September 27, 2012

Filled Cookies

September 27, 2012
Sri Vamana Dwadashi of today is a festival to celebrate the appearance of Sri Vishnu’s dwarf incarnation, Sri Vamanadeva. As a matter of fact, the occasion started already yesterday by fasting from grains and legumes on Parsva Parivartini Ekadashi. According to the Vedic lunar calendar it marked the moment when Sri Vishnu turned around while asleep for four subsequent months leading to the auspicious month of Kartika (October-November). These four months are known by yogis as Chaturmasya, the period of austerities and vows. Many practice dietary discipline by refraining from green leafy vegetables, yogurt, milk, seeds and lentils (gram, toor and urad) that are considered non-vegetarian due to the high protein content. Only during the festive days, such as today, the restrictions may be overlooked. Controlling desires is aimed at transferring the focus into the goal of mediation and transcendence.
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The history of Sri Vamanadeva, as narrated in Bhagavata Purana, is a story of truthfulness, integrity, full surrender and reciprocation. It is about keeping one’s word and promise even if it means facing hardship in life.

When I’m reading about the character of men and women of the past, especially in the Vedic context, I am always stunned by their dignity. Whether rendered poverty stricken, falsely imprisoned, humiliated or facing death, they become introspective and find inner strength. We know from our human experience that when reality unfolds according to our plan we flourish, but as soon as adversity arises we crumble like a dry cookie. Uprightness, honesty, goodness, purity and decency are the first attributes to let go if it benefits our material status quo. Sometimes I think there is an unwritten treaty in our modern society to collectively close our eyes to the subtle values and pretend they don’t exist. But, they do. The ability to make moral choices and aspire for higher levels of consciousness differentiates human species from others. It’s our trademark.
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The special days, like Sri Vamana Dwadashi, are important to me because they serve as an opportunity to ascertain the meaning of my humanity. They propel to face my weaknesses and improve. Hearing about great personalities like the king named Bali who kept his word although it meant severity and loss of everything, gives me insight to what is gained by sacrifice that is done as an offering of devotion.
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When seeing the beautifully effulgent dwarf, Bali Maharaja wanted to give him a gift. All Sri Vamanadeva asked was three steps of land. “How much could it be?” the king thought. He didn’t realize Sri Vamanadeva was the embodiment of the Cosmic Creation and, by default, owns everything. By two mystic leaps Sri Vamanadeva covered all directions and didn’t have a place to rest his third step. At that moment the king understood he had nothing left to offer but himself. Thus, he asked the dwarf to place his foot on his head. It is considered as the pinnacle of humility and letting go of control in all cultures, human and animal alike, to allow someone to step on one’s head. Bali Maharaja did it in order to honour his commitment. And, he did it without anger, envy or sorrow. Being touched by the devotion of the king, Sri Vamanadeva granted him a beautiful planet, Sutala, as a place of residence and volunteered to become his menial doorkeeper.
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Bali Maharaja is glorified as Mahajana, a great soul, throughout the Vedic literature. Sri Vamanadeva, on the other hand, is still worshipped in hundreds of temples and thousands of households in India and around the world for being so loving to the surrendered souls that he wants to become their servant.
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As an offering I baked cookies for the pleasure of Sri Vamanadeva today. While doing so, I counted my blessing.

Thank you.

77 comments:

  1. Beautiful!!!
    Lakshmi you filled the cookies so beautifully just to top them with another one... Now thats what u call beautiful from inside out....
    Lovely!!!
    What a perfect offering...

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  2. I have Kamala Subramaniam's version of 'Srimad Bhagavatam' and it is from this book that I used to read out stories to my children every night when they were little (till she turned 14 and he turned 10). Every 'Onam' I read Vamana Avatara and Bali's complete submission, and it fills my eyes with tears. I am not strictly religious in my daily life, but that one day's reading leaves my heart lighter and cleansed.

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    1. Really! I would've loved to be the third kid in your household, Harini! Although you would probably have to read me bedtime stories until the end of our lives :-) Srimad Bhagavatam is one of my favourite books. I've read it several times, and every time it is fresh and new.

