrowd the pan, and figured if I messed up the first batch I might do better on the second. As I said, it was very difficult to keep the temperature constant. You really have to keep turning the knob up and down. I don’t know if this would be easier or harder with electric burners.

So you put the chicken in skin side down, and cook partially covered for 6 minutes. After 6 minutes are up, rearrange the pieces, but don’t flip them. Cover and cook for 6 more minutes. Turn chicken over and cook for another 8 minutes for white meat and 12 minutes for dark meat, rearranging halfway through. Chicken will be deep brown and should be cooked all the way through. Season with salt and pepper if needed (I didn’t feel like mine needed additional seasoning, maybe b/c of the brining). I had to add more shortening between batches to make sure that the fat comes halfway up the chicken.

Turned out delicious! I served it with steamed broccoli, macaroni and cheese, and tomato gravy.

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I love Christmas sweets: the fudge, cookies, and chocolate covered salty things that come out during the holidays. Eventually, though, I start to want something savory and hearty; something that will stick to your bones through the chilly (and in New England downright cold) dark evenings of winter. In my family this means gumbo.

My dad grew up in southwest Louisiana, Abbeville to be precise. Home of Steen’s syrup, and numerous outstanding eateries which serve up plates of seafood fresh from the Gulf. In Abbeville there’s always a pot of gumbo on the stove around Christmas time and the first thing relatives say when you walk in the door is, “you want some gumbo, sha?” At my Grandparent’s house they’ll also offer you a bowl of potato salad, which goes surprisingly well with gumbo; the potatoes cut nicely through the spice.

The Louisiana I know doesn’t put tomatoes in gumbo. My dad claims that west of Morgan City you don’t see tomatoes in gumbo. Sure enough, Paul Prudhomme, from Opelousas, cooks gumbo just like my people in Abbeville. Still, Talk About Good, the Junior League cookbook of Lafayette, has several recipes for gumbo with tomatoes in it. My theory is that tomatoes in a gumbo is more Creole than Cajun, and there is a definite difference. With Creole cuisine there is a noticeable Spanish, Caribbean influence; in Creole recipes you see more bay leaves, herbs, and tomatoes. New Orleans cuisine tends more toward Creole. Cajun cooking, on the other hand, is country cooking using very simple ingredients: stewed meats (or seafood); a short list of vegetables including the “trinity” of onion, bell pepper and celery; seasoned with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Surprising to some, gumbo in southwest Louisiana doesn’t always have okra in it. An okra gumbo is made differently; without a roux. That’s a post for another time. What we call gumbo others might call stew with more water. Whatever you call it, I promise you’ll call it good.

This is the gumbo that I make most: chicken and sausage. The sausage doesn’t have to be andouille; but it should be smoked. My husband says this is his favorite meal. He could eat it every night, I think. Cook it a day ahead so that the flavors can really mingle. The key to cooking this is the roux. If you can master a dark enough roux (and it does take practice) your gumbo will most assuredly be delicious.

Chicken & Andouille Gumbo

For a chicken and sausage gumbo: buy a broiler and cut it up. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a little red pepper. Brown chicken and set aside.

In a separate heavy bottomed pot make a dark roux:
1 c. canola (or other high heat oil)
1 c. all-purpose flour

Over medium-high heat pour oil and flour into the pot and stir to combine. I find a wooden spatula works best. Cooking at this temperature means that you need to constantly stir the roux. I mean don’t stop for one minute, especially as the roux starts to darken. If you need to stop and go do something take it off the heat entirely, but I don’t recommend that. It’s important to know when a roux is burned. A roux is burned when it starts smoking a lot and gets black specks in it. Plus, it really smells burned. You can cook a really dark roux that some people might think is burned, but if it doesn’t smell burned then, well, it’s not. It can burn in an instant though. If you suspect you’ve burned it just throw that batch away and start over (it’s just flour and oil after all). Alton Brown says you can cook a roux in the oven, just mix together the oil and flour in a dutch oven and stick it in the oven for an hour and a half. I’ve never done this but it would be worth a try! By the way, be very careful not to splatter as you stir; it’s sometimes called Cajun napalm for good reason. Stir gently.

