Summer Garden Salad with Crabcakes

Summer Garden Salad with Crab Cakes

I’m a firm believer in working smart, not harder, in the kitchen. This salad requires minimum prep and I buy our favorite crab cakes from the market. We prefer Charleston-style crab cakes versus Maryland crab cakes, but both work with this entree salad. If you’re feeling it, make your own crab cakes. More power to ya! Bought or made, they are a perfect compliment to this dish.

There are several different tastes and textures layered in this meal. Sweet, savory and salty work cohesively to give this salad a big, flavorful personality. There is also plenty of crunch in the carrots, Brussels, pepper, sugar snap peas, walnuts and pepitas which contrast this salad’s softer side of tomatoes, pickled onion, cucumbers and blue cheese.

Added proteins of nuts, pepitas and blue cheese elevate this meal from filling to downright hearty.

The dressing is my bruschetta dressing. Super light and summery but full of flavor. Works great as a dip for veggies, or don’t blend it and voila! You have bruschetta ready for a sliced baguette.

Enjoy the fresh flavors of the season with this summer dish!

Ingredients:

Crab cakes –

8                             store bought or homemade crab cakes

2T                           grapeseed oil

1                              lemon; juiced

Salad –

5oz                         baby kale

5oz                         spring mix lettuce

½#                          Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced

1                             cucumber; quartered and chopped

8oz                        fresh sugar snap peas; chopped

1c                           pickled red onion; thinly sliced

1                             yellow female* pepper; diced

1pint                      grape or cherry tomatoes; halved

1c                           carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                           walnuts; pieces

1c                            pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

4oz                         blue cheese crumbles

1c                           cranberries (50% less sugar)

Dressing –

4 cloves garlic; minced

6 Roma tomatoes; diced

1 large bunch fresh basil; chopped

1/4c balsamic vinegar

1/4c extra virgin olive oil

1/2t salt

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Directions:

1. Prepare dressing by adding all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until thoroughly combined. Chill until ready to use.

2. In a skillet on medium heat, heat grapeseed oil. Add crab cakes and pour lemon juice on top. Flip halfway through cooking (according to package directions or recipe). Or air fry at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

3. While the crab cakes are cooking, plate salads by dividing prepped ingredients into fourths and layering them in order listed above.  

4. Drizzle dressing over salad. Top with crab cakes. Serve immediately.

*Note – use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! 😊

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

As temperatures climb, we crave the light, fresh flavors of summer. Lemon and basil are two of those addictive tastes and are key ingredients to making this dish pop!

Packing this salad with extra proteins, like pepitas and nutritional yeast, makes this meal satisfying, even as its taste leaves us wanting more. Mmmmm!

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

Ingredients: serves 4

Chicken –                                                                    

4                             chicken breasts; halved longwise

1 1/4c                    Panko plain breadcrumbs

3T                            nutritional yeast (for parmesan flavor and additional protein & vitamin Bs)

3                              lemons’ zest (zest 3 lemons, then juice them for the dressing)

1                              lemon; juiced (zest first, then save zest for dressing)

2t                            Herbs de Provence

2T                           oil (olive or avocado)

                               salt/pepper to taste (use black pepper generously)

                               pump, not aerosol, spray oil (Pam cooking spray with coconut oil)

Salad –                                                                     

5oz                          baby kale                                                              

5oz                          arugula lettuce                                                                 

1 ½ c                       fresh basil; finely chopped                               

½#                           fresh Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced                 

1c                            green onion; diced                                             

1                              female red pepper; diced                                               

1 pint                      cherry or grape tomatoes; halved                   

1c                            carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                            pepitas (a.k.a. pumpkin seeds)

Lemon Dressing –

1/3c                        plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar

1/2c                        fresh lemon juice (about 3)

1/3c                        canola or vegetable oil

1/4c                        sugar

1/2t                        salt

1                             garlic clove; minced

1                             lemon zest

Directions:

1. Trim chicken and place halves in a gallon Ziploc bag with all chicken ingredients. Massage until well coated. Place on greased cooking tray and spray pump oil top to top help crisp the breadcrumbs.

2. Bake at 350 for 20 min or until cooked through. Or air fry at 400 for 20min (flipping halfway through). Or pan fry in extra oil on medium heat until cooked through.

3. Prepare dressing – combine all ingredients in a bottle/bowl with lid & shake well until sugar dissolves or blend in food processor/blender.

