Cooking

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Mini update + Photo drop

Between work, Mila and life I have no time to write… So, I’m just going to type the tiniest update ever.

Mila has been weaned for over a month. The transition could not have been smoother for her, I struggled emotionally a bit.

Fridays are spent doing crafts with the most amazing people ever, our great friends Kelly and Rebekah. So far we have done finger painting and Christmas cookies! Hand puppets are to follow and from there the ball will keep rolling. We are having so much fun watching our girls grow and develop. I could not feel more fortunate that Mila and I have these girls in our my life.

Work is busy, very busy, but incredibly good. We now have an official office (in a basement) and five team members. Jax is a mastermind! He is juggling Invento work, which we still have some of and leading Fingo down an amazing path, I am so fortunate to be married to such an incredible human being.

 

Now a photo drop!

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The G-Spot and the food cart you can start in college.

This post is going to ignore food safety regulations – so do your research before you take my advice. If you decide that you still want to pursue this idea do some more research on how your campus deals with student entrepreneurs and their crazy ideas. If you go to an University, it would probably be more complicated to get away with what we did, but if a small liberal college is where you are at, then you probably already know that putting up a food cart on a Sunday afternoon is not a problem at all.

So this is what we did:

It was late summer of 2009, Jax and I were driving a gigantic green and purple bus back from Ragbrai, a bike ride across Iowa. We were seated at the helm, it was a finicky machine to drive, plus you really felt it could break at any point and since Jax had converted it to run on veggie oil he was the only one who knew how it worked. As I fulfilled my childhood dream of sitting right against the windshield of a huge vehicle, Jax and I talked about life, which eventually brought us to the realization that unless we wanted an un-sailable sailboat to cruise the waters upon graduation, we would have to save some money to buy our boat. This meant we needed to start another “company”, one that was more profitable than Beloit General, Jax’s online general store, Beloit Tea Source, his tea business, and Yapa, my recycled-crafts line.

Towards the end of the eight-hour long drive we decided that we would use our last week of summer break to build and furnish a crepe and bubble tea cart. The Spring before we had quickly put together a cart called “The Peanut Stand” where we sold donuts and bubble tea to students. Having had tested the idea, this time we were going to go all out. With a drawing, that would insult any engineer in-hand, Jax, I and fortunate help Jaxon’s dad who is an architect started building the cart. We designed it to include a mini fridge, two crepe griddles, space to store all of the toppings, a cd player to play french music, hanging lights and a space to deal with the money.

It took us about 3 days to build the cart in Jax’s dad woodworking shop. We called a friend’s dad who we knew had closed his coffee shop and offered to buy his cream whipper, coffee thermos and syrup flavors. We read about crepe making, purchased the tapioca bubbles online, along with cups, straws and huge mixing bowls. When we got to school we painted it, assembled it and drew the terrible logo that would mean that no one knew it was “The G Spot” rather than the SPGT (pronunced by people spigot) or the Crepe Stand.

Our first night was a complete success.

We hauled the cart to the middle of a concert in campus and had a constant line from when our lights went on, at around 6:00 pm until around 1:00 am. It was a summer night, so the bubble tea sold as much as the crepes. After we had exhausted most of our ingredients we hauled it back to a basement kitchen that once, many years before, had “probably” passed FDA inspection and spent the next 3 hours meticulously cleaning every inch of the cart with bleach water. We really did not want anyone to get sick.

The next day was a Saturday, we spent most of our day buying ingredients, preparing the batter, preparing the cart and at around 9:00pm we went to our college’s main street, where all the fraternities hosted their parties. Somewhat intoxicated students would roam the street looking for food and we were in the perfect place to please them. One crepe, two crepes, some singing and a generous tips later, most student would be on their way. We stayed up until 12:00 to 1:00 am, most nights we sold out. Then we would clean for about two hours, walk to our apartment and go to bed at around 4:00 am, only to start the whole thing again the next day.  We ran Spigot G-Spot every weekend for about three months, almost every night we made a profit, but by the end of the season we were sick of Nutella, crepes and having the same conversation every weekend with the same drunk student.

