5 Reasons to Visit St. Thomas, Jamaica

I never made it to St. Thomas, located on Jamaica’s southeastern coast, until I was in high school. As part of our graduation celebration, our teacher organized a day trip around the island that brought us not to Morant Bay, its historic capital, but to Prospect Pen to view the Jamintel Earth Station* that had opened some years earlier. I still have the grainy photo of us posing primly in our navy school uniforms with part of the satellite station in the background.

St. Thomas, the 9th largest parish on the island, is bordered on its northern end by the Blue Mountains. Its diverse landscape includes mountains and wetland areas. The island’s only east-west river, the Plantation Garden, is located in the parish.

Bath Fountain plaque, St. Thomas Jamaica
Plaque at Bath Fountain

St. Thomas was established in 1662 and named for Thomas, Lord Windsor, who was governor of Jamaica at that time. It was known then as St. Thomas in the East. The name it was shortened to St. Thomas around 1866 when the number of parishes was reduced from 22 to 14.

St. Thomas has been home to the indigenous Taino Indians, Spanish, British and Maroon communities. Archeologists have found remnants of Taino settlements, dating to 650AD, in several locations in the parish.

Continue reading “5 Reasons to Visit St. Thomas, Jamaica”

Jamaica @51: Rice and Peas or the Jamaican Coat of Arms

Welcome to another #FoodieTuesday!

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Today, Jamaica celebrates her 51st year of Independence. There have been many changes in the country since 1962, notably in the way we eat.

Take rice and peas, for example. (Rice and peas is affectionately referred to as the Jamaica Coat of Arms, though I haven’t been able to find out why.) When I was growing up in rural Jamaica, we had rice and peas only on Sundays and on special occasions, like Christmas or Easter. Now, there’s rice and peas on almost every restaurant menu every day of the week.

The Easter bun and cheese that we had only at Easter is just as commonplace.

Rice and Peas with vegetables
Sunday meal – rice and peas with vegetables and meat

Back then the patty, a meat-filled turnover, was our main fast food and a popular lunch item for school children. With international chains like KFC, Burger King and Domino’s, along with the homegrown chains, Island Grill, Tastee, and Juici Patties in almost all fourteen parishes, we have a variety of fast food restaurants to choose from now.

Sundays still are special. For most of us, it’s the day we pause, bring family around the dining table to share the meal.

But it’s not always rice and peas. I’m no longer wedded to the Jamaican Coat of Arms on Sundays because I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. But I wouldn’t plan a Christmas or Easter dinner without it on the menu.


How has your eating habits changed in the last twenty years?


How to Make Rice and Peas


3 cups of rice
2 cups of fresh red kidney beans (or Pigeon peas or a can of kidney beans)
5 cloves of garlic
1 can of coconut milk
1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper
3 scallion (spring onions)
3 sprigs of fresh (or 2 teaspoons of dried) thyme
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper



Wash and soak peas overnight or put to boil in a medium saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Add garlic and a little salt to taste.
When peas are soft, add coconut milk and seasonings – thyme, Scotch bonnet, 2 sprigs of scallions, black pepper, and remaining salt, if needed.
Let cook for a few minutes then add the rice.
Cover and cook until the rice is tender and there’s no more liquid.
Plate and garnish with remaining scallion. Serve with your choice of meat or alone.

Everald Brown Dove Harp – Jamaica

It wasn’t hard to miss this colorful object, called a dove harp, that was part of an exhibition on view at the National Museum of Jamaica (formerly the Institute of Jamaica). I thought I recognized the work as belonging to one of our local artists but I wasn’t sure.

A quick look at the caption confirmed that the object was the creation of intuitive artist, Everald Brown, popularly called “Brother Brown.”

Everald or Brother Brown's Dove Harp
Dove Harp

Continuing, the caption noted that Brown’s “art and spirituality are bound together and are distinctly indicated through his work. His art work is the visual representation of a generously all-inclusive world view, in which just about everything is regarded as being spiritually meaningful. Brother Brown’s musical instruments bring together sound and vision, the two most important components of his mystical experiences. Their shapes and decorations are laden with intricate symbolism and were originally meant for collective ritual use by his church band.”

