Izzy Eats: The art of raising a gourmand, one bite at a time
Monday, September 29, 2008
There I was in the back yard, hanging Izzy's wash out on the line, when I heard a whistling, almost bird-like sound. I looked up and saw nothing. I looked around and listened again. The sound was coming from the ground and it was more like a high pitched cry of sorts. Something was rustling in the leaves and I peered through the chain link fence to see a tiny gray and white creature mewling away, its fur matted down and wet, its tiny eyes glued shut. It took a moment for it to sink in. Mama cat had given birth and this was one of the litter. Where was Mama anyway? I hadn't seen her for a couple of days and had been wondering if her time had come. I pondered all of this and then became frantic. I had to save that kitten, that was a lovely gray and white with tortoise in between.
Who would I enlist to help? First was Y., friend and cat lover who lives nearby. We spoke and agreed to reconvene later. Then the landlord of the house next door. He said he would let me into the backyard if need be. Then was L., neighbor and cat person. I knew she would spring to action. She arrived at my door within seconds, leaped over the fence and picked up the poor kitty and immediately nestled it in her chest. She warmed it and held it while I ran off to purchase kitten formula and pet nursers.
When I returned, she and a friend of hers arrived to assist in the feeding. So there we were, a La Leche League Leader with no bottle feeding experience whatsoever and two childless women, none of whom could get those rubber nipples to work. It must have taken a half an hour to finally get something into the kitten's mouth. Meanwhile it pooed all over L. (better her than me, right?) and I turned my kitchen upside down looking for sharp objects with which to pierce those annoying nipples. Mission finally accomplished, feeding somewhat done, I placed the tender creature on a pair of old p.j.'s, inside a box and went to pick up Izzy.
I told him I had a surprise for him, a crying surprise at that. He came home to find the little ball of fur nestled in the box . He asked in wonderment, "Do you think that came from Mama cat?" Indeed I did.
We both couldn't keep our eyes off of her. Just then, Y. arrived to check out the scene. We attempted to feed the kitty again but were not very successful. It was then I decided a trip to the vet was in order. Y. ferried us there and ended up coming in.
As soon as they took a look, she was whisked away, with hushed voices murmuring how the kitty was not looking so well. Her vitals were going and they said we had two choices. Leave her there and they would put her to sleep or take her. We opted with the former. The vet assured us that it was quite possible that Mama cat left the unhealthy one purposely and there was not much we could have done.
I felt a loss, having already grown attached to her, imagining nursing her back to health. Izzy didn't quite understand what happened. It did put a damper on our day but now we are both on a quest to find Mama and the rest of the litter.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Each day, Izzy comes home and helps concoct his milkshake of the day. Mango-raspberry and mango-strawberry are his current favorites. Our blender lives on our counter so whenever the mood strikes I can whip one up. I keep a variety of frozen fruits on hand so that something is available.
The recipe is simple. Place about 3/4 to 1 cup of frozen fruits in blender, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of milk and a few squirts of agave or honey. Blend. Izzy likes his milkshakes thick. Adjust milk to reach desired thickness.
p.s. A milkshake alone does not a snack make. He will usually nosh on at least two other things before dinner. Afternoons often turn into one giant snack fest.
I share this with you because this afternoon,, while wandering the aisles of Shoprite with Izzy, I bumped into a woman I know from exercise class. She was genuinely shocked to find me grocery shopping there, knowing what she does of my blog and food obsession.
Indeed I am maniacal about grocery shopping, trekking to the city at least once a week for my fix of Union Square, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. On those trips I stock up on local produce, cheeses, meats and items not found at an ordinary supermarket. No matter how much I want to buy, there is only so much my granny cart will carry so I inevitably need to shop for staples closer to home.
Shoprite sure is close and as I have pointed out before, it does have a decent organic section which has grown over the few years that we have lived here.
They carry many organic staples which allows me to reduce my granny cart load from nyc. I count on my weekly excursion to Shoprite for things like bananas, milk, canned goods, pasta and other odds and ends.
