Raw State

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I decided to leave Portugal behind me late in 2015 and in December, I returned to Ireland to my hometown. After relocating, I found myself living in a house with a garden that had been neglected for many years. Once upon a time it had been a thriving garden. I had a connection for this particular “terra” and early in February (Spring, according to the ancient Irish calendar), I felt that this garden space needed a little bit of attention.

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It was a daunting task. It was unclear how to proceed because of the state of the space was so far gone. When I started blogging the initial premise of thewayofthecook was the theme of from seed to table. I thought that I could use this space to continue that theme. But there was a lot of hard, grunt work ahead of me. All the gardens that I have worked in were always ready to plant. Not so, in this case. So I began to clear it. Inch by inch, square foot by square foot. 

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It took me six weeks to get this far and this is just above the ground. The space measures about 1,100 square feet but I am only going to use about 800. And everything had to go, rocks, bottles, domestic refuse and that was only above the ground. 

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And this is how the kitchen garden looks three months later. May 1st is tomorrow. The list of flowers to attract pollinators includes bluebells, aquilegia, honeysuckle, lavendar, roses, sunflowers, foxgloves, borage and morning glorys. The list of herbs and leaves includes parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, tarragon, bay, wild fennel, arugala, mesclun and red oak leaf lettuce. The list of fruits includes cherry tomatoes, gooseberries, strawberries and rhubarb. There is also peas, fava beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, scallions, shallots and red onions. Later I hope to put in beans, swiss chard, beets, turnips, radishes and celery root. If space permits. All has been done with organic and bio-dynamic methods. I hope to return to blogging with the seed to table theme. Eat like a peasant.

Tavira Mediterranica

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Throughout the Mediterranean basin, with all it’s different lands and cultures, the common denominator of the cuisine is based on the traditional staples of wheat, olives and grapes. Technically, Portugal does not border the Mediterranean. It’s climate can best be described as Atlantic Maritime. However, like the Portuguese language, there is always an exception to the rule. The southern Portuguese regions of Alentejo and the Algarve are, by definition, Mediterranean. This is on account of the climate. And climate, throughout the Mediterranean, influences the local cooking style. As does soil conditions and composition, water and location.

Whole wheat sour dough bread.

Wheat is synonomous with the concept of Mediterranean cooking. Without it, there are no regional breads, or any of the regional pastas, tabbouleh, cous-cous, bulghur and so on. The region of Alentejo is Portugal’s bread-basket and the largest producing region of wheat in Portugal. Indeed, it was what attracted the Roman’s to this this place. Wheat was neccessary for “empire building” in order to feed an expanding population. The Romans also brought their improved technology for milling the grain. Needless to say, I recommend whole wheat and encourage you to include more of it in your diet.

Wheatberry salad with golden beets and mustard greens.

In Tavira, I am fortunate to be able to purchase locally grown wheat from a farm in Santa Luzia, a village two miles away. Santa Luzia, or Saint Lucy is the patron saint of eye problems and her feast is celebrated on December 13. “Luz” in Portuguese means light and she is associated with the Winter solstice when the days begin to get longer and brighter. Wheat is also associated with her feast day.

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Certainly, without olives, there can be no extra virgin olive oil and, by default, no such thing as the concept of Mediterranean cooking. It is the primary cooking medium. Olives grow abundantly around Tavira and during the late Autumn, local farmers bring their harvest to the local cooperative to have their olives crushed so as to have it for the coming year.

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As a believer in local and sustainable food systems, Tavira’s local agriculture and markets play a key role in my outlook and food philosophy. Most, if not all, food items that I purchase are sourced locally. I have a special place in my heart for Quinta Shanti, a local organic farm located 5 miles away in Conceicao. I received their extra virgin olive oil pressed from their own Manzanilha olives. Unfiltered, you can see the difference what a year makes. Due to gravity and time, the oil will self clarify as all the little olive particles held in suspension will gradually fall the bottom of the jar. I use it every day for all my cooking needs and also as a table condiment to complete dishes. I also use extra virgin olive oil as a medicinal by taking two tablespoons each morning. Do that for a month and tell me how you feel.

