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The Best Summertime Light Meals + Snacks

August 8, 2015 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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Hello everybody, and happy summer! As we speak, I am sitting on my grandparents’ porch, feeling the warmth of the sun and marveling at how pretty dappled trees look in August. The air is filled with energy, the days are long, and everyone seems to be in a good mood.

By the way, did I mention that I’m volunteering on a farm this summer? Well, in case I didn’t, yeah, I’m helping out over at Amber Waves Farm. It’s a pretty sweet gig.

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It’s amazing to be outside in the mornings, pulling vegetables out of the ground with my hands and smelling the earth around me. I’ve done “pick your own” produce since I was a child, but I often forget about where my food is really coming from, so being on a farm is the perfect solution for someone who loves to cook. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to pull cucumbers from the field and eat them for lunch a few hours later, or eat fresh sugar snap peas right off the stalk. Such a nice change of pace from my life as a student.

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(Yes, there is a baby in the CSA box. No, babies are not offered in Amber Waves’ CSA box.)

With the warmer weather also comes warm weather food, which is always best on the simpler, quicker side. Who wants to crank up the oven to 450 degrees or slave for hours over a stove when it’s already hot outside to begin with?! Not I! There’s also suddenly so much more local produce to buy (or for me, to pick), so a savvy chef would best make use of what he or she can find at the farmer’s market, or at least conveniently at the grocery store.

Here are a few ideas for some lighter meals and snacks you can make on these warmer summer days, or at least what I’ve been eating a lot of lately. I hope you enjoy! 🙂

Avocado Toast with Fresh Vegetables

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One day in late spring, I needed to pack myself something for lunch and didn’t have much in the fridge to choose from. I saw half an avocado, some Ezekiel bread, and a leftover tomato from the night before, so I figured, “Well, how bad can it be?!” I toasted up two slices, smashed on some avocado, added the tomato, and garnished everyone with sea salt and black pepper…and when I took a bite, I was WOWED. How could something simple taste so good?!

Avocado toast is a no-brainer on a warm day. It’s filling but not stuffing, and you can really use whatever vegetables are in season, be it cucumbers, tomatoes, or even fresh corn. I recommend investing in a good sea salt, because it’s SO worth it. Add a little lemon zest or juice if you have a second; otherwise, just dig in.

If you’re gluten-free, feel free to use gluten-free bread as your toast or brown rice cakes (which are AMAZING with this). If you’re paleo, try smashing an avocado on top of big slices of raw zucchini or jicama–just find something relatively large and crunchy.

Smoothie Bowls (and Smoothies in General)

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When the weather gets hot, eating a bowl of oatmeal is like a sentence to sluggishness and sweating at 8:00 A.M., at least for me. I need to eat something cool in the morning, or I have the strong urge to go back to sleep, for some reason. Does this happen to anyone else?

Anyway, I love having a big smoothie bowl first thing in the morning. I usually do something simple for the smoothie base–maybe a frozen banana or two with some almond milk or a bit of cocoa powder–then top it off with lots of fresh fruit, especially berries. For some protein, I’ll throw in some cacao nibs, chopped nuts, or hemp seeds, and that keeps me full and happy until lunch time.

I highly recommend adding a handful of spinach or kale to your smoothie, or using a teaspoon or two of spirulina powder to get some veggies and additional nutrients in. If you’re an athlete, feel free to include a scoop of protein powder in your smoothie.

Sushi with Whole Grains

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Sushi tastes SO GOOD, and surprisingly, it really isn’t that difficult to make. It’s light on the stomach, filled with different textures, and can be made to scale: if you’re alone for dinner, sushi is a great choice, and if you’re having six or seven guests, sushi is still a great choice. Just decide how much rice you’d like to make–I’d say about 1/2 (dry) cup per person, to be generous–and get rolling.

Of course you can use the classic white rice, but sushi is delicious with brown rice or even quinoa! With these less starchy grains, I recommend adding a little rice vinegar mixed with some water and a bit of sugar to help hold everything together.