So next time you find yourself at Shoprite, don't be surprised if you bump into me, just rest assured, I'm not buying any meat there.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Not your Bubbe's challah mind you, because it contains milk and butter, both verboten if you are kosher and plan to serve this challah with meat, which is often the case at holiday meals. Traditional challah is prepared with oil so that it will be Pareve and can be served with both dairy and meat meals.
It is the forbidden milk and butter which set this challah apart, imparting a richness unrivaled by the oil versions. If you are a secular Jew, as I, then this is the challah for you. It has been my holiday challah for years and continually receives rave reviews.
Be sure to follow the directions carefully and don't allow your dough to rise too much, otherwise you risk ending up with a challah pancake, as I did last year.
2 cups milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
6 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon cold water
1. Bring milk, 6 tablespoons of butter, and the sugar to a boil together in a medium-size saucepan. Remove from heat, pour into a large mixing bowl, and let cool to lukewarm (105° to 115° F).
2. Stir yeast into the milk mixture and let stand for 10 minutes.
3. Beat 3 of the eggs well in a small bowl, and stir them and the salt into the milk-and-yeast mixture.
4. Stir in 5 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you achieve a sticky dough. Flour a work surface lightly and turn the dough out onto it. Wash and dry the bowl.
5. Sprinkle additional flour over the dough and begin kneading, adding more flour as necessary, until you have smooth elastic dough.
6. Smear the reserved 2 tablespoons of butter around the inside of the bowl and add the ball of dough into the bowl, turning to coat it lightly with butter. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside to let dough rise until tripled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.
7. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut into halves. Cut each half into 3 pieces. Roll the pieces out into long "snakes" about 18 inches long. Braid three of the snakes together into a loaf and tuck the ends under. Repeat with remaining snakes.
8. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with the cornmeal, and transfer the loaves to the sheet. Leave room between the loaves for them to rise. Cover loaves with the towel and let rise until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.
9. Preheat oven to 350° F.
10. Beat the remaining egg and 1 tablespoon cold water together well in a small bowl. Brush this egg wash evenly over the loaves. Sprinkle immediately with poppy seeds to taste.
11. Set baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when their bottoms are thumped. Cool completely on racks before wrapping. Makes 2 large loaves.*
*These freeze very well!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
In her own words:
In the meantime, what do you think she should do? You can surely imagine what I might say but I will hold my tongue for the moment. I would love to hear from others.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Did you know that 'cat house' was a euphemism for brothel? Me neither but somebody pointed this out to me when I kept talking about the one we were planning to build.
Anyhow, the cat house is the latest in our scheme to help out "Mama", the pregnant cat who hangs out in our yard. Even though she doesn't live inside our house, I think of her as mine. After all, I do feed her three times a day which has to count for something.
I am not sure if the cat house is the solution for Mama but as of now, I have no other. I considered taking her in but as she is pregnant she can't receive anything other than a flea treatment which would leave us susceptible to ringworm. She would also need to be sequestered from us and litter-trained and right now our house doesn't lend itself to that.
I thought about trapping her and taking her to the shelter but I don't like that idea because they will "take care of" the kittens. A. argues that she is wild and we should just let her be. The cat house is our compromise and A. kindly offered to build one.
He put aside his work on Sunday morning for project cat house with Izzy. Later it was my job to help Izzy paint it. Izzy chose the light blue and yellow and his original design included yellow polka-dots. The painting took so long we put the polka-dots on hold.
It looks remarkably like a Cape Cod dune shack now.
Last night, we placed her food on the porch and she ate, but did not venture inside. This morning, same story. Tonight yet again. Will she ever try out her new abode? What about her babies? Any chance she will have them inside?
Let's just keep our fingers crossed that our unruly neighbor doesn't frighten her away.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
If you haven't been to visit us in awhile, or even if you have, you might not recognize our house because the regal door, complete with brass knobs and a Victorian peep door, has drastically altered the look of our facade. It no longer appears that you will be entering a dungeon but instead a modest castle. The recently painted and cleaned vestibule only adds to the glamour.
All of A.'s hours of toil (only yesterday he dug out 150 years worth of dirt from under the steps) have turned our entryway into a showpiece.