Intoxicated student who bought crepes from us last weekend: Wow! Crepes! I’ve never seen you here before! This is an awesome idea!

Us: Hehe, thanks! What would you like today?

Intoxicated student who bought crepes from us last weekend: What do you recomend?

Us: I bet you’ll love Nutella with banana

Intoxicated student who bought crepes from us last weekend: Yes!! How did you know that? I love Nutella and banana.
We parked the cart in our driveway and said goodbye to the G-Spot. With some savings under our mattress and a business that had made more money than any of our previous had, we decided that we loved our weekend nights too much to continue with this venture.

So, that’s what we did… Now, this is what I would do differently:

I would replace the crepes with pomme frites. For those of you who do not know what pomme frites are, they are pretty much a snobby way of saying french fries, although some would argue that they are much longer and delicious – I agree. Anyway, drunk college student do not know that. So, I would buy two deep fryers like this one, a bunch of sauce containers like these and fill them with delicious sauces like bbq, ketchup, mayo, mustard and siracha (if you felt so inclined you could even look up some recipes and make your own – yum!). Instead of the crepe griddles I would put the fryers, make sure the cart is extremely stable and that no drunk college students can get to the hot oil, as to avoid any accidents. I would serve them up on these, add some salt and voila you are done.

Let the people get all excited about the sauces, they – for the most part – are drunk and hungry and fries are much more fulfilling and cheap than crepes, so they will eat. You would need an initial investment to buy or make the cart and furnish it, but most colleges would be happy to fund their entrepreneurs. The cleaning would also need to happen, but hey, you are running a food business you better be into cleaning if you do not want to get shut down or even worse sued.

To test out the idea you could go to Cosco or any of those destroyers-of-small-businesses stores and buy some frozen french fries, that way you minimize the amount of time you spend peeling and cutting potatoes. Once you think you have a profitable business in hand, probably the cheapest way to have a bunch of fries would be to buy them and cut them with something like this. If you are into locally sourcing ingredients, you could talk to a local farm and ask them to give a deal on a bunch of their potatoes.

Anyway, just an idea…

…for any dedicated college-aged entrepreneur who is willing to work rather than party their weekend nights. Although to be fair, you could always be the party. Put some good music on and your friends will stick around – at least until it gets cold, then move inside.

 

I am posting these against my better judgement! But I just want to show you how not legit you can look and run a business! And even make a profit!

Internal rambling:

I know the short-hair is not my best look! But I apparently lacked friends to tell me at the time lol!

Yes, the logo was that bad! Yes, Jaxon warned me that it would not read G Spot, but I won…

 

Below: The awesome veggie oil beast of a bus!

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2. The Peanut Stand! (Validating our idea)

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Yes people did this for us! I’m so sorry dude! We didn’t know better!!

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Food & Pregnancy

For all the mothers, mothers-to-be and for me in the future, I wanted to start writing some useful tips about pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting in general, so that if we do end up having another child and as expected my memory fails, I can always look back at what was useful to me with Mila.

Okay so before you read any further, let me make it clear to everyone that this is just based on experience. I am not a doctor, nor midwife, I have a BS on public health and that’s about it. So, before you try anything that your intuition does not also dictate to follow, please consult with your health practitioner.

When I found out I was pregnant I had a tiny panic attack about my body. I, as many women, thought that the pregnancy would make me gain pounds that would be impossible to shed, mark my belly with lines that would make bikini wearing not longer an option and my boobs would lie lo by my belly button. Now, I am certain that none of the stated before is true. Granted there are many types of pregnancies. Nonetheless, I wanted to write down some of the things that helped me stay in somewhat control of my body. The tips are multiple, so I’ll start with eating through out pregnancy in this post and move one from there in the coming weeks (or whenever Mila naps and I don’t have a huge amount of work – I should say).