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    2. Ha ha! I don't know about end, but I would not mind reading out if you came anytime. :) Only I start choking with tears towards the end of this particular story. We have something in common! Srimad Bhagavatam is my favourite text too! And I agree with what you say - it is fresh each time.

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    3. Harini, when we meet, we will have a nice session of Bhagavatam together!

      I used to hurry through the first couple of Cantos because the creation is described hundreds of different ways there but nowadays I love them. The most important verses, catursloki, are there and even if one understands just a glimpse of them, one knows everything there is to know in life!

      Bhagavatam is easier for me to read than Mahabharata. I don’t think I have ever finished Mahabharata, although I have started it many times. It is culturally complex. Bhagavatam is directly more philosophical. Gita, on the other hand, is straight to the point.

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  3. So pretty! Those cookies are really fabulous.

    Your posts always delight me!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  4. Thank you for that beautiful story and the charming, refined cookies. Your blog posts are always so uplifting.

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  5. Could you explain more about why foods that have higher protein content are not considered vegetarian? This is very interesting. (beautiful cookies, by the way)

    -Kimberly

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    1. To my understanding some varieties of legumes, such as gram and urad, have more protein than meat. They are of course plant based and vegetarian by definition, not animal products, but they give so much energy if consumed in access that the passion and ignorance on the physical and mental plane increases, just like as a result of eating meat. During spiritually important periods, when the focus is on the fine matters of transcendence, it may become disturbing and, therefore, it is better to refrain from eating them. These are very, very subtle principles. Most of us can’t detect their influence! However, many yogis who are committed to self-realization pay attention to them. It is recommended that we fast twice a month from all grains and legumes and eat very lightly. Similarly, during the last month of Chaturmasya, some don’t intake heavy dal at all. Such a fast is good for the physical health, as well as the mental and spiritual.

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    2. I may add that other than during the special periods, urad and gram are eaten, although preferably in moderation.

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  6. I'm counting my blessings thanks to you, too my dear Lakshmi.

    Your thought processes, your actions and the endless love, care and undoubted talent pouring in the way you live, cook, style, photograph, bits of which you so generously and kindly share here, make my whole existence simply celebrate.

    Feeling pure admiration makes my heart at ease. It signifies for me that all your share here comes from the place of yourself where there is light. Plenty of it.

    Since I'm mostly but a quiet - nonetheless an avid reader here, let me express it a bit more thoroughly today.
    And let me take the chance to tell you that your warm and kind phrase / response the other day, evoked feelings of trust, happiness, while a quite feast was also taking place.


    Thank you so much. You move me in every possible way.
    As for these cookies, I love how your tablecloth's delicate embroidery inspired its wonderfully shaped decoration.

    Much love beamed to you.
    Iro - Ivy xxx :*)



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    1. Iro, you are such a positive influence on Earth: always encouraging and kind. If you see any light in me it is not my credit. It is the eternity, knowledge and bliss I am reflecting like a dark moon in the presence of great souls. Because you are so well hearted you see the light and not the black spots of darkness and ignorance in others.

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    2. you 're mostly kind to me my dear!

      oh but I do see the signs of ignorance and darkness in others...
      only to recognize them as my own.
      Parts of me that refrain from growing & simply surrendering to all the Light that exists.

      but it won't be long till I do surrender...
      seeing myself also reflecting the light that around us exists, seems to be the way I wish to go.

      I hope to be able to do it via the blogosphere again soon.
      Accepting our /and mine!} materialistic side while supporting the Spiritual one.

      Have a delightful weekend my friend,
      filled with all the Joy that through you flows.
      xoxo

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    3. That’s true, Iro, we see bad qualities in others because they are in us. We wouldn’t recognize something we don’t know about. Neither would something we don’t value or care about bother us. The strength of self-realization is that it is a personal path. We don’t have to worry about improving and fixing others, the world and the rest of the universal injustice in order to become purified ourselves. It is a vertical process of inner depth. There is a plenty of debris, from litter to biohazard, to clean in our own backyard. More focused we become; more we will be able to appreciate all that is good and great in and around us, too.