I wish I could say that a celebratory "door party" was in the works and I had hoped it would be, but holidays, birthdays and travels have come between me and said party. I haven't completely given up on the idea but who knows when I will squeeze it in.
Until then, just imagine the spread I would offer...It's the thought that counts. And if you are wandering by our house, knock on that Victorian peep door, you never know what will happen.
Friday, September 19, 2008
After bravely enduring a different sort of shot (DTAP) during his belated 5-year check-up, and watching intently as the nurse drew his blood, Izzy deserved whatever he wanted. Besides, we hadn't had a City Bakery fix in a very long time and I was looking forward to some myself.
We took our pretzel croissants and shots to go (they have perfectly small cups with tops) and hopped in a cab downtown to Izzy's new art class at the Greenwich House School of Music. They have a lovely garden in the back where we sat and sipped. Although his wonderful pottery classes have ended, we were able to follow his beloved teacher G. to a new venue, where she teaches a mixed media art class.
Here's hoping fall will mean more art creations, continued visits to the West Village and more food adventures.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
After all these months, the venison sliders from Ox, still call to me. I heard from the owner that they were temporarily removed from the menu scheduled to return during the colder months.
Meanwhile, I needed a fix. I just so happened to have some chopped venison in my freezer. Doesn't everyone? And I just so happened to bump into Edward, the owner, near my house recently. I asked him for the recipe.
He claims it is simply Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
So I gave it a try. And he was right. These are divine.
Venison Sliders (Ox Style)
2 lbs. chopped venison
1 tablespoon or so Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
1. Mix ingredients gently and form into small patties (I made 11)
2. Grill 3-4 minutes on each side. Be careful not to overcook or the meat will be tough.
Serve with caramelized onions and chopped mushrooms.
Tonight he grabbed my hand to lick and found something unexpected.
"Ummmm, spicy." He giggled. Apparently some garlic I had chopped for dinner had stuck to the outside of my thumb....."YUCK"is what I said. He tried to lick it again but I wriggled away to wash it.
Goodnight and sweet garlic dreams to him.
Imagine the wonder and surprise in my little boy's eyes when he opens a carton of eggs to find that they are all just a little bit different, with one blue egg and one speckled egg nestled in amongst the others, each a different size.
Intrigued by the prospect of a blue egg, Izzy immediately reserved it for himself. I told him we would save it for a "fried egg day", to savor its goodness.
Today turned out to be the day Izzy requested his egg for breakfast, heretofore unheard of. He happily burst the bright shining yolk with his bread, dunking it in, savoring its flavor as it dripped down his chin.
These Upper Meadows Farm eggs (from the Hamilton Park Farmers' Market) were a delight to behold, even for me. I imagined a diverse bunch of hens clucking around, contentedly laying them. It is for that image and many other reasons as well, that I will only purchase eggs from a farmer I know and trust, which sometimes means a trip to Union Square, in the freezing cold, with eggs on my brain.
I have been buying local farm eggs for the past 10 years or so and often hesitate at the idea of buying eggs at the supermarket, even when desperate times call for desperate measures. When I have no choice, I look for organic, free-roaming eggs that are as local as possible (say Pennsylvania instead of Wisconsin for example). For more in-depth egg-selection criteria, check out this article in today's New York Times. And keep in mind that eggs are most incredible when fresh from the farm.
A little egg poetry...
What have the hens gone and done.
Magic is within each one.
Bright yellow yolk.
True eggy taste
in every bite.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
This time I found a neighborhood dentist, Dr. M., whose office is across town. Izzy seemed calm enough at the prospect, despite his past experience. We received a warm welcome when we arrived. I had prepped the staff in advance and they were extremely accommodating. They tried to engage him and make him feel comfortable.
They also wasted no time getting him into the chair. They immediately set to work with pointy instruments (which didn't bother him at all). Next was the cleaning. The cherry flavor just wouldn't do (note to pediatric dentists..GET CHOCOLATE FLAVORED TOOTHPASTE PLEASE!) He agreed to coconut but shed a few tears when she asked him to taste it.