 

Choosing the right foods through out pregnancy:

Something that became extremely obvious to me from day 16, was that I needed to eat. Sometimes I would even have to eat every waking hour in an effort to ease the nausea and infinite emptiness in my stomach. At around week 4, I realized that the eating frenzy was not about to stop and that I should choose my snacking food wisely. It didn’t seem to make a difference if I ate fruits, vegetables, chips or candy. All I knew was that I was hungry and thirsty. So in a conscious decision, I decided to choose grapes as my snacking food. So, other than my three healthy meals a day, I would snack on mostly grapes. If I craved anything else healthy I would go ahead and eat it, but if I was just hungry I would pickup grapes. This ended up being a great decision, for it helped with the thirst too.

At around 12 weeks I didn’t need grapes anymore. The nauseas faded and I did not feel the need to have constant food in my belly. I continued with three healthy meals a day and two snacks. At around 28 weeks I once again started getting extremely hungry and thirsty. This time I was done with grapes and decided to try out watermelon. Between Jax and I we probably eat a watermelon a week, which would probably not be recommended for sugar levels, but it did not seem to affect us. After Mila was born, as if it were magic, the need for watermelon disappeared.

Six months passed after her birth before I ever had to look for another all day snack. As Mila grows my body works hard to produce enough milk to feed her and have enough energy to power my body through sleepless days. This time I chose carrots and it is working out perfectly. These last option is probably the healthiest of the three, nonetheless it did not sound appealing the last two times, which probably says something.

So mums-to-be, remember to eat because you will most likely need to. But remember to choose your food wisely. Although stretch marks do occur on some women that do not experience a lot of rapid weight gain, they for the most part appear when your skin stretches too fast, the baby is already working hard on making that a fact, so do not aid it – specially during the third trimester.

Throughout my pregnancy I did not experience any craving other than orange juice, which I drank a lot of. My guess is that if your diet is healthy and balanced and your body feels that it has all the nutrients needed for the baby, it will not ask you for odd foods. Nonetheless, if it does eat the food it requests, for it is looking for important vitamins. If you are craving unhealthy food, such as sugar, something high in salt or very fried, then you are probably missing some vitamin that is masked within that unhealthy desire. Think about what of that food is appealing to you. For example, if you are craving french fries, then maybe you need some healthy fats, which can be found in salmon.

As most pregnant ladies learn, there are an incredible amount of variation within pregnancies. Yet, we all derived from the same specie so the similarities outweigh the differences. Feel in control of your body during pregnancy, because you can be. Seven months into being a mom, I have met way more moms who have not experienced dramatic permanent changes to their body, than women that have.

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My man’s bread

This post is dedicated to Mark and Ellen, Jaxon’s parents, because they are responsible for making my man into an incredible bread baker.

It all started when Jaxon was born and raised in his parents’ bakery, helping out and taking treats to the Madison farmer’s market. Since then, the bakery was sold, but both parents kept up their baking and eventually Mark and Jackson built an outdoor bread and pizza oven in their back yard. Over the years, Mark perfected his sourdough bread recipe until he became known for the bread around the family’s community. When I was first introduced to Mark’s bread, I didn’t think much about bread in general – I even tried to avoid it due to calories – stupid teenager!

It was a Fall weekend, it was my second time meeting Jaxon’s parents and first time in his house. Friday evening, we had just driven the three hours North that it took to get from Beloit College to Jaxon’s home. We brought a bunch of friends along in the car and much of the ride there was spent sharing stories of how wonderful Jaxon’s community was and how eager they all were to have some of Mark’s bread. As the only freshman in the car, I found everything they said intimidating, yet amusing.

Soon enough we arrived to utopia – as all our friends made it sound. Indeed the place was like nothing I had ever seen. The weekend was spent picking apples, making apple cider, harvesting in the garden and then Sunday came – baking day. By mid-morning the breads were out of the oven and we were all waiting with anticipation – my first bite was like nothing I had ever tried, a little sour inside and a perfect crust embraced it. After that day, my bread expectations rose 500% – the reason why Jax and I spent the next 3 years trying to copy his dad’s bread.

About a year ago I gave up, accepting the fact that the only place where I would have such a great bread was at my parents-in-law’s house. My expectations lowered and they did not even rise up when Ellen and Mark brought some sour dough starter with them during their visit to Ecuador. Soon after they left back to the states, Jax started baking again (alcohol for our boat oven was too expensive to ever feel great about big baking projects) and within a couple days of moving into La Casita, Jax was producing Mark’s bread! He studied our little oven and his dad’s notes and on his first try he got it right. At this point, we have encountered many people who have requested his bread and complemented him on his baking. My mom is now on a “loaf per week” order and one of her friends has said that she’ll pay us to come to Galapagos and build her a bread oven and make her some bread (one of four people that have placed similar oven requests).