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  7. Hi Lakshmi,
    such a beautiful recipe and post! One question though, I thought chocolate was not considered acceptable for Vaishnavas? I noticed because other Vaishnava cooks seem to use Carob as a substitute.
    Keep on posting - your blog inspires me in so many ways :)
    Terry

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    1. Dear Terry,
      Thanks for asking. You are right, some Vaishnavas don’t eat chocolate. There have been more recent researches that show that chocolate doesn’t contain caffeine, which we refrain from. Carob is a good substitute for chocolate. I’ve met many Vaishnavas who eat and offer chocolate. Any commercially produced food is not the best alternative for cooking though.

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    2. Thanks Lakshmi for the swift reply - I don't eat chocolate myself as I'm one of those strange people who don't like it :) I just thought that Theobromine was a mild stimulant and addictive and given Srila Prabhupada's injunction that "we don't eat anything of the cocoa bean" - I was a bit surprised http://www.iskcondesiretree.net/profiles/blogs/sinful-chocolate
      all the best
      Terry

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    3. As far as I have understood, Srila Prabhupada was presented chocolate inaccurately and he replied accordingly (Sivarama Swami). Chocolate does contain theobromine and has a similar, but lesser, effect than caffeine in the human nervous system. It is considered mildly addictive and aphrodisiac as well. It is not definitely something one would like to eat on daily basis.

      It is the pet subject of an endless debate among devotees. I’ve heard arguments for and against it ad nauseam. Personally I’m ok with using it every now and then, and not willing to open a more active discussion here about its legitimacy according to the Vaishnava practice.

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  8. "God is in details... "

    had to return simple about that : )

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  9. -> ... had to return to simply s m i l e about that

    {I guess I'm excited ;)}

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  10. Hi Lakshmi
    I love your creative substitutions for flour. Do the desserts and cookies you make taste very different from ones made with flour? Or have you not used flour in a long time?

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    1. I sometimes use wheat but don’t like it so much. It doesn’t agree with my digestion and causes dry skin and rash. I had a migraine since childhood but it went away when I omitted wheat from my diet. I disliked bread since early age and always tried to get away from eating it. I even hid my breakfast sandwiches behind the oven until the dreadful day my mother pulled it out in order to clean it! It wasn’t a pretty sight! I was seven years old and remember it like yesterday.

      Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times. It is related to wheat but it is much more nutritious. I use freshly milled flour and it is excellent for baking. The best cakes I’ve made were from spelt. I use it in all recipes that would call for wheat.

      Actually, I like oats even more than spelt. However, oats are not as good for baking.
      The taste of spelt is not much different from wheat. However, for these cookies I ground some grains with my “sil batta” and the taste was very, very strong and earthly, perhaps too much so although there was only a small amount of wholegrain.

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    2. This reminds me of my experience with my lunch of 'curd rice' that my mother would pack for my school in Calcutta when I was six. The intense heat would turn it into a sharp vinegar tasting rice, which I would get back home. My mother continued to make it and scolded me for bringing it back, so I started dumping it in school till the moniters complained to her. My next dumping ground was the school bus, under my seat before the ride home. The bus driver complained. Next I would run to the bus ahead of others and dump my foul pungent rice under some seat and sit far away from it. What was I thinking it smelled the whole bus up. They were disgusted with me and I would not touch yogurt for the next 18 years.

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    3. Oh, Sandhya! It is so funny! I can see you sneaking and dumping your lunch box here and there.

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  11. Lakshmi.....I listened to this story so many times as a child and your narration is perhaps one of the most beautiful!
    The cookies look so elegant. I have never tried spelt flour and have been thinking of it for a while. Now I have the perfect reason!

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    1. Autumn is such a nice time because there are so many festivals like Janmasthami, Radhastami... and one of the sweetest one, Govardhan puja. This story of Trivikrama has so many layers from pride to humility; from rags to riches.