During the fluoride treatment he let out a few sobs but she did it so fast he didn't really have time to complain. I was amazed at the entire procedure and the bonus of NO CAVITIES and no other complaints.
Izzy's final comments after the fact: We need to bring our own toothpaste to the dentist. Those flavors don't taste like what they say.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
She showered me with samples of her wonderful cheeses, instantly reminding me of how I loved them so. Izzy and I adore the Brebis Blanche (sheep's milk farmer's cheese) and I also bought some of the firm Tomme-like cheese as well (A. ate the entire hunk).
I also picked up some of the new fatter links of lamb sausage available. Seasoned with fennel, these grilled up quite nicely. Everything is already gone (Izzy had a sandwich with Brebis Blanche and Artichoke Hearts) and I am already looking forward to this Wednesday. I am not sure how I managed all these months without.
As you might glean, I have been driven to distraction by this upsetting situation which has been on-going for the last couple of weeks, episodes escalating daily, today reaching a crescendo of disturbance. After a rude awakening I was somewhat surprised to discover that I wasn't the only one being tortured (misery does love company) and my neighbors banded together to come up with a solution. In cases like these, there are no ideal outcomes but we saw no other choice. We can only hope the man will receive the help he needs.
There is peace here for the time being. Who knows what the next few days will bring.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Mock me if you wish but I do love being "snack mom" for the week. Mostly because I love making things that Izzy and his classmates will love, that aren't filled with corn syrup and chemicals and are reasonably healthy but also because I am making up for the fact that nobody would have done it for me.
Does that make me June Cleaver? I doubt it. Since honestly I didn't know her that well. "Leave It To Beaver" was more a part of my brothers' childhood than my own, part of their half hour of t.v. allotment which I glimpsed only occasionally.
June Cleaver notwithstanding, I got a kick out of preparing snack this week. According to Izzy, all of the offerings were a hit.
Monday: Whole-wheat scones with blueberry jam. I used this recipe, without the figs and vanilla, sliced the scones down the middle and sandwiched them together with a layer of jam.
Tuesday: Izzy's Herby Garden Dip, with carrots, grape tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and crackers.
Wednesday: Strawberry-cream cheese sandwiches on sesame bread
Thursday: Sliced apples, clementines, yogurt and cheddar cheese sticks, assorted crackers
Friday: Raspberry Oat Bars and Whole-wheat tortillas with homemade strawberry cream cheese and bananas.
These were a cinch to put together. I just slathered the cream cheese on half of the tortilla, layered with bananas, folded over and cut into thirds.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Blogging does have some perks. For that is how I met L., a woman who lives right here in Jersey City. We had been corresponding via email for a few months and I finally had the chance to meet her.
She offered me an opportunity I just couldn't pass up; a visit to see her 86 year old Aunt Lil, who has a cookbook collection that she would like to discard. So I tagged along with L. and her friend J. to meet Aunt Lil and peruse the collection.
Aunt Lil is a real treasure, a feisty Sicilian-American who has more energy than most young people I know. Although she is still quite active, she seemed delighted to be divesting of this vast collection, recognizing that she probably wouldn't be using most of them. In fact she said that ten cookbooks would have been enough for her but collecting just got out of hand.
Her cookbook collection, several shelves and bins worth, spanned decades from the 1950's until recently today. The highlights were a bread section and Italian baking and cooking. She made it clear that the Italian books were off limits for the moment, which was too bad since some of the titles were intriguing. But I couldn't be too disappointed since there were countless other types of cookbooks mixed in, from Amish to Irish, with church in between.
I came away with 25 books (don't tell my husband who thinks I should be tossing the ones I already own), including some classics like The Moosewood Cookbook and a 1953 copy of Better Homes and Gardens.
This won't be the last you hear of those books as I take a closer look at them and try a recipe or too. But our day wasn't only about books.
I also had the pleasure of lunching with Aunt Lil at a brand-new restaurant in Nutley, which L. had spied during her travels. Farm 2 Bistro is an adorable place to stop for lunch or dinner. The limited menu features ingredients from local farmers' markets, along with Palazzolo's gelato.