Everald Brown, a self-taught artist, was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1917. He embraced Rastafarianism and Revivalism and founded the Assembly of the Living, a mission of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in Kingston.

In 1973, Brown moved his family from Kingston to a community in rural St. Ann where they lived off the land. There, his art and spirituality flourished and he painted and carved his dreams and visions of the world around him. He also created handmade musical instruments, like the dove harp, and star banjos.

Following his death in 2002, the National Gallery of Jamaica mounted a retrospective of his work in 2004. It featured more than 100 paintings, carvings and musical instruments.


This week, I’m linking up with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out other photos from locations around the world. Enjoy!

Hope Botanical Gardens

Hope Botanical Gardens or Hope Gardens, as most Jamaicans call it, is a popular spot especially for those who live in Kingston and surroundings. It’s where they go to relax on Sunday afternoon, or to enjoy nature.

With the nearby Hope Zoo, Hope Gardens is also a favorite destination for school trips – it’s on almost every school’s excursion schedule.

Small fountain at Hope Gardens
Entrance to the lily pond

Hope Gardens sits on 60-acres of the Ligunaea Plains at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The property, originally part of Hope Estates, was acquired around 1881 and experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, assisted in laying out the formal gardens. They introduced several varieties of endemic plants, rare flora and exotic species.

Gazebo at Hope Botanical Gardens
The gazebo

I’ve read that Queen Elizabeth II was so impressed by the Gardens that she gave permission for it to be called the Royal Botanic Gardens, Hope.

Hope Botanical Gardens
Part of the gardens

Through a series of unfortunate incidents, including devastation from hurricane, vandalism, and mismanagement, Hope Gardens fell into disrepair in the 1980s. It is now nearly back to its former splendor.

Hope Botanical Gardens
Blue Mountain forms a beautiful backdrop to the gardens

Hope Gardens has a lily pond, sunken gardens, orchid house, bougainvillea walk, and other attractions. It’s a great location for bird watching. Several species, including doves, egrets, Jamaican mango, yellow- and black-billed parrots, and different varieties of the hummingbird (Jamaica’s national bird) can be seen in the park.

Hope’s expansive space and lush environment make it a popular venue for weddings, reunions, picnics, festivals, yoga classes or a leisurely stroll.

Hope Botanical Gardens Particulars

Hours: Daily from 6:00 a.m. except on Labor Day and Hero’s Day.
Current Entrance Fees: Adults $5, Children (3 – 12 years) $3


Today, I’m linking up with Travel Photo Discovery‘s Travel Photo Monday. Be sure to check out other photos from around the world.


Friday Focus: Kristi Keller

This week’s Friday Focus visits with Kristi Keller, a Calgary native who fell in love with Jamaica and has visited the island about twenty times since 2003. Kristi has also spent months at a time in Jamaica.

Kristi Keller
Kristi relaxing on the dock at Pelican Bar, Black River

1.     Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Calgary, Canada.  As a youth I was a dancer and a country girl, spending most of my time riding my horse.  As an adult I spent my time being a single mom and working for a communications company, and then for the municipal government.  My corporate time totaled roughly 15 years.  Life was pretty normal and uneventful and I just blended in….until I started traveling.

2.     What brought you to Jamaica?

In 2003 I won a trip to Jamaica through a local radio station here in Calgary.  Before that I had never considered traveling abroad at all.  Travel was not on my radar other than visiting family in the USA.

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Kristi at Blue Hole waterfall, St. Ann

3.     What were your first impressions of the country and how did those match up with what you knew or had heard from others?

Since I had never experienced a foreign country or a different culture EVERYTHING about Jamaica struck me from the very first minute on the ground.  Landing at a tiny airport (back then), stepping off the plane onto the runway, the amazing greenery and palm trees everywhere I looked, and the heat.  In that first week on the island I was part of an organized group and had to stay with them and participate in the excursions they took us on, but I distinctly remember wanting to get the hell off of that bus and go explore!  I wanted to know everything and everyone!  From that first trip I knew that I hadn’t even seen or learned a fraction of what Jamaica is all about.  Staying in resorts and spending time with an organized tour group doesn’t let you learn anything except how to eat, drink and shop a lot.