So, thank you Mark and Ellen. Thanks to you two and the amazing child you raised up, I can enjoy the most spectacular bread in the world.

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DIY – How to make yogurt

Making yogurt from scratch is easy. Is it cost effective? That depends on if you have cheap milk near-by or just how expensive the yogurt you normally buy is. Is the taste going to be better from store-bought yogurt? That depends on if you have tasty natural (aka real yogurt) that is affordable nearby. We decided to begin making our own because we have very affordable milk right here on the farm and unfortunately Ecuador’s yogurt market includes only one real yogurt, which comes in only one flavor, is not cheap and of course is only available in a store 30 minutes away.

Okay, now that I have questioned you a little, I will tell you that making our own yogurt definitely made us feel a bit empowered. This empowerment comes from knowing exactly what goes into your yogurt and the ability to add your own choice of sweeteners and/or flavors, exactly to your taste.

Ingredients & Materials:
– Milk (the quantity depends on how much yogurt you want to make – 3 cups of milk in, 3 cups of yogurt out)
– Yogurt Cultures (this can be obtained from another yogurt that has “live cultures” any reasonably hippy-ish yogurt should do)
– Some way to “incubate” the fermenting yogurt at 110* F (43* C) for 7+ hours. We use a bit of resistive wire, but a more at-hand solution could involve an oven with a pilot light or maybe some kind of fire-proof box with a few big light bulbs.
– A pot big enough to hold all of the milk with a bit of room to spare
– Maybe a towel? (we use one to insulate the milk while incubating)
– A spoon
– A liquids thermometer (a meat-style thermometer will probably be okay also)

Steps:

Pour the milk into your pot and let it heat up until 185* F  (85* C). Then turn off the heat and let the milk cool down to 110* F – (43* C). After your milk has reached the right temperature pour it into a container (with lid) of your choice – glass is probably the best material. Stir in a couple tablespoons of your store-bought yogurt and seal the container.

Now the tricky part begins, you need to find a way to keep your milk at that temperature for 7 hours. We solved the problem by getting a heating wire and wrapping the container with it. Then wrapping the whole thing with a bath towel and sticking it all in a large pot.

Solutions for the heating problem:

– Buy a commercial yogurt maker. If you want to do bigger batches then just simply take the heating cable out and do what we did, wrap it around the container with a towel.

– Wrap your container in a warm blanket and then in a down coat and leave it in the warmest part of your house – remembering to keep an eye on the temp.

– You could also place your mix in a cooler and add warm water until the desire temperature is achieved and change the water as often as needed so the temperature does not decrease.

– Another options is to keep your oven at that temp – but that is not very Eco-friendly.

When 7 hours has passed, take the yogurt out of the heater, open up the container and mix everything inside thoroughly. Now replace the lid and put the container in the fridge. It will be ready to eat in about 12 hours.

The texture can be easily changed, for it to be a more liquidy, mix thoroughly with an electrical mixer or by hand. If you would like a thicker consistency,  simply place the final product in some porous fabric and let the liquid drain until you have obtained the thickness wanted. If you let it drain all night, you will have Greek Yogurt. If you go for more than 12 hours, you will have a kind of light cream cheese substitute, called “labneh”.

Enjoy!

Hacer yogurt de zero es fácil. ¿Es la opción mas economica? Bueno, eso depende de si tiene acceso a leche barata. ¿Va a saber mejor que el de la tienda? Depende de si tienes algún yogurt natural rico cerca. Nosotros decidimos hacer nuestro propio yogurt por dos razones, la primera porque en Ecuador las opciones de buenos yogurts naturales son bastante limitadas y porque tenemos acceso a leche barata en la hacienda.

Bueno, después de haber cuestionado un poco, le cuento que hacer yogurt es bastante fácil, especialmente cuando ya tiene todos los materiales.