When the roux is the color of dark chocolate and thick enough to leave a fleeting trail behind the spatula, pull it off the heat.
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Stir in about 1-2 chopped onions, 1 chopped bell pepper and 3-4 stalks chopped celery. (It’s all “about” because you do it to taste and how you prefer it to turn out). Return the roux and chopped vegetables to medium heat and cook until the vegetables are soft and begin to release their moisture (the roux will darken a bit more at this point but not much). Enjoy the wonderful smell, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to look transparent, about ten minutes or so.

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Add about 8 cups of chicken stock or water. Add salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.  Then bring the stock to a furious boil to set the seasonings.

Lower the heat to simmer and add the chicken pieces (I add the neck and the back to in order to maximize the flavor). Skim foam from surface and let chicken simmer until it is falling off the bone. I always pick out most of the bones if I’m feeding the gumbo to company who might be finicky about bones, but for family I just pick out the more offensive pieces, such as the back, neck, and skin. Regardless, keep them in there as long as possible because they add a ton of flavor. The gumbo will simmer for something like an hour. About 30 minutes before you will eat add the sausage. If you love the smoky flavor add the sausage earlier but be careful not to overcook it; it’ll get tough.

Spoon gumbo over rice and serve with a green salad or potato salad and some white French bread if you wish.

Fall is officially here; the weather is getting cooler and I finally went out and ripped up most of the dead plants in the garden. There were still a ton of green tomatoes though, so I picked them and created a meal around them. As you know, I love fried green tomatoes, but don’t really enjoy frying things that much, and can really only eat so many of them. So, I decided to make a green tomato casserole. This robust side dish needed an entree that wouldn’t be overshadowed by the zing of the tomatoes so I decided to make my grandmother’s “hot Italian roast beef” with some rice. It was a perfect meal for a cool autumn evening, and we’re still eating the roast on sandwiches.

Green Tomato Casserole

5-6 medium sized green tomatoes (or more)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. pepper
bread crumbs
1 cup cheddar cheese with some extra for sprinkling
1 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Slice tomatoes about 1/4″ thick and line the bottom of an 8×8″ casserole dish. Mix salt, sugar, and pepper together in a bowl and sprinkle over tomato slices. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and half of cheese. Place another layer of tomatoes, seasoning, bread crumbs and cheese. End with a layer of tomatoes, seasoning, and bread crumbs. Dot with butter and bake for 1 hour. Once casserole is bubbly and brown around the edges sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake until melted.

Hot Italian Roast Beef

1 tbsp. butter
1 5 lb. beef roast (I think I used top round roast)
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1/3 c. water
2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. salt

In a Dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Brown roast on all sides. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until roast is tender (about 3.5 – 4 hours). Remove meat from broth and make gravy by thickening broth slightly. When ready to serve slice meat and reheat in gravy. This makes very good hot roast beef sandwiches.
I found that the roast was pretty charred on the bottom by the end of the braising…next time I’ll turn it occasionally. This could also be made in the slow cooker after the meat has been browned.

Grilled smokey chicken with fried okra and fried green corn

I guess my trip to Atlanta got me in the mood for fried food. I really don’t fry things often, but sometimes it just has to be done. Take okra, for instance. Now I love some okra. Stewed okra and tomatoes is one of my favorite summer dishes; in fact, I plan to make that soon, so stay tuned. But, most people prefer it fried. I have to admit, there’s nothing like fried okra. Okra has a bit of “slime” to it, a characteristic that many would argue is one of its main attributes. It’s because of that “slime” that it works so well stewed, and is often added to soups as a thickening agent. Frying okra “de-slimes” it and makes nice crunchy little nuggets that are wonderfully addictive. This time of year down South the okra is growing tall and prolific. Here in New England it’s difficult to find and expensive. I won’t tell you how much I paid for it, but I was so excited that I bought a pound. I used the recipe in Southern Sideboards, which doesn’t call for using an egg wash, but I think I’ll try that next time. My husband used to work at Ajax restaurant in Oxford, MS and he said they used an egg wash and the breading adhered to the okra really well (I can attest to that; their fried okra is good).