4.     What made you return, how many times have you been back and how long, on average, do you stay?

I returned to Jamaica 2 months after my initial trip and the reason I went back so soon was because I received an offer I couldn’t refuse by a Jamaican police officer I briefly met.  He said that if I ever want to come back to Jamaica he would show me what the island was REALLY about.  It was a done deal and I went back, stayed at a home in the countryside and toured the entire western half of the island.  I went to places that tourists don’t normally go, shared a yard with a family of donkeys, met people I would have never met if I had been staying in a hotel, and just absolutely fell in love with the island. 

I’ve been to Jamaica twenty times (and counting) since 2003.  My trips evolved from 7 days, to 10, then to 14 and eventually I quit my job  and left Canada for months to stay in Jamaica.  I’ve done that twice now.

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Crashing waves in Hanover

5.     What does your family think of your visits?

For that second trip where I flew back to hang out with a complete stranger, my mother thought I was on crack.  She was very worried about my safety, knowing that Jamaica has a bad/dangerous reputation.  Now, after all these years and trips I think my family just doesn’t care anymore.  My mother wonders how I can just keep going back to the same place every single time and wonders why I don’t want to discover something new.  But what she doesn’t understand is that every single trip IS new.  If you do Jamaica the way I do Jamaica there is no sameness in any trip.  I drive around the island solo and discover something new every trip.  I stay in local guest houses (not hotels), experience new things to do, meet new people and learn something new every single time. Continue reading “Friday Focus: Kristi Keller”

Devon House Revisited

I’ve written about Devon House but only recently returned to do a tour of the Georgian style house, which is located in Kingston. Devon House was built in 1881 for George Stiebel on a property that was known as Devon Penn.

Devon House, a Georgian mansion built in Kingston in 1881
The fountain

Popularly described as Jamaica’s first black millionaire, Stiebel, the child of German and Jamaican parents, was a carpenter, shipper and gun runner. He struck gold after he invested in a mine in Venezuela and made a fortune, returning to the island a rich man. Stiebel got involved in politics and business, bought 99 properties — it was illegal to own 100 or more – and built Devon House.

Devon House lower vestibule
Partial view of the upper vestibule at Devon House
Vestibule with wing backed and planter’s chairs

The house features classical Georgian lines – simple form, detailing and symmetry. It was built entirely of brick and wood with high ceilings, carved transoms over elegant doors, and ample louvered windows that circulate air efficiently throughout the house. The furniture is a mix of Jamaican, English and French antiques, and reproductions. The large 35-foot ballroom is, without doubt, the mansion’s showpiece with its Broadwood piano, Wedgwood ceiling and English chandelier that Stiebel bought.

Devon House, the Palm Hall featuring painted murals on walls
Palm Hall, with partial view of the living room
Formal dining room at Devon House
Dining room with Chippendale dining table

Stiebel married Magdalene Baker in 1851 and had two children Sigismund, named after his father, and Theresa. When he died in 1896, the mansion passed to Theresa, then Theresa Jackson, the only surviving child. It was later sold to the Melhados in 1922, then to the Lindos, who lived there until 1965. Devon House was turned over to the government of Jamaica. Today, the mansion, which sits on 11 acres, is known as one of the premier destinations in Kingston to enjoy culture, art and heritage, the lush grounds, and its very popular “I-scream” (ice cream).

Master bedroom with canopy bed at Devon House
Master bedroom
Partial view of the master bathroom at Devon House
Part of the master bathroom
A room for games at Devon House
A room for games
A sewing room with fainting couch at Devon House
Sewing room with fainting couch
Wedgwood ceiling and English chandelier at Devon House
The 35-foot Devon House Ballroom with Broadwood piano

The mansion has been restored several times, the latest in 2008. Many of the old buildings from Stiebel’s time are still in use. For example, the Grog Shoppe was the horse and carriage stable and blacksmith’s shop; the Courtyard Shops were servants quarters, and the current Devon House Bakery used to be the kitchen. When I visited recently, workers were replacing the wooden shingles on these buildings.