Ingredientes y Materiales:

  • Leche (la cantidad va a variar dependiendo en cuanto quieres hacer, el volumen bajara solo como un 5%)
  • Levadura de yogurt (esto puede conseguir de otro yogurt natural, en Ecuador el yogurt El Pino es la mejor opción)
  • Alguna forma de incubar el liquido a 43*C por 7 horas. Nosotros usamos un cable que se caliente hasta la temperatura deseada que sacamos de una maquina de hacer yogurt comercial. Una caja de madera con unos focos grandes puede servir o talvez un horno con luz interna.
  • Una olla del tamaño necesario para su cantidad de leche.
  • Un recipiente de vidrio para el yogurt
  • Talvez una toalla (nosotros usamos una mientras el yogurt se fermenta)
  • Un termómetro de líquidos (uno de carnes también funciona)
  • Una cuchara

Pasos:

Echar la leche a la olla y dejarla calentar hasta 85 *F. Cuando haya llegado a esta temperatura apagar la hornilla y dejar que la temperatura baje hasta 43 *F. Poner la leche en el recipiente deseado – mejor si es de vidrio – aumentar dos cucharadas de levadura de yogurt y cerrar el recipiente. Ahora viene la parte complicada, el liquido debe permanecer a esta temperatura por 7 horas. Nosotros compramos un cable que se calienta a la temperatura deseada y le envolvimos a nuestro recipiente en el, con una toalla y a todo le metimos a una olla.

Otras soluciones pueden ser:

Comprar una maquinita de hacer yogurt comercial – si quiere hacer porciones mas grandes puede sacar el cable y hacer lo que nosotros hacemos, envolver a la leche con el y una toalla.

Envolver el recipiente en una cobija caliente y una chompa o cobija de plumas y ponerlo en algún sitio caliente de la casa.

Poner el recipiente en un cooler con agua de la temperatura adecuada y estar chequeando cada dos horas que la temperatura siga igual, sino seguir aumentando agua caliente.

Dejar la leche en el horno prendido a la temperatura adecuada – claro que esto no es muy ecológico. Puede ser que la luz del horno le brinde a la mezcla suficiente calor una vez que la temperatura interna haya llegado a 43 *C.

Una vez que las siete horas hayan pasado, meta el yogurt a la refri y estará listo para consumir al otro dia. Si la consistencia no es la deseada se puede batir para hacerlo mas liquido o ponerlo en una tela porosa y dejar que el liquido salga. Si se deja toda la noche, el resultado es yogurt greco y si se deja mas de 12 horas tiene una especie de queso crema.

Disfruta!

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Home-made cappuccino – using only a French Press

This is a quick tutorial for those that love Cappuccinos, but don’t have a Cappuccino machine in the house or do have the machine, but don’t like the drink it produces or it’s broken. For this simple Cappuccino, all you need is a French Press, coffee and milk and a pan to heat the milk.

Based on that intro, you may be inclined to ignore the whole post and assume that you are better off just waiting for your next stop at a coffee shop. I felt the same way every time I saw this technique mentioned over the last years, but hear this – the Cappuccino I made this afternoon, on my first attempt, was the best I have had the pleasure of consuming since painstakingly making the “perfect cap” for myself as a coffee shop Barista in Beloit College 5 years ago.

A quick disclaimer, you will have better results if you can make the Espresso with by a stove-top Espresso maker, like the one shown in the photos below, rather than with the French Press (not really Espresso). These aluminum Espresso makers are infinitely cheaper than a full-blown, electric Cappuccino machine (10ish dollars) and should last for decades, rather than only a couple years.