Fried Okra (from Southern Sideboards)
Wash 1 lb. fresh okra and slice into 1/2 inch rounds or thaw 1 10 oz. package cut okra. Toss okra in plastic bag with 1/2 c. white corn meal seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry in hot oil in skillet, turning often and sprinkling with salt and pepper as needed. When lightly browned, remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Fried Green Corn (from Edna Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking)
My visit to Watershed prompted me to get out Edna Lewis’s cookbook, which by coincidence I just ordered a month or so ago. There are some great old fashioned recipes in this book. “Green” doesn’t mean that the corn is the color green; it means that it’s fresh (same goes with “green” peanuts, FYI).
6 ears of corn
2 tbs. fresh bacon fat or butter
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Slice the corn from the cob*. Scrape the cob downward to get any remaining corn left near the cob. Heat a 9 in. skillet and add the fat. When hot, spoon in the corn and cook for 15 to 20 min., stirring often. While cooking, sprinkle in salt, sugar, and pepper. Serve piping hot.

*I use my bundt pan to do this. Put the stalk side down into the opening of the bundt pan and hold the top of the ear. Use a chef’s knife or some kind of large-ish knife to slice down the cob. The corn kernels and juices should just fall right into the pan without much mess.

Grilled smokey chicken
I’m calling this “grilled smokey chicken” because although I cooked it at a pretty low heat, I wasn’t consistent about it and I think if I were to truly smoke chicken I would brine it beforehand and cook it for several hours at a steady low heat. Instead, I skipped the brine and let the temperature fluctuate between 250-350 (controlling heat is sometimes tough on a charcoal grill). Also, as an experiment I decided not to brown the skin this time (as you can also see in the picture), but I think I will next time. It does add a lot of flavor and nice texture. Nevertheless, it turned out good enough to recommend to you. If you have suggestions on improvement I’d love to hear them!

1 cut up chicken
seasoning of your preference: bbq rub, Tony Chachere’s, etc.
vinegar (any kind)

Sprinkle vinegar over chicken and then sprinkle seasoning. Rub into skin on both sides and let sit for a few hours (or however much time you have). Soak some hickory chips in water and let sit for an hour or so. Set up grill for indirect heat. Once the fire is ready brown the chicken over the fire to get a nice crust. Then move it to the other side of the grill (you should have a pan beneath the chicken to catch the drippings) and take the heat down to about 300. Add the hickory chips or chunks (hickory is actually a pretty dry wood and the chunks produce a lot of smoke without having to be soaked, FYI). Cook for 30-45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees and/or juices run clear.


I’ve decided to occasionally write a post that offers a menu. Sometimes you just don’t feel like being creative and thinking about how to put a meal together…well just relax. I’ve got you taken care of.

Todays menu:

Grilled chicken
Garlic green beans
Squash casserole
Cornbread

This weekend we had family in town, including a couple of very picky eaters. I decided to play it safe with some grilled chicken and fresh veggies from the farmer’s market. I got the go-ahead on a few vegetables and went to the farmer’s market to see what I could find. I came home with yellow squash and green beans. Green beans aren’t my favorite, but if it’s a fresh vegetable I’ll eat it.

The star of the show as far as I’m concerned was the squash casserole. It’s my mom’s recipe. She’s an excellent cook, and I’m ashamed to say a bit under-appreciated by her children. Probably because she lived in the shadows of her mother, who was one of those women who just looked like she knew her way around the kitchen (and she did). This squash casserole was adapted from the squash casserole that they used to serve at a restaurant called “Aunt Fannie’s Cabin” in Atlanta. It’s delicious with fresh squash and to me it tastes like the South.