4. Divide salad ingredients in fourths. Plate the salad in order from bottom up: lettuce, basil, Brussels, onion, pepper, tomatoes, carrots, pepitas. Drizzle dressing over salad. Place chicken on top and drizzle dressing over chicken. Serve immediately.

Cooking note – use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! 😊

Non-fried, fried ice cream

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Just in time for Cinco de Mayo!! I first had fried ice cream at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Tampa, FL decades ago and have never forgotten it. Seriously, I still crave it. It was heaven! Soft vanilla ice cream tucked inside a fried shell, topped with cinnamon and drizzled honey – yum!

I’m not going to fry ice cream at home because, well, what a mess. And I don’t own a deep fryer, nor will I in the name of healthier cooking. 😉

With simple ingredients it takes only a couple of minutes to assemble, yet boasts all the flavors of fried ice cream (and less fat since it’s not fried) whose taste has lingered in my mind ever since.

A few cooking notes…

Honey – Honey is the star of this show. As it drizzles over frozen ice cream, the cold turns liquid honey into a slightly chewy topping which resembles caramel, but a natural, healthy option. Its sweetness compliments the warm bite of cinnamon. Mmmm. I use local honey for the benefits of combating seasonal allergies. During covid quarantine I cannot get my regular, local honey so I found Local Hive Honey and it’s awesome! Whatever brand you use, make sure it’s raw, unfiltered, 100% honey. Otherwise, generic honey can have sugar in it although not listed in the ingredients because it’s considered a processing ingredient. What a sham! So don’t chince on the quality of your honey. You CAN taste the difference and your seasonal allergies will thank you.

Whipped cream – Use spray whipped cream (with real cream, not whipped oil), tub whipped cream (again, real cream, not whipped oil) or what I use, tub Tru-Whip (no oil, made with tapioca, a healthier, tasty substitute).

Ginger Snaps – The fried shell is replaced with ginger snap cookies. That’s the secret weapon. Leave them whole or crush on top, there’s no wrong way to enjoy this treat. And the cookie matters! Our favorite brand is Murray Ginger Snaps which is affordable and has that great *snap* we all want in a gingersnap. We don’t even use a spoon for this dessert. Use the cookies to scoop the ice cream…even better!! 😉

Ingredients:

Vanilla ice cream

Ginger snap cookies

Cinnamon

Honey

Whipped cream

Directions:

Scoop ice cream into bowls

Sprinkle cinnamon generously over ice cream

Drizzle honey over ice cream

Add ginger snaps

Top with whipped cream

This is the perfect dessert to top your favorite Mexican meal or enjoy it by itself. Have fun with it!

 

 

 

Our Love Song

If Jesus wrote a love song to me, this would be it.
It is not a Christian song, per se, but it is *our song.*
~ Psalm 61; Hebrews 4:13-16~

John 13:25 is one of my absolute, very favorite Scriptures ever ever ever. I confess I’ve always been jealous of John in this moment; not in what he asks, but in his actions.

There is no other place in all of creation that I’d rather be than right there. I hold this place in my heart for now, but oh one day.

One day I will be in this place, this moment, for real. Tangible. Seen. Able to feel his warmth. Feel his muscles move as he shifts in his seat. Feel his chest expand and contract with every breath. To be so close to hear him inhale, exhale. Feel his hair tickle my cheek. My ear pressed against his chest, I feel the reverberation and hear the echo of his voice as he quietly hums our song. Feel the touch of his skin. Stroke the softness of his royal robe.

I reach for his hand and hold it in mine. I run my finger over the scar from the nail. I stare at his scar and remember what he did for me. I remember what I did to put that scar there. He senses my muscles tense and my palms begin to sweat. The weight of guilt and shame steals my breath and sorrow overwhelms my heart. He gently pulls me closer and strokes my hair. Without a word, his patient love and tender kindness tells me he would’ve done it all if only for me.

He regrets nothing.

I breathe a comforted sigh and close my eyes, my hand covering his scar.

And I rest in the feeling when you know you are completely safe, and you fold yourself into the one holding you. Guards down. Walls down. No words necessary. When you feel so safe you close your eyes and your soul exhales in a sigh of sweet contentment; drifting in and out of sleep.
Knowing fully that he has me and I am safe. I rest because he holds me. He who holds the whole world in his hands. He who carried the weight of sin for all time, holds me. His strength is safe. There is fullness of heart; not lacking anything.

