10 Years Later

BG graduation - with BA sign

Standing by my college’s sign at BGSU after graduating.

Last night, I was feeling reflective. Probably because I realized that ten years ago, I was in this same spot. Not life point, but location. Currently, I live in the Kanto Plains of Japan and in 2003, I also spent a summer here. During that summer, I was completing my final internship with MWR. It was my last adventure before entering the “real world” to find a job, home, and possibly a husband. That summer, however, was all about being young and having fun!

10 years ago…I was at the start of my career. The world was full of possibilities. I was single. I had spent the majority of my life in America. I wanted to live overseas and travel. I didn’t have a full-time job. I worked insane hours but loved every minute of it.

Greece 2002 - Court at Greek Church

Summer 2002 internship in Souda Bay, Greece

Japan 2003 - Mt Fuji

Summer 2003 internship in Atsugi, Japan. Hiking Mt. Fuji

Now 10 years later… I am married. I have a dog. I have lived overseas for the past 8+ years (At this point, Ohio is more of a travel destination to me than “home.”) I have worked a variety of jobs. I have lived in Europe and Asia. I have climbed peaks in several countries. I am always trying new recipes. I speak in a jumbled mix of English, Spanish, Japanese, and other languages. I’ve tried backpacking and loved it. I have experiences the good and bad of living in other cultures; I have experienced the good and bad of America when I return. I walked the Camino with pilgrims from around the world. I spend plenty of time in my kitchen, writing my blog, or researching upcoming travels. I’ve made friends with several like-minded people around the globe. I became a foodie.

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Kyoto, Japan

Grand Canyon - Goddess pose

Backpacking Grand Canyon in 2004 with friends.

Spain - Carriage ride in Sevilla

My husband and I on a carriage ride around Sevilla only a few short days after getting engaged!

Yum - Okonomayaki

Enjoying Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, Japan

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Our little “Spanish” dog who loves hiking as much as we do!

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Cooking class in Seoul, Korea

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Learning the chado, Japanese way of tea, and performing for others

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Cooking with Annie B in Andalucia, Spain

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My husband and I along the Camino de Santiago, Spain

And I have made my way back to Japan. I realize I’m pretty lucky to be able to come back to a place that had such an impact on me years ago. This time however, I feel that I appreciate it more as a world citizen than just an American living in Japan.

xxCourtney

Dirty Tom’s Rice

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Dirty Tom’s Rice

Dirty Tom’s Rice. Yes, I realize it’s an odd name for a dish. I blame my husband. This was the name he jokingly gave it as we were working on this recipe creation….and it stuck!  He’s arguably as good of a home cook as I am, and spends plenty of time there since I work late three nights a week. He is the resident master of meats, risotto, fish, and his delicious Jamaican jerk creations. This is a recipe was the results of his efforts to find the perfect side dish for grilled Jamaican spiced meats.

In our house, Sundays equals grill day. It’s the perfect end to the weekend as we tend to stay at home to prepare for the week. We catch up on housework, run  errands,  take our dog Zion on a walk, and usually spend a good chunk of time in the kitchen.  Of course, you need something to go with the grilled meat and there enters Dirty Tom’s Rice. It started with weeks of sampling different recipes but nothing wowing us. We decided to take the highlights of all the recipes we tried and make it our own. We’ve worked and tweaked this recipe to get it to this point…and I’m pleased to say that after our final run-through on Sunday night, it is DELICIOUS!

Dirty Tom’s Rice & Beans

Ingredients:
A lug of olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ lb. smoked turkey kielbasa
1 TBSP garlic, minced
2 cups water
1 can kidney beans (or black beans?), rinsed
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp dried sage
½ TBSP dried parsley
½ tsp Cajun seasoning
1 cup brown rice

1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook kielbasa until browned. Add in onion, bell pepper, and celery over medium heat for approximately 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one additional minute.

2. Add spices, beans and water to the pan. Bring to a boil and add brown rice.  Return to boil then reduce to simmer.

3. Cook for 45 minutes, or until rice is cooked. 

A Weekend with Friends

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Beach near bills Shichirigahama

So you’ve probably been wondering why I’ve been MIA. I’ve been slowly trying to get myself back into the groove of work, household chores, exploring Japan, and transitioning back to reality after the Camino. It hasn’t been an easy transition and there are days when I just want to hop the next plane back to Europe!