Lisa’s Squash Casserole

3 lb. yellow squash, sliced and steamed
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 tbs. butter, melted
1/2 c. Ritz cracker crumbs
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tbsp. sugar

Mash cooked squash and drain well. Combine 1 tbsp. butter with cracker crumbs. Mix half the crumbs and remaining ingredients and pour into a greased casserole. Sprinkle remaining crumbs on top and bake for 1 hour in a 375 degree oven.

Garlic Green Beans
Recipe from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock

Salt
1 lb. green beans, washed and stemmed
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 lg. clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. finely snipped parsley (I didn’t have this for my dish)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Fill a big pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Add 1 tbsp. of salt and the stemmed green beans, and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes, or until tender but resistant to the bite. Drain the beans, and immediately plunge into a bowl of salted ice water to stop the cooking. As soon as the green beans are chilled, drain them.
Heat the butter in a wide skillet until hot and foaming. Add the green beans, and cook, tossing constantly, until heated through. Add the garlic, parsley, and a generous sprinkling of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper, and continue cooking 1 minute longer. Serve immediately.

Grilled chicken

I buy a whole chicken and cut it up. It’s SO much cheaper this way, especially if you are feeding a bunch of people. I like to buy the “all natural, no hormones, no antibiotic” chicken. The Joy of Cooking has a good section on how to cut up a chicken; when I get better at it maybe I’ll blog about it.

My Daddy taught me to cook meat on the grill by first sprinkling it with vinegar (any kind) and then sprinkling with a dry rub or other seasoning. I’ve never read this anywhere else; most people use oil. If you can tell me a reason not to do this please do; it produces wonderful results. This time I used Tony Chachere’s.

Set your grill up for indirect heat. If you are using charcoal sprinkle some hickory chunks or soaked wood chips on the coals. Once the coals are good and hot put your chicken down to get it good and browned (this step is for flavor, not to “seal in the juices” — that’s a myth). Then, once it’s browned on both sides move it to the other side of the grill. Put your vents over the meat so the smoke will be directed over the meat. I leave a small opening in both top and bottom vents, but you do what works best for you and your grill. Just watch it to make sure it doesn’t die or get too hot. Check the meat with a thermometer (close to 170 degrees – remember it will cook a bit after you take it off the grill) or just cut a thick breast to see if the juices run clear (this is what I do, I don’t like my meat thermometer).

I served all of the above with some leftover cornbread I had in the freezer. Use white corn meal if you can find it and just follow the recipe on the bag. Hopefully it won’t have any sugar in it.

Sit down with some friends and/or family and enjoy!

Mmmm…ribs, although the didn’t turn out exactly the way I’d hoped, they were still pretty darn good. I just love ribs and have promised myself I’ll treat myself more often. They aren’t the healthiest thing in the world but still a whole lot better in my mind than a big mac or nachos supreme.

I was late getting the grill going because I decided at the last minute that I’d like to try using a rib rack. My mother-in-law was running errands and looked for one for me but didn’t have any luck since it was a holiday. The ribs were a little crowded, as you can see, but they were fine. Oh, and yes, I’m grilling on a wooden deck. It had just rained so I wasn’t worried too much, but I kept a close eye and always have a fire extinguisher close at hand just in case.

I use charwood charcoal and a chimney starter. Jason at Off the Broiler does a good job describing how to use a chimney starter so I’ll just refer you to his post (his ribs look much better than mine do). I really don’t like food that has been cooked over lighter fluid soaked briquets; it’s amazing how much better the food tastes this way.