Aunt Lil had quite an appetite and managed to finish 3/4 of her Monte Cristo sandwich. My pulled pork tacos were filling and tasty too. We were all content with our meals but so full that we had no room to try the gelato. That will have to be for another time.
Overall, this small, rustically decorated restaurant is worth a short detour. If you live in Jersey City, this is but a 20 minute drive and definitely worth the trip.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Looks suspiciously like what was growing in our garden. When I saw the picture I felt terrible but he was surprisingly calm about it. Perhaps because there are still some blossoms left and we have hopes of another one growing. Send the bees over to pollinate!
Izzy's old lunch bag finally had to be retired. It had a good life (two years) but with holes poking through the bottom the time had come to bid it adios.
It was easy to find a new one because I went straight back to the Mimi the Sardine website to see what was new. Izzy and I looked together and found this new lunch backpack which is just the right size, roomier than the last bag and so portable. I wanted the jungle version (I might just get it for myself) but Izzy favored the penguins.
These are an adorable safe lunch bag option. No lead, plastic or Dora* to worry about.
*Montessori schools discourage children from wearing or carrying items emblazoned with movie or t.v. characters..bravo to them!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Sunday, September 7, 2008
As for Mama, she often comes to eat three times a day, waiting patiently by the screen door. It seems that she might be in the family way, again, given the sight of her rapidly expanding middle. I am ambivalent as to what to do about this. Certain cat people and neighbors recommend that I have her taken care of, but I hesitate, imagining the cute kittens frolicking in my yard.
Izzy and I look forward to feeding Mama and on occasion, we even invite her in to eat. A few times I have left the back door open while she was eating and she wandered silently into the living room where I was typing. Not realizing she was there, I turned to get up and she dashed back outside. Who knows, perhaps she wants to be our cat?
Last night, during the hurricane-induced rains, I wondered where the poor cat was hiding. I knew she liked to hide under our grill so I was relieved to discover that she managed to stay dry there, hiding on the shelf which holds the propane tank. This seems to be her new hangout, as I have seen her emerge from there on several occasions.
Worried as I was about her whereabouts, it occurred to me to buy her a cat house, so she would have shelter in the event of inclement weather. It might also serve as a place to have her babies. I found these, which are awfully fancy but A. decided he could make one himself. He designed it last night with hopes of getting to it today. Door day number seven prevented him from doing so.
And so I ponder what to do about mama... Any takers for the kitties?
Friday, September 5, 2008
Today was a "No Icy" for Izzy day. I mean he had snacked upon a juicy nectarine topped with homemade whipped cream before going to the park. Shouldn't that suffice in the dessert realm?
I made sure to remind Izzy that "Icy" would not be an option today. Note: If you are trying to monitor your child's sweets consumption, it is always best to set out the rules in advance. Diminishes the chances of major tantrums since they know what is in store.
Once at the park, Izzy began to play with a couple of children who were happily licking some "icy." He merely noted what they were eating and went on playing. He then asked for some of his snack to eat along with them. He happily grabbed some cheese cubes and ran off. I was glad to see that he remained unfazed. After all, I very well realize that I can't prevent other kids from eating junk food, it is simply my job to keep Izzy from getting into a tizzy over it.
He handled it marvelously, even when he came back to point out that just moments after finishing their icy, those very same children then went to the ice cream truck and were allowed to purchase soft ice cream cones!
I would have thought he were fibbing, had I not witnessed it with my own two eyes. He remained surprisingly subdued, merely musing aloud as to how it was possible to have both. I, on the other hand, remained speechless, having no explanation.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Izzy's friend I. turned six today. Making this not only the first day of school but the first day of school plus a birthday party day. A memorable one at that!
It was a flower party, all pretty pastels. The party began on a calm note, as the first order of business was painting small wooden flower frames. This was followed by a number of musical chair type games which became quite raucous, Izzy's voice rising high above the din. The kids were bursting with energy, or was that a sugar high after several frosted cookies and cups of apple juice? They were practically hanging off the chandeliers.
Then came the dress-up component which included large green hats and funny glasses for the boys.. And bright pink feather boas for the girls, which Izzy and the other boys were coveting.