      You can use spelt for chapati, paratha, kachori...just like you would use atta or wheat. It acts a little bit differently in contact with water but you will quickly get used to it.

      Here I can get wholegrain with and without bran, all purpose and cake flour. I'm hoping to get a small mill for grinding the grains at home in the future.

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  12. Wow, these are the most beautifully decorated cookies ever. Made with love. You really poured your heart into it Lakshmi.

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    1. Hah, Vera, the decoration looks complicated but it is actually easy to make. Piping is fun! It is a good way to decorate cakes, too, because with a small effort you can fill the surface and it always looks nice. If you use white, milk and dark chocolate, it becomes even more interesting.

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  13. If that's what you cook for Vamana Dwadasi I would like to see what you prepared for Radhastami???
    Did you embroider the tablecoth yourself??
    Such a nice and devotional post.

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    1. LOL, yes about the embroidery! I don’t know what went to me. I just took a needle and string and started to stitch. It was spontaneous and therapeutic!

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  14. Your posts leave me spell bound Lakshmi. I have always loved the Dashavatara stories and the Story of Vamanavatara is my favourite. You have narrated the story so well. As for the cookies they look like a work of art. Your love and devotion reflects in them :)

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    1. Thanks, Nandita. All the Dashavatara lila's are wonderful!

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  15. Your post and photography is always a delight to read and look at :)

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  16. Lakshmi, it's very good feeling to read all about this from Veda. Very glad you've very higher knowledge than all of us. You can blend spirituality and food very elegantly! Plus, photography! Should I tell more how I adore your every creation! Thanks for all hard efforts and showing us with open arms. :-)

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    1. Sonia, thank you for your kindness. I don’t have higher knowledge than others. Vedas are open to everyone. Each one of us, as a soul, is knowledgeable, eternal and filled with bliss. To access the natural state of being is a matter of self-search and revelation.

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  17. These look worthy of any celebration. Adorable!

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  18. Beautiful cookies and I loved narrative as well. Thank you for sharing both.

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  19. It is believed that during Mahabali's reign, his kingdom was at the heights of prosperity, there was no poverty and unhappiness among his subjects. He loved them so. So, he is allowed to visit his kingdom once a year. This day is celebrated as Onam (is a harvest festival) in Kerala. All people dress their best, and prepare huge vegetarian feasts to welcome Mahabali.

    Also, Mahabali means great sacrifice. Which is in accordance with his sacrifice and humility. He is also called Maveli which means without walls/boundaries.

    It is true that today we close our eyes to a lot of injustice, are reluctant to raise a finger to help others lest we get into trouble. But we forget that one day we ourselves may need help, that our existence may be the result of sacrifices on the part of other men and women. Your post was very thought provoking.

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    1. Thank you for your insight about the tradition of honouring Mahabali. It is interesting to hear.

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  20. Dear Lakshmi, you are Amazing in every single way!:) Thank you for sharing so much love and beauty with all of us!

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  21. Beautiful words. Beautiful photographs.

    I too have been propelled lately to face my weaknesses and improve. It is not easy. But, I am determined.

    Thank you for your work.

    Kelly Turnbull @ www.parsleyandpumpkins.wordpress.com

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    1. Yes, observing one’s shortcomings is challenging. There is a fine line between facing and becoming obsessed with one’s weaknesses. The first one is progressive and the latter one is depressive. A healthy introspection will lead to betterment.

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  22. Oh my god. Beautiful words + thoughts = amazingly delicious look treats!!

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  23. Lakshmi,
    Narrating a story such as this to someone who has no prior knowledge or context borders difficulty for many of us. Translating with the right words and eloquently putting it across so beautifully is something you do so effortlessly.

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    1. You are right: it is challenging! However, Vedic stories can be read in so many levels: sensual, moral, emotional, cultural, intellectual, spiritual and transcendental. They are universal, but we select to understand them according to our positioning as a soul.