In this case I set the grill up for indirect heat: coals on one side and a drip pan in the other. The meat goes over the drip pan and the vent goes over the meat so the smoke is pulled past the meat. I threw some hickory chunks on the coals for that good smoky flavor. I started out at low heat, around 225 degrees, but after an hour or so kicked it up to around 350 since we had guests and they didn’t want to stay all day and into the night. If it’d just been us I would have made Dru wait until they were smoked and falling off the bone, but I’ll do that next time.

But, still they turned out really good. In my mind they were a bit too dry but everyone said they were good. I’ll keep trying.

I served the ribs with mashed potatoes that I boiled in the garlic broth from the other night. They were good, but not nearly as garlicky as I wanted them to be.

The corn salad was scrumptous. The taste of summer. Here’s the recipe, it’s from Bell’s Best, one of the stalwarts of the Southern cookbook canon.

Corn Salad

2 cans white shoe peg corn (I, of course, would substitute fresh. If you do, blanch corn and use maybe 2 ears)
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
3 tbsp. mayonnaise

Drain corn (if using canned); add bell pepper, cucumbers, onion and mayonnaise. Cover and chill. Add tomato before serving.

Couldn’t be easier! You can add any kind of fresh veggies your heart desires. If you don’t like mayonnaise you can make a quick vinaigrette instead.

To me the Fourth of July means ribs. Memphis-style if you please. My mom is from Memphis and growing up, barbecue meant pulled-pork sandwiches piled high with cole slaw (although if you must know I prefer mine on the side), and dry ribs with a side of sauce if you like it that way (I prefer mine “dry,” meaning without a sauce…if done right they’re still moist). Real barbecue means slow smoking over indirect heat. I often hear people saying they are going to “barbecue” when what they really mean is that they are going to “grill” or “cook out.”

So, today I’m going to try my hand at smoking some ribs on my Weber kettle grill. I’ve successfully smoked Boston butt for pulled pork but never tried ribs. One of the things I love about cooking is finding out what other people do and then discovering what works best for me. Of course I do this by reading cookbooks and looking online, but I also make phone calls. Last night I talked to my Dad and my Uncle James, who’ve both been known to cook some mean baby backs. I also looked on several websites including Simply Recipes, where Hank, the new contributor gives some guidelines on smoking on a Weber grill.

Both my dad and uncle use store-bought seasonings, but I chose to make my own rub. After being shocked that Gracious Goodness, the cookbook for the Memphis Symphony League didn’t have a dry rub recipe, I turned to The Barbecue! Bible by Stephen Raichlen. This book has a wide scope (it’s more international than regional), but it does have some good basic recipes for “Memphis-style ribs” or “North Carolina pulled pork,” even if I don’t always agree with his cooking techniques (often higher heat than should be recommended to someone wanting true ‘cue). If someone knows of a good cookbook for Memphis-style barbecue please let me know!

In the meantime here’s the recipe for the rub:

1/4 c. paprika
1 1/2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. celery salt
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

I bought three racks of baby back ribs, somewhere around 6 lb. all together and used about 2/3 of the rub. You may need to pull off the silvery skin on the back of the ribs (I bought mine from Whole Foods and they’d already done this for me). If so, then just grab the skin on the bone side of the ribs with a paper towel and pull it off in a sheet. The paper towel should help you get a firm grasp. Rinse the ribs well and pat dry with a paper towel.

Sprinkle ribs with vinegar in a non-reactive roasting pan (not cast iron or aluminum), I used unfiltered apple cider vinegar but you can use whatever kind you have. Then rub the rub into the ribs with your hands. This is the fun part. Just sprinkle on with a spoon and get to rubbin’. Then, marinate covered in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

Alongside the ribs we’re going to serve garlic mashed potatoes (I’m going to boil the potatoes in the garlic broth I made the other night), baked beans (out of a can, sorry), corn salad, and a watermelon. I’ll post about the cooking tomorrow since I will have actually done it by that point. I’ll also post the recipe for the corn salad.

I hope I’m not jinxing myself by posting about the meal before I actually cook it; I’ll let you know how it turns out.