This weekend, however, was not one of those times. My good friends from Iwakuni came up to visit me. It’s always great fun catching up with friends but we also had a pretty epic weekend! We checked two major Japan to-do’s off my friends’ list; Kamakura and Mt. Fuji.

On Friday, we headed to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha and Hase-dera Temple. We stumbled upon an awesome macrobiotic/hemp café where I had some  delicious hemp curry in this groovy little spot. In the evening, we headed to the coast between Kamakura and Enoshima to enjoy dinner at bills. My friends are foodies too so we ooh’d and ahh’d over the meal.  We all got different main dishes so we were able to sample the menu as much as possible. We also followed it up with his famous ricotta hotcakes with bananas and honeycomb butter. Delicious! (It is also noteworthy that we all walked away with one of his cookbooks to continue recreating his dishes at home!)

The following day, we hiked Mt. Fuji. It was a nasty day with typhoon-level winds, clouds obscuring any views, and rain. It was the epitome of my husband’s phrase, a “memory maker,” which basically means probably not the most enjoyable hike but one that you will forever tell stories about! Our friends and family will hear stories of being pulled off our feet by these winds, getting our “exfoliating” scrub by lava rocks with each gust, and walking in the clouds.

So with that, I’m going to share my attempt at bills’ wonderful Rosewater Lemonade. I had it for the first time over a year ago and have tried to recreate it several times. It’s delicious and a little bit of rosewater goes a long way. An easy way to dress up a simple lemonade!

Rosewater Lemonade
inspired by bills restaurant

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (approx. 5-6)
3 cups water
½ TBSP rosewater
Simple syrup, to taste

Simple Syrup
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar

To make simple syrup, place water and sugar in pan on stove top. Bring to a slight boil until all sugar has dissolved. Cool.

Squeeze lemons and place in pitcher. Add water and rosewater. Mix well and add as much simple syrup as desired. I typically like tart lemonade but I find with the rosewater, a sweeter lemonade works better. Add ice and lemon slices for garnish. Enjoy!

Missing Mommy Day

Bluffton - Court, Steph and mom

Visiting my sister at Bluffton College during her freshmen year

That’s what I will always call her, my mommy. In the later years I had called her “mom” because mommy seemed too childish. Our relationship was evolving from one of mother-daughter to also being good friends. She was the kind of good friend where she understood everything about my past, my dreams, and me. I only wish that we could’ve grown more in that role. She was my world and when she died, my world crashed.

Young Courtney and mom

My mom was always my biggest supporter

Nine years has passed since that life-changing day (June 22, 2004) but the pain at times feels as raw as the day it happened. The uneasiness of not having your “rock” to hold onto for comfort and support. The unknown of facing life’s challenges, successes and joy without your biggest supporter by your side.  So this is my Missing Mommy Day. I allow myself to do whatever I feel fit to honor my mom’s memory, celebrate her life, or just plain cry. It doesn’t matter. It’s Missing Mommy Day (in case you’re wondering, I chose to enjoy lots of cookie dough today while thinking about her)!

It has been some rough years full of tears, love, pain, and laughter. But we (my dad, sister and I) have managed to move on, grow and continue to find joy in life. It’s what she would’ve wanted. She always focused on the positive and would’ve wanted us to move forward. In her short time here, she taught us many valuable lessons.  Here are just a few of those lessons.

Sequoia - Mom, Steph and Court

One of the last photos of my sister, mom and I. Sequoia National Park

1. Be grateful. There were times in my childhood when my mom would make us write down (or go round-table at the dinner table) three things we were grateful for. It could be anything from “a beautiful rainbow” or “playing with a friend” to “cooking in the kitchen together.” It didn’t matter what we were thankful for but that we realized that even on the worse days, there’s usually some good.

2. You don’t have to know your life’s passion immediately. I was the ultimate planner. I loved to have my life planned out but it was hard determining what I wanted to do after HS graduation. My mom simply said, “You’ll figure it out as you go.”

She was speaking from experience because it was not until her 30s that she found her dream job. Prior to having me, she had worked at a bank and as a LPN nurse but then she took time off to raise my sister and I. When my little sister started kindergarten, she began working at our school’s library. The library became a media center with the addition of a computer classroom. She learned how to trouble-shoot computers, research new computer games that engaged children, and set up computer labs. At the time of her death, she was assistant technology coordinator for the school district. She had finally found her dream job!