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    2. True indeed. Love to read your perspectives Lakshmi. They are always so fresh and pure.

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  24. Just beautiful Lakshmi! And thank you for the enlightening information you provide in each post. There were some pieces of information that I (as an Indian) was unaware of. Was a pleasure reading your post and looking at those photographs!

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  25. Replies
    1. Lakshmi, twój blog jeśli nie jest najpiękniejszym na świecie , to na pewno jest jednym z tych najpiękniejszych
      Uwielbiam twój blog , choć nie znam angielskiego , czasami tłumaczę sobie translatorem na polski
      ale dla samych zdjęć tu warto zajrzeć

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    2. Dziękuję za Twój życzliwy komentarz, Margot. Jestem zdumiona widząc, że komukolwiek podoba się mój blog, a już tym bardziej komuś, kto nie rozumie angielskiego! Język obrazów jest jednak uniwersalny.

      Życzę Ci pięknej jesieni!

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  26. I love that you write more than just the recipe or something about the recipe. Your posts are always so interesting and informative. Like that some high-protein foods don't count as vegetarian? That blows my mind.

    And these cookies are beautiful and look delicious! Amazing piping skills. What a wonderful offering.

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  27. I am all starry eyed reading this post:) You are so eloquent Lakshmi. What a beautiful read. I CANNOT get over the design patterns you have done on the cookies. Lakshmi if there were presented to me, I could not eat them They are too pretty to eat:) Your place (and I am talking beyond the blog here), is the appreciation of art and nature in real form.

    Having our great grandmother and then my grandmother(widowed) live with us until their last days, we grew up eating satvic form of food almost every day of our lives. Those are my comfort food. some days of the month or the evenings we would not have masoor dal or mung dal due to the high protein content. Can not remember about any leafy green to name, but then I did not cook! On Ekadasi, I would see my grandma eat not even cooked food - it would be just poha/cheere soaked in water with a sprinkle of sugar and may be a fruit on the side.

    These cookies are just stunning (again I say) and I will just sit and admire them. :) xo

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with your grandmothers.

      Regarding the cookies, you'd be surprised how easy it is to pipe them. Like mehndi, it is easier than drawing.

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  28. What a pretty cookies.... oh my looks absolutely lovely. We still follow the ekadesi tradition, we used to make goosberry pachadi with yogurt, greens, vegetables etc.. Lovely write up Lakshmi.

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    1. Nice to hear that you are following Ekadashi. I didn't know gooseberries grow in India!

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  29. Such a wonderful post, Lakshmi ! being from Kerala, we do have a special place for Mahabali (Bali king) and Vamanadeva in our heart :) Every year we celebrate Onam and thereby Mahabali.
    These cookies are gorgeous and spelt flour is something I would love to try my hands on

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    1. It would be lovely to experience a traditional Onam one day.

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  30. Dear Lakshmi, I have been following your blog for quite sometime now and I extremely addicted.. Each post is so fresh and so full of inspiration. You are really blessed.
    The cookies are too good...i like the detail and the use of spelt flour makes it over the top!!

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    1. Thank you for the nice comment. Spelt is a wonderful grain.

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  31. What a beautiful story and love those precious cookies!

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  32. Hi Lakshmi,
    You have a beautiful and inspiring blog. I have been a silent reader for some time now. Your writing and pictures exude peace and wholesomeness. I wish you and your family all the best always.
    On another note : I am waiting for another post from you. It seems like a long time , though it is not. It is a delight to follow your recipes and your passion is infectious .

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    1. Thank you for the well wishes. It is nice to hear you find the blog inspiring. I'm trying to post once a week, which is probably less than the average blogging standard. That's the best I'm able to do at the moment. Have a nice day!

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  33. Oh my! These are stunning! It's like henna art! Wow.

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  34. Your blog,all I can say-is a piece of art! Perfect!

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  35. Beautiful cookies !!!
    Thank you for the recipe !!!!
    Juliette RollingPinsDesign
    https://www.etsy.com/shop/RollingPinsDesign

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