What you’ll need:

  • Ground coffee.
    • 2 tablespoons for a single and 4 four a double.
    •  If making with a stove-top Espresso maker, use a very fine grind. If making a coffee concentrate (rather than real Espresso) with a French Press, use a very coarse (big-grained) grind.
  • Water for Espresso
    • 1/4 cup for a single or a bit more for a double.
  • Milk
    • Fill your coffee mug 1/3+ full of the cold milk to estimate. The frothing process should more than double the volume of the milk and you will need to fit the 1/4+ cup of Espresso as well.
  • A French Press of any size and make
  • (optional) A stove-top Espresso-maker

Instructions:

  • Brew up your Espresso. Either in the stove-top maker or as a strong and small coffee in a French Press. For reference 195* F is the theoretical optimal temp for this.
  • While the coffee is brewing, pour your milk into a thick-bottomed pan and heat up to around 155 degrees. If you don’t happen to have a liquids thermometer handy, a starting place is that 115* is right around when a liquid gets too hot to keep/dip your finger in. Don’t burn it!
  • If making the coffee/Espresso with your French Press, pour the coffee into your mug and quickly clean out the Press in preparation for the next step.
  • Pour the hot milk into the Press and plunge vigorously for 2-3 minutes. The milk should double or triple in volume.
  • Poor the frothed milk over the Espresso – making cool “cappuccino art” on the surface is you are feeling creative
  • Drink, enjoy and comment here with your results:)

 

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Getting our dairy fix!

Today we picked up our first weekly “box” from Zuleta’s creamery and cheese factory and man were/are we excited. The dairy order went like this:

  • 5 liters (1 1/4 gallons) of unpasteurized whole milk.
  • 1 liter (1/4 gallon) of fresh cream
  • 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs) of Zuleta cheese (Pategras and Angochagua)

Even by my measure, that is a lot of cow products, especially considering that neither Caye nor I really drink milk at all. Despite that, we have already used up 1.5 liters of the milk in the first 5 hours of having it in the house. How? By making a huge batch of yogurt and 1 giant cappuccino – tutorials on both to follow. All for $15.30

Other than getting our dairy fix, we spent the day, starting at 6am, working hard on an increasingly large load of web design and coding work. On any given day during the last year, we typically were working on 5-7 websites simultaneously. In the last few weeks, we have seen a step-up in the number of quote requests and contracts and are now balancing around 10 projects at the same time. It is exciting, challenging and rewarding. Luckily we have a great group of folks working for us, which makes the whole thing manageable and generally stress-free.

Last things last, around 4pm, I headed over to the other side of the woodworker’s/mechanic’s shed/shop that we live in and spent two hours working with Maestro Santos (resident mechanic) and Maestro Lluki (woodworker) on a couple of overdue projects. The two are great folks, funny and very talented in their respective crafts. With Lluki, we are making up a quick set of “rustic” under-counter shelves for the kitchen. With Santos, A heavy-duty steel door and frame for the masonry heater.

For the evening, we are hoping to relax a bit, maybe watch a movie, then back to work tomorrow morning.

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A weekend – baking, building + photodrop

Hi everyone. Hope you all had a fantastic weekend. The local weather has been improving a ton recently and we had a really pleasant weekend working with our hands and making tasty foods. The quick version is this – we spent the last three days drying out our trial mud oven, hanging out and chatting with the Zuleteña wives of the maestros that are working on our apartment, moving flooring boards, playing with the dogs, cutting more wine bottles into glasses (still don’t quite have the technique down), making two batches of bread, a big batch of veggie burgers and experimenting with two more varieties of Chicha. I also chatted with my parents and extended family back home and loved hearing and seeing everyone and getting caught up on the early summer and other happenings in central Wisconsin, USA.

Enjoy the photos and we’ll be back with some more detailed stuff, like recipes and fun project ideas shortly. We have also been interviewing some new traveling friends and other interesting folks from Ecuador and will be publishing those interviews soon hopefully.

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Ecuadorian hot chocolate recipe – leche con chocolate

I am about to expose you to the secrete of Ecuadorian hot chocolate… Mozzarella cheese or queso fresco. Yes, indeed we pour our rich chocolate and milk mixture on top of cubes of cheese. After the cup is full, cinnamon decorates the top, making this drink excellent for cold Andean nights. To be entirely honest with you, I have never found this mix that good, but once I exposed Jax to it, he would not have it any other way.

Recipe:

Lots of Chocolate. If in Ecuador, Doña Olguita is the best

Milk

Fresh/young Cheese, Mozzarella or Queso Fresco work

Cinnamon sticks