3. Life is not all about your career. Anyone who knew me before the accident, knows that I would almost inevitably only talk about my career goals with very little thought going to other aspects of my life. I just remember my mom always sighing and say “Courtney. Outside of your career, what will you have in 5 years?” I would look at her crazy…like working insane hours at a big advertising firm in Chicago wasn’t enough!  I guess it’s safe to say I learned that there was more to life. This was the most profound lesson because I didn’t get it until after she died. It was only then that I realized there were so many things to life and let’s be honest, a career does not provide as much joy, happiness and love as those special people in your life.

So nine years down. Next year will be a big one…ten years! Still trying to figure out how I will properly commemorate so much time without one of my favorite people. Thankfully I have a year to figure it out!

Courtney
Going to a Broadway play with mom BG 1999 - Court, mom and dad Mom court and Dad Christmas 1982? Family photo with AprilCourt & MomBG graduation - toasting with Steph and mom

Una pausa, en el camino

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One of our best memories along the Camino was stopping at this small church

This phrase was written on a stamp we received along our first leg of the Camino de Santiago.  It became the stamp we would routinely flip to and reflect upon for the remainder of our  Camino. We received it from a  little church called Igelesia de San Esteban (Church of St. Stephen) located above the road in Zabaldika.  Many pilgrims passed by the church without detouring to it. One of our pilgrim friends said, “I can see it from the road so no need to walk up!” It’s true. You could see it from the road but sometimes things that are right in-front-of-your-face turn out to be the best surprises.

After a sloppy walk through a river area, my husband asked which route to go; the lower river route or the high route. I figured I was here to see and experience everything. The little churches and chapels were there for good reason. They were the placed along the camino as a place of refuge for weary pilgrims so up we went!

We hiked up the hill (it really wasn’t that bad!) and were greeted by the sweetest old woman. She was chatting with a local when we approached, but her friend quickly said goodbye so she could take care of the passing pilgrims. She warmly welcomed us, encouraged us to enter the immaculate church despite our muddy boots, took a picture of us in front as a keepsake, and gave us the stamp to our credencial (pilgrim passport).  The stamp simple read “Una pausa, en el camino” or “a pause, on the Way.”

I don’t think there was a better phrase to describe this small church. It was a pause on a pilgrim’s journey. One that many passed without stopping. It is also a constant reminder that those small pauses, or moments, tend to create the best memories. We were so glad we paused.

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Looking tired and exhausted after hiking in rain for several days

She also gave us what became one of my most cherished keepsakes from the Camino.  A simple prayer, Our Father For Pilgrims, and the Beatitudes of Pilgrims. These two pieces of paper were beautiful reminders of our journey.

The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim:

1. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” opens your eyes to what is not seen.

2. Blessed are you pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not to arrive, as to arrive with others.

3. Blessed are you pilgrim, when you contemplate the “camino” and you discover it is full of names and dawns.

4. Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that the authentic “camino” begins when it is completed.

5. Blessed are you pilgrim, if your knapsack is emptying of things and your heart does not know where to hang up so many feelings and emotions.

6. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side.

7. Blessed are you pilgrim, when you don’t have words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn of the way.

8. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of the “camino” a life and of your life a “way”, in search of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

9. Blessed are you pilgrim, if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.

10. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” holds a lot of silence; and the silence of prayer; and the prayer of meeting with God who is waiting for you.

Pistachio Pesto

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I’ve always loved pesto. Genovese pesto, sundried tomato pesto, walnut pesto, cilantro pesto….basically, anything pesto!  It’s a brilliant sauce because it mixes so many flavors and textures into a power punch that dresses up any dish. However, it wasn’t until I tried pistachio pesto that my heart skipped a beat.

While living in Spain, our friend Lucia would routinely return to her hometown in Sicily. Knowing that we loved good food, she would bring me back wonderful treats.  They would range from pistachio-laced pastries, dried pastas and condiments to her mother’s homemade arancini. One day, she brought back pistachio pesto. I was intrigued by how it would taste and  headed home with a plan to enjoy that jar of pesto that evening.

That was the start of a love affair that has traveled halfway around the world and led to countless attempts at recreating the recipe. I’ve tried and tweaked it as much as possible to mimic the pistachio pesto I would receive from Sicily. Purchase good quality pistachios since they are the main ingredient in the recipe. Your pesto will appreciate it. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as my family does.

Note: This pesto freezes very well. I usually mix up several batches and then freeze them in containers perfect for my husband and I to enjoy for dinner. It makes for a great (and easy!) mid-week dinner.