Properly attired, it was time for pizza and cake. The pizza part was uneventful, the cake a different story. The birthday girl watched as her guests each received their own cupcake with candle. She wanted one too, not realizing that she would be receiving a special one, a giant daisy cake. This brilliant idea went over well at her sister N's birthday. Here, not so much.
She just wanted a cupcake of her own. Understandable.
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And the party wasn't over yet. Stuffed with cake, Izzy called me upstairs to witness the bursting of the empanada. Imagine what an awful mess that would be, empanada filling everywhere.. Good thing what he actually meant was "pinata". Just what all sugar-shocked kids need.
But a thrill nonetheless and a great way to see perfectly reasonable children turn mad as they scramble for red hots and plastic toys, vying for who could amass the most loot. The birthday girl was crying again, as were her friends as they squabbled over who got the bubblegum or the whistle.
Difficult to drag the kids from the mayhem but the party was over. Time for them to start dreaming of the next one.
My boy has gone off to kindergarten. And what a sad day it was (for me, that is). He scampered off like a puppy dog, nary a backward glance. I guess I'd better get used to it. His kindergarten is a Montessori school that he has been attending for the past two years so it wasn't a scary new school experience. He was happy to return to his comfortably familiar classroom and reconnect with his friends. I knew he would have a fine day. My main concern was his lunch.
Yesterday we were considering lunch together. What he would like and that sort of thing. He said, "You will be eating lunch all by yourself tomorrow while I am at school (sure kid, rub it in)." I told him that although we wouldn't be lunching together, we would be having the same thing. Leftovers! As always, transforming dinner into lunch is the easy way to go.
Except for a few complaints, Izzy had a fine day. And a fine lunch too if I do say so myself.
Monday, September 1, 2008
For most kids, the ice cream man's jingle is cause for celebration. For Izzy it is cause for irritation as he admonishes from his bedroom window, "Shut up you stupid ice cream man. I am trying to go to sleep!"
As for the ice lady, well I just told him that ices were too sugary and we didn't eat those either. But lately I have changed my mind. Yes, that does happen occasionally. His friend I. had been eating ices in front of him over the past week and when Izzy asked why he couldn't have any I couldn't come up with a reasonable answer. When I examined the goods I decided that the coconut flavor appeared benign enough..no evil food coloring at least.
So I handed him a dollar and let him run off with I. and I. to give it a try. We shared it and we were both hooked. Which is precisely what I was afraid of. Now he seeks out the ice lady on a daily basis, and we have eaten it three times since. The second time we discovered one could combine two flavors in a small size. We tried tamarind and coconut. Today it was coconut and mango (too fake). Not the worst habit to have but still...
Every day since his first taste I have been asked, "Do you think the ice lady will be in the park today?". I feign ignorance, knowing full well that as long as summer is here, the ice lady cometh.
We should have been at the beach. But because of bad door karma and a perfectionist husband we remained at home, for a rather original staycation. For six days now, Izzy has been a door maker's apprentice. He is being schooled in cement mixing and pouring, door frame production and assembly, and today actual door construction.
For Izzy it is all simply riveting. For me the thrill of a new door keeps me going and I try to ignore the cement dust, sawdust and general dirt that has been swirling about our house as the project goes on.
Aside from the dirt and A.'s suffering, this project has had the most impact on our mealtimes. We have eaten nearly all of our meals outside, on the front stoop. This is fine for breakfasts and lunches which have been toast and sandwiches, but dinners turn into balancing acts, especially for Izzy. He has been managing well and was even able to eat a plate of homemade Chinese food on his lap.
Stoop eating can be fun but last night, after providing three meals a day from Wednesday onwards, I took a break and we had Indian food delivered for dinner. That could not be eaten on the stoop because we needed to spread everything out to share.
Tonight's meal, which should have been a bbq in celebration of our new door, turned out to be rice and beans. Izzy and I ate inside as A. was working hard to complete the project before sunset. He is still working and it is 10:20 p.m. The door is being painted now so expect a celebration in the near future. Stay tuned.