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Much has already been written about Portuguese wines and there are many delicious wines from the Algarve that go under the radar screens. Fuzeta is a fishing village located 10 miles from Tavira. It is the octopus capital of the Algarve. This red wine is not D.O.C. rated because of the inclusion of Cabernet-Sauvignon into the blend. Portuguese D.O.C. wines must, by law, use local varietals that have been traditionally used within a defined region.

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Terras da Luz or Lands of the Light is from the parish of Luz da Tavira, located halfway between the towns of Tavira and Fuzeta. Luz da Tavira is also the archaelogical site of Balsa and considered one the more important Roman settlements in the Algarve. At that time, the Romans named the region Lusitania. Luso was the son of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Eat, and drink, like a peasant.

 

Gastropunk meets Alternative Algarve

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Fish swimming in shoals in the sea brings to mind the Chaos Theory. It also reminds me of the frenetic energy involved in busy, fast-paced kitchens. There is always method and reason.

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I am also reminded of the Portuguese soccer coach, Jose Mourinho. He tells his players that they will play and subscribe to a particular style of footballing philosophy. This idea is also true with food. I prefer to cook in a particular style and with a certain attitude. Bees 3 versus Monsanto Corporation 0.

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Instinctive and fundamental to my culinary beliefs are the ideas of eating local foods, seasonally and organically. This means you inherently support your local farmers, growers and the good people that bring you your food. I am lucky to have found an organic farm near where I am located.

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Quinta Shanti is 90% self sufficient. In addition to grapes, olives are grown. Plus figs, apples, pears, peaches, oranges, lemons and apricots. I have not even begun to list the vegetables.

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I have an agreement with the farmer to buy vegetables from them once a week. This is great news on a number of different fronts. It introduces me to the rhythms of the Algarve growing season which is very different from what I left behind in New England. Even though there is a municipal market in my new town, Tavira, it is still largely supplied by the industrial food chain. You have to careful, observant and disciplined with your purchasing decisions. It is good to be able to recognise an industrially grown tomato or to be able to see what garlic was grown out in the back of the vendor’s garden.

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The Portuguese love their dried beans in all of their various shapes, colours and texture. This chick pea salad has the addition of fresh coriander. I have never eaten as much coriander in my life. I can’t find basil anywhere but coriander is used abundantly and then some, everywhere.

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I only have eyes for you. Say hello to piri-piri peppers. These little peppers pack some serious heat. Whilst the shrimps have never seen the inside of a freezer, their flavour is enhanced by generous amounts of garlic. And yes, it is necessary to have all that delicious olive oil on the plate.

 

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Algarve wines have come a long way in the past 3,000 years. Phoenicians, Romans and Moors all had a hand in this history. Nowadays, some of the better wines available have achieved D.O.P. status and that’s good news for me and you.

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Algarve style fish baked in a pot. I arranged the 1/4 ” sliced potatoes in the dish, shingled so as to be reminiscent of fish scales. I filled the cavity of the fish with rosemary and lemon. I seasoned the fish with Tavira D.O.P. flower of sea salt and sliced garlic. I moistened the dish with white wine, tomato juice and D.O.P. quality olive oil. Serves one.

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I’m still hungry. All that ocean and salt air! This eat out of your hand snack includes local fresh goat’s milk cheese, cherries and pistachios on home made whole wheat bread. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

A Sirius Thing.

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Sirius, otherwise known as the Dog Star, is high in the night sky and so begins the dog days of Summer. Theoretically, everything ought to be busting out. And they are. But in my micro garden, things operate at a slower pace.

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Though these tomatoes are still green, according to my micro climate here in the city, they ought to be ripe sometime in the next two weeks to coincide with the August Full Moon. I say ought because the tomatoes will not all ripen at the same time. There is an element of so far, so good and fingers crossed. I have noticed this year that my little kitchen garden has been mostly unaffected by insect infestation.

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Swiss Chard did very well for me this year…….for the first time ever. It was worth pursuing because now it adds to the scope and range of items that I like to cook. If I am lucky, I will have time to prepare a Ligurian style torta.