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Pistachio Pesto
Serving: 6

7 oz. unsalted roasted shelled pistachios (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBSP chopped basil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup finely shredded pecorino cheese (cut into chunks)

Blend pistachios in food processor until coarsely chopped. Add oil, basil, garlic clove and cheese. Pulse until smooth.

Use immediately, or store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. You can also freeze pesto for several months.

Life after the Camino

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The beautiful village of St. Jean Pied de Port in France. It was our starting point for the Camino de Santiago.

We’re back in Japan! It was a whirlwind trip full of sightseeing, delicious food, and the Camino. I’m thankful for walking the Camino because it gave me the carte blanche to eat whatever I felt like (well, at least in my rationale!).

I’m still processing this trip. It was an amazing and overwhelming experience. There were moments on the trail where I was thinking, “What the hell was I thinking when planning this trip?” But in the end, this was quite possibly the best trip ever. I got to know myself better. I got to know my husband better. And more importantly I got to grow and share this experience with several other pilgrims that I met along the way.

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The French countryside of St. Jean Pied de Port

I haven’t had this type of close and intense bond with people of so many varying backgrounds since my college years. And maybe it’s based on the situation; I can see the parallels between the two experiences.

We were all pushing ourselves to something greater. We were open to change and others. We shared in the highs and the lows. We shared communal living areas in the albergues (pilgrim hostels). We helped pick each other up during those challenging moments. We cheered on each other. We shared meals along the trail where we recounted the day’s activities, people we’d met, and our lives. We were detached from our extended support system. And most importantly, we were all working towards a common goal, Santiago de Compostela.

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Walking through the vineyards as we neared Villafranca del Bierzo.

The views along the path were breathtaking from the Pyrenees to the misty, early morning walk through O’Cebreiro in Galicia.  There were also the unspectacular views of walking along major roads with cars passing you and the sidewalk pounding as you entered and exited many large cities. However, what I still remember the most are the people. They were my friends, my family, and my travel companions on that brief adventure.

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The beautiful village of Portomarin perched above a lake

It’s ironic that at the end of the trip, I was ready to leave Santiago de Compostela after only three nights. In that time, our pilgrim friends had begun to make their journeys back to their part of the world. I could no longer walk the inner city and run into Dr. Spaghetti and his Italian crew. We would no longer be enjoying beers with fellow American pilgrims at a local tapas bar. We no longer knew the pilgrims entering the plaza after having completed their Camino. The time had come. It was time to return to reality but take this experience and its lessons with us.

I will be posting more about the Camino and our European adventure that included stops to Paris, San Sebastian and Madrid. Of course, there will be some cooking classes and food tours in that mix!

More to come…

Courtney

A Dog Named Zion

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Zion, our adventure dog

It’s almost as if I knew I’d be missing my dog, Zion. I had uploaded photos of him so I would have them available on my iPhone for whenever I was near wifi. It’s only been a short time but I miss him dearly. I’m use to his morning “wake-up” of licking my hand from the side of the bed to his goodnight pet before he retires to his pillow each night.

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Posing with Mt. Fuji in the background on one of his hikes

He’s a good dog who has been with our family for approximately three years now. He was a stray dog at one of the facilities that I oversaw in Rota, Spain. I was at the facility taking pictures in hopes of getting all the dogs adopted out. In true Zion fashion, he lavished me in doggy kisses and I was SOLD! Next up was my husband who was a bit harder to convince but came around in the end (truth be told, Zion and him are now the best of buds!).

Those initial months together were some of the most grueling. We were establishing our pack order, taking obedience lessons, getting use to having to consider Zion in our plans, and more. Throw into the mix that we found out we would be moving half way around the world to Japan (with some pretty intense animal import regulations)! It’s all been worth it though because what we have received in return has been a dog that loves us with all his heart, a great exercise partner, an adventurous hiker, world traveler and one cool dog.