To look into his eyes. His eyes of love and mercy bring hot tears to mine. We sit and look deeply into each other. He sees me. He knows. The real, raw, unfiltered, un-fronted me. And he loves me. The sweet smile in his eyes says, knowing everything about me, he loves me. The soft smile of his lips tells me that knowing everything about me makes him, in fact, love me…more.
I don’t have to explain anything to him. I don’t have to do anything but rest and receive. Receive his love. His friendship. His mercy. His brotherhood. His saving grace. To know I am fully known yet still… Accepted. Wanted. Cared for. Seen.
Loved.
Loved deeply.
Loved fully.
And time stands still. Nothing else matters. All grows dim. The only sound I hear is the beat of his heart. The heart that loved me enough to beat death and beat again. I lean into him and simply listen to the rhythmic melody of his heartbeat that will never stop playing our love song. I live this moment in my heart today and wait for it to be fulfilled in spirit, face-to-face. It will be the best moment in my entire, eternal life.

Not sure I wanted to share something so personal, but my hope is this song draws you closer to Jesus, too. 

Tuscan Tapas

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Tuscan Tapas with Field Greens

Is it possible to have authentic Italian goodness, with robust flavors of balsamic, basil & garlic, in one small bite? Absolutely! These little guys pack a punch of flavor. Tapas are typically known for Spanish cuisine, but in this recipe the name captures a bold Italian taste.

This easy, make-ahead recipe combines two recipes with a twist. Seriously, you can make the Tuscan spread days ahead (flavor gets better with time) *and even freeze it.*

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Tuscan Bean Spread with Baguette; cutting board from Crate & Barrel

The pickled red onion recipe can be made up to a month ahead and gets better with time.

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Replace field greens with avocado for richer texture and flavor. The crunch of the baguette and pickled onion contrasts the creamy bean spread and avocado for a perfect blend of YUM.

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Tuscan Tapas with Avocado

Final assembly takes only a few minutes. I love recipes that offer a lot of presentation for little amount of work. This one is great for planning ahead or spontaneous cravings. It stands alone as a tasty appetizer as well as compliments a healthy meal.

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Tuscan Tapas with grilled Mahi-Mahi, rice, grilled pineapple, snap peas, and corn on the cob.

Tuscan Tapas

Ingredients:

1                baguette; sliced

1 recipe     Tuscan bean salad

1/2 bag     mixed field greens; chopped small

1 recipe     pickled red onion; diced

1-2            avocados; sliced * optional

Directions:

  1. Make the pickled red onion recipe. Let it sit several hours to overnight for full flavor. (Can be make up to a month ahead.) Refrigerate leftovers.
  2. Slice baguette and lightly toast.
  3. Make the Tuscan bean salad. Once made, blend it in a food processor until smooth with the consistency of hummus. (Can be made ahead, frozen & thawed.) Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
  4. Plate baguette slices on serving plate.
  5. Spoon the bean spread onto baguette slices.
  6. Place chopped field greens on the spread. *Alternate Option: Replace field greens with slice of avocado.
  7. Top with diced, drained pickled red onion.

 

 

2020 Seniors, You Can Do This

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I’ve enjoyed looking at everyone’s senior photos from back in the day trending on social media. I also understand that although the intent is to encourage the Class of 2020 amidst the coronavirus quarantine, with a laugh at our expense, it could end up hurting as well as helping. In an effort to help, I’m adding my senior photo to the worldwide yearbook to offer hope for today’s graduating seniors.

Seniors, you can do this. You can graduate (however that looks) and go on to live a full and productive life reaching your goals and realizing your dreams.

Looking at myself in the photo, I don’t even remember my senior year — or 10th or 11th grade. I never attended one high school dance, including prom, due to crippling social anxiety. Pep rallies, extra-curricular activities, field trips, and basically anything outside of structured class time sent my anxiety into a tailspin.

Bucking tradition, I did not attend my high school graduation. Rather, I walked into the school office that summer and picked it up from the secretary who found it tucked away in a file cabinet.

Why did I skip it? I could not emotionally handle hearing classmates’ family and friends clap for them as they walked the stage; or seeing everyone take photos afterwards and enjoy parties for themselves and their friends knowing I didn’t have an audience for me. I was merely trying to find the strength to get out of bed and take a shower every day.

My mom was dying of breast cancer my entire junior year. I spent as much time at the hospital as I did in class. She passed away the summer before senior year, and twice divorced, there was no father in my life.

My grandparents and sister were grieving the loss of my mom as much as I was in their own ways. Frankly, I spent any extra energy apart from daily survival on trying not to fail math.