The welcoming entrance to Devon House
Entrance to Devon House
The expansive lawn at Devon House
Devon House lawn

Devon House Particulars

Tours run on weekdays only with the last tour at 4:30 p.m.

Cost: $10, per person, includes ice cream.

Devon House is located at 26 Hope Road in Kingston.


This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

Foodie Tuesday: Steamed Fish, Jamaican Style

My father loved steamed fish. It seemed to me that he had it all the time, that it was his favorite breakfast meal. With green bananas or yam. I think this habit of his of eating this way for breakfast was because he grew up in rural Jamaica where a substantial morning meal was common.

I was never a big fan of steamed fish. I prefer my fish fried as crispy as chips so that the bones snap when I bite into them.

Fast forward several years later and I’m dating. The guy I’m seeing – T – goes on and on about the steamed fish at Little Ochie. At first, I thought he was talking about someplace near Ocho Rios since, locally, everyone calls it “Ochie.” Then he explains that it’s a restaurant that has the best seafood in Jamaica. What could be so special about this particular restaurant, I wondered. I mean, any halfway decent housewife or chef knows how to steam fish. It wasn’t rocket science so I wasn’t impressed.

Early one Sunday morning, T took me there. Used plastic cups, utensils, and food-streaked styrofoam plates had been tossed carelessly over the beach area fronting the restaurant. That and the large black speakers that were hoisted on stands at either end of the beach said that a dance had taken place the previous night. The staff was busy putting things back in order.

T strutted straight to the back, as if he had shares in the restaurant, to where the fish were kept in buckets filled with ice. He then explained that I had to pick the fish I wanted. I chose a lovely red snapper. When the chef asked, I told him I wanted it with bammie, a flat bread, like Pita, that’s made from cassava. (On its own, bammie’s pretty bland. It can also be chewy but it’s a great accompaniment to fish – it’s typically eaten with escoveitch fish. It also stands out when combined with steamed fish, with its soft texture, mix of spices, and delicious gravy, though it will absorb the gravy.)

T wouldn’t hear of the bammie and talked me into having my fish with Excelsior Water Crackers, a hard cracker with a dent in the middle that has been a staple of the Jamaican diet for more than 100 years. Unlike the bammie, Excelsior Water Crackers stand up well in everything from gravies and jam, to butter and meats. I’d never had it with steamed fish before but decided to give it a try.

Back at our table in a thatched covered boat, we waited for the meal to arrive. It did, about 30 minutes later, covered in transparent wrap to protect it from sand and spills.

My eyes bulged. This was not my father’s steamed fish, not in the least! The fish, cooked whole and laid out on a large plate, was almost covered by strips of carrot, chopped okra, and slices of potato and cho cho (christophene or chayote). Crackers lined the plate like an embroidered collar.

All the ingredients were cooked together, allowing the juices from the fish and vegetables to mix with the scallion, thyme, peppers and onions. Pimento (allspice) berries, with its mix of cinnamon, clove, pepper, ginger and nutmeg, gave it a nice warm, almost woodsy, flavor. The vegetables were soft but not mushy, the fish firm and succulent. I ate everything, including my words, that morning. I had to admit, it was the best steamed fish I’d had.

Steamed fish with vegetables
Steamed Fish with potato, carrots, okra, bammie

I’ve been back to Little Ochie several times since then and, except when lobster’s in season, it’s the steamed fish I order – sometimes with crackers, other times with bammie. It tastes just the same as it did that Sunday morning.

Steamed Fish, Jamaican Style


1 large snapper, scaled, gutted and cleaned
A few okras, chopped
1 cho cho, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
1 large onion, sliced
2 stalks of escallion
1 sprig of thyme
Crushed pimento grains and black peppercorns
1 tbsp margarine
Fish seasoning to taste
Salt to taste
Excelsior Water Crackers (optional – I noticed that it’s available on Amazon!)


Slice the cleaned fish and season with black pepper, salt, and fish seasoning.
Add to a large pot roughly a cup and a half of water (or more if needed) just enough to cover the fish.
Next add all the other ingredients and cover the pot tightly.
Simmer over medium heat until the fish and vegetables are cooked (approximately 20 minutes, it all depends on the thickness of the fish, so eyeball it).
Add crackers at the end.