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This is a swamp cicada beetle. These guys come back every year instead of every seventeen years. My cat, Agent Orange, brought this home as a sort of tribute and acknowledgement of the good times he is having. I knew something was up with his excitement. His maw was chockfull of live beetle. I enjoy their transparent, veiney wings. This Tinker-Bell was having none of that.

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To confirm. Yes, the cicada is one big bug. In fairness, credit must go to Agent Orange for his contribution in  demonstrating his role in his urban food chain.

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These are scarlet runner pole beans coiling themselves around sunflower stems.

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This is Tuscan black kale. The New Moon begins Tuesday and it will be ready for picking this week. And maybe time to plant some more for Autumn.

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This is Nigella or black cumin. I know it colloquially as “Love in a Mist”. It looks like it is going to flower. With the New Moon this week, I will be sowing more. Again fingers crossed. Who does’nt love cumin. Thanks for reading.Eat like a peasant.

The Monsanto Anti-Garden.

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At last, the big day is here. Picking pole beans. There is never a lot at the beginning. You have to pick them to encourage more growth. But soon there will be lots of these “Marvel of Venice” heirloom pole beans.

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This is a mystery squash plant that I did not start. It came from the compost heap. I would really like it to be a pumpkin or something, but not a zucchini. It looks like a zucchini but it is still early.

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Gathering fennel pollen. I like to use this as a seasoning for southern Italian and Sicilian fish ideas.

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It looks like the bee has the same idea as me.

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I will have to pick through the fennel pollen. It is the yellow flecks I am interested in. I heard of an interesting term recently for the style of gardening I do. Micro gardening. It would appear that more and more urban dwellers would like to exercise more control over their food and this is one of the reactions. This trend can also be witnessed at farmers markets. People want to see more transparency with food production and especially food labeling. And speaking for myself, I would like to see no genetically modified foods in use anywhere. Micro gardening in the city is anything from a window box to a container to a small plot. And you get to grow whatever you want in your available space.

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The fractal sunflower. It is interesting to say the least about watching or tracking the development of a sunflower. I’m already a hit with the neighborhood birds after my blueberry crash. They got them all. I bet they cannot wait for fresh sunflower seeds next. I had an interesting visitor this week, an American goldfinch. I hope he likes sunflower.

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These are black mustard seed pods getting organised to go snap, crackle and pop. Usually, I let them fall to the ground to re-seed for the Autumn so that it can be included as part of a salad bowl.

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On the larger tomatoes, I have flowers but not really a lot of fruit dropping yet. Soon, barring mold, blight, rot, worm, beetle, fungus, mite or vitamin deficiency, I might see a big tomato. This one is doing well and is another compost heap gift which happened to sprout and grow in a location that would not be a hindrance. I do not know what variety of tomato it is but it is heirloom and indeterminate. At it’s current rate of growth it will need more support than it already has. Hopefully, I can identify it at a later stage.

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On the other hand, the smaller grape and cherry tomatoes are doing fine……so far.

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Happy nasturtium blossoms.Thanks for reading. Garden like a peasant and eat like a peasant while you are at it.

A Spring Garden

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A little bit goes a long way. Just when I thought asparagus season was over. It has not been the easiest spring seeding. Blame the weather, blame the seed, blame my compost, whatever. And bugs too. Ants, slugs, beetles, snails and on the wing as well. Horseflies too, I got bitten by one. Hopefully, I’ll have some lettuces this spring. The astute eye will note the reseeded miniature wild fennel as well as the newly formed squash/pumpkin plant.