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Sleeping with his toy

So it’s not surprising that Zion is also a bit of a foodie (look at his parents)! He is served up homemade dog food because we believe that he should also be eating healthy, balanced food. This is his favorite recipe. I love it because you can adapt it to whatever you have on hand (no broccoli but peas, why not!). Hope your dog agrees!

xxCourtney

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Whipping up a batch of Zion’s food

Customizable Dog Food Recipe

Ingredients

2 chicken leg quarters (or chicken breasts)
1 cup brown rice
1 pound ground beef
2/3 cup rolled oats
1 (10 ounce) package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans – rinsed, drained and mashed
2 carrots, shredded
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions:
Place the chicken leg quarters in a large pot, and fill with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 40 minutes. Remove the legs and allow to cool. Strain and return the cooking liquid to the pot. Once the legs have cooled. remove and discard the skin and bones; chop the meat, and set aside. Stir the brown rice into the reserved chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender, 45 to 50 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid, and add the rice to the bowl with the chicken.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the ground beef. Cook and stir until the beef is crumbly and no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Pour off any excess grease, and place the beef into the bowl.

Stir in the oats, spinach, broccoli, kidney beans, carrots, garlic, cottage cheese, and olive oil. Store the dog food in resealable containers in the freezer. Thaw the daily portions overnight in the refrigerator.

Note: We like to use the food processor to finely chop all items together. We freeze into containers that hold about 3-4 days worth of food. We usually double the recipe and we have enough for about 3-4 weeks.

On My Way to the Camino de Santiago

Cruising the hillside

Hiking in Andalusia. Looking forward to some more spectacular views in Spain!

It’s close!!

So close that in a few hours, I’ll be departing my house for the next several weeks. In less than a day, I’ll be relaxing Paris and eat plenty of pan au chocolat before making my way to St. Jean Pied de Port to start the Camino de Santiago.  The range of emotions that I’m experiencing right now is overwhelming; I’m on my own personal emotional roller coaster. Excited, nervous, exhilarated, overwhelmed, ecstatic, scared…

I’ve realized in the last few days that I a lot of anxiety for this trip stems from our failed Camino trip.  Exactly five years ago, we planned this trip. We got as close as prepping our bags, training and coordinating every last details. Ultimately we cancelled the trip the night before we departed. It was necessary decision. It was hard decision. It was a lesson in being a responsible adult. That was because we couldn’t, in good conscience, leave when there was so much going on at work.

It is said that you are called to the Camino. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement but I also think that you have to be ready for the lessons you will learn along the way. Part of our lesson was not being selfish and managing our obligations. I think we chose properly and in turn, we were offered another opportunity to make this dream a reality. We realize that this is not the norm and we intend to fully enjoy it. It’s a bit of a homecoming to Spain for us!

So with that my friends, I’m off. I will be disconnecting a bit. A social media detox is needed. I will be walking, meeting new friends, and socializing along the trail. Hopefully making memories that will last a lifetime! It’s not that I forgot you; I’m just doing what the Camino has asked of me.

I won’t be updating my blog much during my time away. I will however be dropping in via Facebook so please make your way to my page and “like” it to get updates of the trail, photos along the way, and more.

Buen Camino!
Courtney

Rebujitos & World Sherry Day

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A taste of Andalusia!

Oh, rebujitos!

It’s early May and that has me dreaming (again) of Spain. Partially because I’m heading back in a few days for vacation but mainly due to several of my (evil) friends who are posting all their feria pictures on Facebook. The brightly-colored ruffled dresses, young men on horses, dancers stomping and clapping, tapas, and general merriment with good friends.

Rebujitos are the drink of feria season. The drink was simple, requiring only manzanilla and 7-Up. It was served by the glass; or for those sharing, by the pitcher. It’s a great introduction to sherry wine. Manzanilla is slightly sweeter and you can temper its intensity with 7-Up. The taste of sherry is unique. It tastes of sunshine, the chalky yellow soil of the area, and the salty sea air that blows over the vineyards. For me, it’s Andalusia in a glass!

It also seems fitting that this year, there will be the first ever World Sherry Day  on Sunday, May 26. There are events around the world from Andalusia all the way to Japan! They vary from gatherings with friends to large events put on by restaurants and bodegas. I am sad that I won’t be able to attend an event here in Japan but believe me, I will find my way to some sherry along the Camino de Santiago to toast this wonderful wine with everyone around the world!

¡Salud!

Courtney

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Enjoy a rebujito this year in honor of World Sherry Day!

Rebujitos
La Gitana manzanilla
7-Up (or Sprite) soda
Ice

Fill glass with ice. Pour as much manzanilla as you want. Top off with 7-Up.

The above is the traditional form served at feria. You can dressed it up by adding an orange/lemon slice or  lemon/orange juice. I once served it in a champagne flute with a blood orange slices.