Note: I modified this recipe that I found on the Jamaica Observer site.


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The Night Blooming Cereus

I’ve been hearing about the night blooming cereus for at least three years now. As the name suggests, this plant from the flowering cactus family, blooms only at night — and only once per year. I was lucky, this time, to be visiting family when their night blooming cereus bloomed on Friday night; luckier still because I had my camera, and it put out not one but four blooms.

Night Blooming Cereus seen from the side

It’s a slow process, this unfolding of the petals, but a lot more fun than watching paint dry. The bud begins its leisurely awakening around 10 pm. But by morning, the flower has wilted. It will come alive again when the special moth it attracts pollinates it.

Two night blooming cereus
Double flower

There I was on Friday night, going out to the back yard every hour or so, camera at the ready, to see how open the flower was. And each time, I’d take a few photos. I wish I’d taken some before photos.

Anyway, I did this about three times. Each time, the flower looked as if it was open just a bit more than the last. Even though they weren’t fully open, the fragrance from the night blooming cereus bathed the backyard in the most subtle perfume that I didn’t mind going again and again. I wish I could have bottled the scent.

Almost fully opened night blooming cereus
Single cereus

The waiting was the hardest. At around midnight, I started to feel tired and decided, reluctantly, to go to sleep. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see the full flowering of the night blooming cereus but I was happy to have seen it at all, and happier still to be able to take these photos.

Wilted Night Blooming Cereus
Wilted cereus

By morning, the flower looked spent, like someone who’d been partying all night.

Here’s a time lapse video I found on YouTube of the opening of the night blooming cereus.

This week, I’m linking this post to Travel Photo Monday and Tablescraper. Be sure to check out the other photos that are posted there.


5 Reasons to Visit Portland Jamaica

Portland Jamaica is probably the island’s best tourist destination you’ve never heard of. It’s got beautiful beaches, soaring mountains, a network of caves, romantic coves, shimmering waterfalls and dramatic coastline. Because of its location, Portland also records the most rainfall of any parish on the island. It is lush and infused with rugged beauty.

Portland, a combination of the old parishes of St. George and part of the current St. Thomas, got its name from the Duke of Portland who was a Governor of Jamaica between 1722 and 1726. It is the seventh largest parish on the island.

Boston Beach, Portland
Morning at Boston Beach

The parish was slow to develop because of the difficulty of farming the mountainous terrain and the fear of attack by the Eastern Maroons who could be found in the nearby Blue and John Crow Mountains. Despite a generous offer from the governor of land, beef, flour, freedom from taxes and arrest for three years very few settlers were interested. 

But Portland’s soil and heavy rainfall were the perfect match for bananas, the crop that finally put it on the map in the late 1900s. Lorenzo Dow Baker is credited with developing the banana industry in Jamaica. The bananas he bought were shipped to the US, where they were sold at a handsome profit, making local farmers rich.

Reach Falls, Portland
Reach Falls

The Birthplace of Tourism in Jamaica

Eventually, Baker’s United Fruit Company, for which Portland was a major hub, controlled the banana trade and was the major supplier of the produce on the east coast of the United States and even the UK. The company shipped bananas from Jamaica and brought goods back.

Some time after the 1900s, Baker began taking tourists to the island – boats were the only means of travel between Jamaica and other countries at that time. So began the tourism industry on the island.

The United Fruit Company built the Titchfield Hotel to accommodate the visitors who began pouring into Port Antonio, the capital. The hotel had 400 rooms was the center of activity in the parish.

Unfortunately, in 1903, hurricane devastated Portland and disease virtually destroyed the banana plantations and caused the decline in the parish’s economy.

From those early days, Portland has been known as the playground of the rich and famous. Errol Flynn once owned the Titchfield Hotel, which was destroyed by fire. His wife still lives in the parish.

What to do in Portland

Portland offers a variety of activities – birdwatching, snorkeling, hiking, rafting, swimming, camping or just taking it easy. Here are five activities you should check out:

Boston Bay – Home of the best jerk in Jamaica. If you love the flavors of real jerk, make sure to take home a bottle of sauce from the jerk center at Boston Bay.