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But there is no shortage of wild arugula no matter what the conditions. It is indestructible and tastes great too. Now is the best time with the new tender leaves. It looks a little “holey” but that is the nature of organic gardening. A little imperfection without chemical interferene.The darker leaf is mustard and also rejuvenates itself against all odds every year. Everything else in my little space needs time, kale, peas, fennel, leeks, onions and garlic. Later this month, again weather pending, I will plant pole beans, spinach, carrots, beets and turnips. Tomatoes even later again. The nights are still cold here, 43F here tonight in New England. It will be nipping at zero or freezing point elsewhere in New England. That’s a real buzz kill in terms of wanting to go out and actually plant something. So my romaine lettuce did’nt make the cut but the kale did and thats the zen beauty of organic gardening right there. Nature fills a vacuum. I’ll try planting romaine lettuce again and see what happens but in a small garden it has to compete for space with other plants that are doing fine.

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One of the cool things about having a garden and there are many. But, for me, it has to be the authenticity it adds to the flavors of your cooking. Pure, clean and simple. Such that you can understand how certain dishes became classics in the first place. This is asparagus risotto shown above. It has taken me a long time to get to this point to be able to understand such a simple, elegant dish and, more importantly, grow the asparagus. Maybe next year, I could grow the freaking rice. Hmmm, food for thought……..paddy grown rice. The irony!

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According to the UN, we all should be eating insects and bugs already. Locusts, wasps you name it. Grasshoppers too. I myself have not got to that point yet but understand the reasons. The concept of vegetarianism is not so alien after all. A healthful choice of animal protein derived from local artisenally reared organic USDA approved insects or a plate of local organic, sustainable carrots grown in rabbit or chicken manure. It’s all good.
This local insect, which hovered nearby like a Huey helicopter, was not for dinner to-night. He was busy pollinating. I run my local, sustainable, bio-dynamic and organic garden on the Blackwater, USA model or a soccer team. I contract out all my gardening jobs to insects. The good ones, that is. In fact, I have my own little air-force……..lady-bugs, preditary wasps, honey-bees. As well as a clandestine wing of spiders and a thriving underground of earthworms. If you use no chemicals, they will find their way to your garden and populate it. Eat like a peasant.

Nice Ass

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I know. When all else fails, asparagus attracts an audience. I planted asparagus crowns four years ago. This is the first year I was able to pick anything meaningful. Despite the snowy winter, despite the colder, dryer spring, my little micro climate in my little kitchen garden delivered for me. And then it was over. See ya….gone…..done. This is asparagus with braised fish, preserved tomatoes and olives.

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Pasta and asparagus, a spring classic. One permutation of Pasta Primavera. I added baby arugula from my garden to pad it out.

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Asparagus soup……pureed and finished with extra virgin olive oil and garden chives.

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Grilled asparagus. No more asparagus until next year. I have to wait on garden asparagus risotto. Maybe I should try to expand the asparagus plot. Another three or four years in the making. In the meantime and the be here now, I am picking arugula, radicchio and mustard greens everyday for spring salads. It does not sound like much but it sure beats buying salad mix. I saw it being priced at $4.49 for 5 ounces up the street in the local supermarket. I like my flavor better. Better my garden bugs and insects than their Salmonella and t’ing. Eat like a peasant.

Kamut Pasta…….This Is How We Roll

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Finally………I have only ever used store bought Kamut pasta. I wanted to try my hand making it at home. I have never used the whole grain before. How hard can this be? Well, for one I am not going to use any eggs. Egg pasta is richer and harder to digest than a pasta made from flour and water. In that context also, egg pasta can seem a little heavier. Need to know more about Kamut, check out my blogroll. Thanks to the good people at Kamut International who steered me towards Bob’s Red Mill. If you have an interest in grains, I’d suggest them.

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Here are the raw materials……….ground up Kamut, water and salt. There is no need to add anything else, especially olive oil. I have tried making it with olive oil. It did not work for me.

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There were two mistakes I made the first time around. I already mentioned olive oil. The second mistake I made was not to grind the grain fine enough. As a result, the small pieces of grain kernel worked like glass shards and cut into any elasticity action during the stretching or rolling out procedure. The simple corrective action was to sieve everything and re-mill what was left. Here, I was reminded of “00” pasta flour from Italy. “00” simply means that it has been re-milled. So, that’s what I did and obtained a finer measure of coarseness. I’m using the whole grain, don’t forget. Right now, the only way for me to get the Kamut flour finer is to obtain  a finer meshed strainer or sieve.