Years later, I found a letter from the principal congratulating me on my academic success of my senior year. I have zero memory of those days, so seeing I made honor roll was a shock. The letter was addressed and written to “The parents of…”

I was one of those students who fell through the cracks. The school evidently did not realize I had no parents and that my grandparents signed on as legal guardians to keep me out of foster care my senior year since I didn’t turn 18 until August after graduation.

My boyfriend broke up with me to date my best friend during my mom’s illness. Within a week of her death, life began to free fall and all I could do was watch frozen in horror.

As a minor, I had to legally vacate my childhood home and our belongings had to be sold in an estate sale to pay off family debt. I was forced to put down my 13 year-old dog (my 4th birthday present and BFF) because the stress of everything caused her to starve herself. She was emaciated beyond help and having to end her suffering was one of the worst moments of my life. My cat ran away, and the only mentor I had in the whole world announced they were moving out-of-state for a new job. Friends told me my life was a trainwreck and they didn’t know what to do with me.

I totaled my ’74 car (which had been my grandmother’s, then my mom’s, then mine), which meant losing my driver’s license and gaining a probation officer with community service hours to work off — the night before my mom’s funeral.

All of this happened the summer before senior year. I had nothing and no one except Christ, my sister’s hand-me-downs, and ironically, an empty hope chest.

I was devastatingly lonely, had no college fund to rely on, and began to struggle with an eating disorder as a result my mom’s death — with which I still wrestle.

There is always a story behind the smile.


I read a Facebook post regarding ancient senior photos floating around the world wide web which said today’s seniors don’t want to see others’ senior years in tact. *In tact* is a huge assumption.

No life is perfect. Every life has a story. It’s what we do with our story that paves our journey forward.


2020 Seniors, your grief is real. Your feelings are valid. Do not deny yourself working through the loss of your senior year. In your grieving, I encourage you to stay there only as long as necessary to heal.

Use grieving to help you take the next step forward. 

From someone who spent more time wanting to die than live because of trauma upon trauma, with no coping skills or outside help, I can tell you that you get to choose what you do with this senior season.

You can let it destroy you, or you can tap into strength you did not know you have and lean on God in ways you did not think possible.
Not only can you make it through this, but you can emerge stronger, more determined and more focused than you ever imagined on what you want for your next chapter.

Want to know what I chose to do instead of attending my graduation? I got on an airplane with my (then) boyfriend and flew from Florida to New York to meet his family. Four years my senior, he served in the Air Force and his mandated leave time overlapped with my graduation.

I had a choice. I could either attend graduation, which highlighted what I didn’t have while unresolved grief & social anxiety swallowed me alive walking across a silent stage, or forego tradition and take a leap into my future to meet a family who I already knew would be my future family.

He and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last month. My decision then was absolutely the right call and I would make the same decision a million times again. They welcomed me into their family when I was 17 and I married at 19.

We worked hard. He worked day, swing, and midshifts full-time with full class loads and I worked two jobs and took day and night classes. We put ourselves through college debt-free with every cent we had plus scholarships and grants we earned. I completed my B.A. four years later. He completed his B.S. the year after.

We bought our first home when I was 21. A tiny foreclosure on a cul-de-sac, our nicotine-drenched, ripped wallpaper, nasty bathrooms, abandoned house needed a lot of love. It was our little nest, and we slowly remodeled it room-by-room while working and going to school.

If someone had told me only four years earlier at 17, when I didn’t know what home address to put on my high school contact card, that I would own my own home — I wouldn’t have believed it.

If someone had told me when I skipped my high school graduation that I would go on to earn my bachelor’s degree and graduate on time — I couldn’t have believed it.

What I knew that night, donning a black silky robe and balancing a mortar board on my head, as I waited to take my turn to walk the university stage with my husband, grandparents, sister and her then boyfriend (now husband) and our best friends cheering for me in the stands, is that God can most certainly redeem what was lost.

The loss may be irreplaceable — as nothing could bring back my mom or replace everyone and everything ripped from my life — but if we stay in a posture of being willing to receive the gifts God has planned for us, and we continue to take a new step forward each day, then our hearts and lives can be genuinely full to overflowing with good things. Soul-filling, goal-accomplishing, dream-realizing things. Things beyond what we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

An awesome, fulfilling and rewarding life is possible after traumatic loss. 

During my junior year of college, someone I highly respected flat out told me that I would never graduate. They genuinely did not believe in me and it broke my heart in ways that silently hemorrhaged for years. I chose to extend forgiveness toward that person, and felt a personal cathartic release proving them wrong, as I shook hands with faculty on the stage that night.

Moving my tassel from right to left was a symbol that I did it. God gave me the strength and work ethic and I used all of it to run through that finish line.