Waterfalls – Because of the mountainous terrain, Portland has several refreshing waterfalls of different sizes. Check out Reach, which is situated in Manchioneal, or Somerset Falls, which is near Hope Bay.

Rafting on the Rio Grande – The oldest rafting center on the island is in Portland. Banana rafts were used originally to transport the produce from the plantations inland to Port Antonio. Today, the 4 km tour starts at Berrydale.

Beaches – Portland has several to choose from – San San, Frenchman’s Cove, Winnifred, Boston Beach.

Blue Mountain Hike – There are several hiking trails in the Blue Mountains of varying lengths and levels of difficulty.

Foodie Tuesday: Jerk Lobster, Little Ochie Style

I didn’t know what to expect from this jerk lobster meal at Little Ochie Seafood Restaurant but let me tell you, it surpassed my expectations. The delicate and slightly sweet taste of the lobster is a seamless marriage with the pungent flavors of the pimento, Scotch Bonnet pepper, mace, scallion and garlic that are the main ingredients of jerk. It was as if they were always destined to be.

Jerk Lobster from Little Ochie
Little Ochie’s Jerk Lobster

It was my first time having lobster done jerk style and when I tasted it, my first thought after I savored the mix of flavors was, why hadn’t any other restaurants put it on their menu?

I’ve written about Little Ochie Seafood Restaurant before but it deserves another mention. Here’s the thing about this place: it’s got an offbeat, distinctive ambiance – and they prepare each meal to order.

In the early days, when the operation was smaller, the seafood was kept in buckets filled with ice. You’d pick your fish, lobster, crab, conch, or shrimp from the bucket and tell the chef how you wanted it done – jerked, grilled, curried, garlic, steamed, brown stewed, or escoveitched. It’s all refrigerated now but that hasn’t detracted from the fresh taste – and you still get to pick.

Once you place your order, look for a boat. I did say that Little Ochie is a seaside restaurant, didn’t I? Don’t worry – the boats are anchored in the sand and they now sport thatched roofs, tables and benches.

If the restaurant’s crowded when you arrive, secure your boat then place your order. Little Ochie’s small enough that your server will find you and bring your meal when it’s done, usually about half an hour later. It could take longer if you have a large party.

There are other items on the menu. The steamed fish is my other favorite and I order that when lobster is out of season. I’ll write about that another time.

How to Make Jerk Lobster


  • 4 lobster tails
  • 2 tsp. Jerk Seasoning
  • ½ cup Butter
  • 2 whole scallions
  • 2 tsps. lemon/lime juice
  • ½ tsp. of hot sauce or 3 drops of Jamaican hot pepper sauce (optional)



  1. Slice scallions thinly.
  2. Melt the butter in a small skillet and sauté the scallions until it is golden.
  3. Add the 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.
  4. Add ½ teaspoon of hot sauce or 3 drops of Jamaican hot pepper sauce (optional depending on your taste).
  5. Let it simmer for about 1 min. then set aside.
  6. Remove the membrane from the lobster tails and use a sharp knife to split them in half (lengthwise).
  7. Use a brush to put the butter sauce on each tail.
  8. Using the same brush, spread the Jerk sauce over the tails especially on the exposed meat. Put your oven setting to broil.
  9. Put the lobster tails in oven on the meat side for 4 minutes. Turn and cook the shell side for 2 minutes.
  10. If you want a more smoked taste, you should cook the lobster tails for 2 minutes on each side in the oven, then place on a barbeque grill for 3 minutes. You may need to add more Jerk sauce if you put it on the grill.
  11. Serve with Festival, bammy or Jamaican hardo bread, or assorted steamed vegetables.
  12. For a true taste of Jamaica, have a cold Red Stripe beer. 


Recipe adapted from jamaicans.com

How to Join the FoodieTuesday Linkup

Join the FoodieTuesday linkup by –

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  • Leaving a comment. As a courtesy, please read the other foodie posts and leave a comment.
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Hope to see you at FoodieTuesday!