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So far, so good……..the pasta is not being ripped to bits. I can live with the rough edges of the pasta sheet. This was a very hard grain to deal with. If you have not made pasta before, I’d suggest not trying this just yet.If you are somewhat proficient at pasta making, press ahead and let me know how you made out. The observant eye will notice there is no clamp with my pasta machine. It makes the job a little harder to do.

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I weighed out 4 ounces of sieved or strained home milled Kamut and mixed it with 2 ounces of water, then kneaded it a while before introducing the pasta dough to the machine. I know there are different ways to roll out pasta. I used the hand-crank machine, an Imperia from Torino. Forza, Juve.

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Times like this I wish I had audio here……..pasta making music. I also decided to use the attachament that came with the pasta machine to make my life a little easier. There are other ways to cut pasta. I’m just happy I got this far with the project.

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Pasta and the sauce to go along with it……….one of life’s little or big mysteries. I’m opting for garlic and porcini mushrooms to build a sauce on.A splash of white wine for acidity and the leftover water from rehydrating the porcini mushrooms as a stock base. This starving peasant has no herbs. Sage might be nice. But then, I remembered….something more appropriate.

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What a delicious winter side-dish that can pair with just about anything. I roasted root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and rutabaga and glazed them with local raw honey. Then I added a Sicilian twist with white wine soaked golden raisins and salted capers.

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I added the green radicchio to brighten the pan and  give bitterness to offset the earthiness of the porcini and also as a measure against the sweetness of the side-dish of roots. I used toasted chopped hazelnuts in addition because I can imagine wild boar going around the forest feeding on these things. Besides, the word “porcini” translates as little pigs. I added the hazelnuts for texture and crunch. Two things…..this dish could have used a little Speck or Pancetta added, entirely optional. There is that pig again. And secondly, there is no tomato sauce or cream. Extra virgin olive oil. Eat like a gangster. thanks for reading. Hello, Ireland and Hello, Japan.

Dear Prudence, Won’t You Kamut To Play.

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I’m all about wheat. I grew up on it. And consequently, to this day, I care not for white bread. Gimme the whole grain.
Imagine then, years later being introduced to another ancient grain called Farro. I took special delight being able to weave that particular grain into my repertoire.
Kamut is another ancient grain. And it is grown here in the United States and other points around the globe. I heard about Alce Nero after a friend had attended a Slow Foods conference in Italy. Everything they do is organic and from Italy.
This is Penne Rigate. Little pencils that are ridged. On the label, you will see “integrale”. This means the whole grain. But they also tell you that it is 100 % Kamut. Cento per cento. I wonder if they will tell how long to cook it. Sometimes the label does’nt tell you. I guess they assume everybody knows how to cook pasta the right way. Unfortunately, most people are not as confident. 8 minutes to cook. It’s takes longer to write this sentence.

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My understanding is that Kamut is an old word for wheat from ancient Egypt. It can be traced back to Mesopotamia, todays Irag in the Middle East. I believe, but could be open to correction, that the Khorasan was a region straddling todays Iran and Afghanistan. I’m interested in how food travelled over time. Food history, I suppose. On the label, you will see the words ” bronze die”. The die is the part of the pasta machine where the pasta dough emerges and its cut or shape will be determined. Here the makers removed the previous die and replaced it with die to shape or cut penne rigate. Or ridged penne. There is also a die that allows you make penne with no ridges. And then there is penne zitoni and also pennette. All variations on the form using different dies.
The makers also used a bronze die. Using a bronze die will give the pasta a more rustic look. Some pastas like look like sandpaper. This is good. It gives the pasta tooth, allows your sauce to adhere to the pasta. The industrial alternative is a teflon die. Non-stick. No need to say anymore.

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Todays word of the day is……..L’inconfondibile

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The astute eye will notice the high protein content of the grain. This is good.

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The next step is for me to find some whole grain Kamut. There is none in my pantry. I think it will become a welcome addition to my kitchen and table. A real food with a real story. Love the energy. Thanks for reading.