I skipped my high school graduation because I was embarrassed and overwhelmed that I didn’t have a traditional posse cheering for me. One thing I’ve since learned is me cheering for me was enough. Accomplishing a goal is personal. And when I walked the stage to receive my college diploma, I was eternally grateful for those who came to cheer me on, but most of all I looked to heaven and gave thanks to God that he completed a work in me and we did it together. (Phil. 1:6)

Everyone’s journeys looks different. My husband and I were blessed to rear three kids who have grown into amazing adult children whom I highly admire. They have my heart.

One out-of-state move, three houses, multiple jobs, and being blessed to live out our heartbeat for international missions and relief work, I never could have dreamed that God would raise up beauty from ashes in the brokenness of my life. All glory goes to him.

He is absolutely the God of the impossible and only asks we trust him and take the next step that he puts in front of us.


2020 Seniors, I know inconsolable grief. Overwhelming loss. Desperate disappointment. Uncertain futures. Gripping fear. Unquenchable loneliness. Paralyzing hopelessness. Catastrophic helplessness.

I also know that you have the choice to allow how much this surreal season affects your present and future. I know there is purpose for you. I know there is an entire world waiting for you. A world who needs you to do what you were born to do. And I know that you have the power to choose whether this season breaks or benefits you.

If you’re quarantining in your home with those you call family; food in your pantry; an education to continue online or otherwise; and you have one friend who misses you; and a sport, club, volunteering or work that you miss, then you already have everything you need to graduate abundantly blessed.

Embrace what you have. Trust God that he can work for your good if you give it all to him, including your grief. Choose to let this season make you better, not bitter.

Keep looking ahead. Keep stepping forward. Take Bruce Lee’s advice and “Be water, my friend.” You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. (Phil. 4:13) And keep smiling, knowing the best is yet to come.

Black & Blue Salad, Modern

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I love the look of the classic wedge salad with tomatoes, bacon and blue cheese. Very swanky. Unfortunately, iceberg lettuce has practically zero nutrition. So I remade this salad into a much hearty, healthier version…and it’s addictive!

INGREDIENTS:  Makes 6 entree-sized salads

1 pkg                    Center-cut bacon; cooked

1                          Orange pepper; fresh (not frozen), sliced with seeds removed

1                          Yellow pepper; fresh (not frozen), sliced with seeds removed

1/2                       Red onion; peeled & sliced

4T                        Grapeseed (preferred), vegetable or Canola oil

1 + 1/2,                10oz boxes 50/50 lettuce & spinach

2                          Crowns of fresh broccoli (crown = without the stalk, if there is stalk just                                      cut it off); chopped

8oz                      Mushrooms; sliced

1c                        Frozen peas; thawed

2                          Cucumbers; sliced

1/2c                     Roasted pumpkin seeds

1 cup                   Pecan pieces or halves

2 pints                 Cherry or grape tomatoes

2 bunches           Green onions

1 1/2 – 2#           Beef sirloin; cubed (use “Pan Frying” or “Stir Fry” quality beef)

Salt & pepper to taste for beef

Red wine (optional)

DRESSING INGREDIENTS:

2c                        Crumbled blue cheese

1/3c                     Mayonnaise

1/3c                     Sour cream

1/3c                     Buttermilk

1/3c                     Red wine vinegar

1/4c                     Onion; diced

3 cloves               Garlic; minced

1T                       Sugar or Agave syrup

1/4t                    Black pepper

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook bacon @ 325 degrees for about a half hour (flip bacon halfway through). Place cooked bacon on plate with paper towel so as to absorb extra grease. Set aside.
  2. While bacon is cooking, saute orange & yellow peppers and red onion in 2T oil on med-high heat on stove until they just start to blacken. Set aside.
  3. While bacon is still cooking, make the dressing – Combine dressing ingredients (except blue cheese) in a food processor or blender and blend thoroughly. Add blue cheese and mash together until well blended. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. Prepare remaining vegetables according to their descriptions above (chop, slice, etc).
  5. Using 6 large bowls, divide the lettuce into the bowls.
  6. Divide the remaining vegetables equally and layer on the lettuce beds.
  7. On med-high heat, cook the beef (salt and peppered) and 2T oil on stove until no longer raw or as you wish (it’s safest to cook meat completely through). It only takes a few minutes; do not overcook or the meat will be tough.
  8. Optional – add a few splashes of red wine to the beef and cook for another minute or two.
  9. Divide beef equally and add to salads.
  10. Drizzle dressing on top and serve immediately.