Personally, I’m a big fan of vegetable sushi filled with cucumber, carrots, bell peppers, a little avocado, and some fresh mango, but you can also use fresh seafood if you’d like. (Just make sure it’s sushi grade!) If you’re looking for inspiration, check out my Purple Vegetable Sushi, where I show you how to roll and assemble your own sushi from scratch.

Pasta Loaded with Vegetables

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Not gonna lie, I’m super into pasta. What I love about it is that it’s like a blank canvas for other flavors and can be thrown together in under a half an hour. Even in a typical grocery store, there are so many different kinds of pasta to choose from in all shapes and sizes: pick what looks appealing to you! I love the heartiness of whole wheat pasta, so that’s my usual go-to, but I’m also a fan of brown rice and quinoa pasta. (By the way, the pasta pictured above? Oh yeah, those are llama-shaped, and made out of quinoa. Cool beans.)

Use whatever vegetables you have on hand–onions, garlic, tomatoes, broccoli, the list goes on–and give them a quick saute in some olive oil. Add a splash of wine or broth and maybe a little tomato paste, and voila, you have a great base! Throw in your desired pasta, give it a stir, and garnish with some fresh herbs, sea salt, and pepper.

My best piece of advice is to use a pasta that’s in a similar shape to the vegetables you’re using. For example, if you’ve got little cherry tomatoes in there, use shells or orecchiette (helmet-shaped pasta); if you have sliced onions or julienned zucchini, go for linguini or spaghetti.

Ice Cream and Sorbet…Basically 24/7

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My first dessert was ice cream, and ever since then, it’s been my favorite. I love it all: ice cream, gelato, sorbet, sherbet…if it’s a frozen treat, I’ll try it.

I’m also obsessed with making ice cream and sorbet, if you haven’t been able to tell from my Instagram page. I love coming up with unique flavors and figuring out a way to make them healthier and vegan, if possible. Some of my favorite flavors I’ve tried this year are Cheap Date (date-caramel ice cream with a splash of rum–get the joke?!), black raspberry-sweet corn, and roasted apricot with ginger and walnuts. The possibilities are endless…or you could just be boring and make vanilla or chocolate ice cream. 🙂

Speaking of which, here’s a recipe for you, giving you the low-down on how to make your own sorbet! I tried to be as clear and specific as possible, so whether you’re a novice or an old pro you can still make your own frozen treat to enjoy.

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Sorbet 101 (vegan)

Are you absolutely terrified of making your own ice cream? Has your ice cream machine sat untouched in your closet for years? Do you just eschew from frozen treats because of all of the cream and sugar? Then this recipe is for you: there’s no cooking involved, and all you need is a blender–you don’t even necessarily need an ice cream maker!

Use whatever fruit is in season, or use thawed frozen fruit or tropical fruits (like a combination of bananas and mangoes) in the wintertime.

Pictured in recipe index is an almond-dragonfruit sorbet I made in Hawaii. 🙂

Ingredients

Prep Time 5 min
Cooking Time
Total Time 24 hr
Yield 6-8 servings

4-6 cups of fruit of choice (I love the combinations of strawberry/banana and raspberry/peach)

2/3-1 cup of unrefined cane sugar or coconut sugar

1 tablespoon of vodka or alcohol of choice

1/2-1 tablespoon of vanilla, almond, or citrus extract (optional)

1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (optional)

Handful of herbs, like thyme, sage, or lavender (optional)

Directions

Here’s how it works: first, put all of your fruit in the blender with NOTHING else. Blend until everything is pulverized, then look on the side and see how many cups of fruit puree you have.

My rule of thumb is to use 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup of sugar for every cup of fruit puree: for example, if you have 4 cups of fruit puree, use 1 cup (or a little less) of sugar. It doesn’t have to be exact: just round up or down to the nearest whole number if you have, say, 3 1/2 cups of puree.

Feel free to scale back the sugar a little bit, but DON’T overdo it. Because sorbet has no fat, you’re in a battle against liquid to prevent your frozen treat from becoming too icy, and sugar helps keep things from becoming an edible igloo. With tarter fruits–like strawberries and blueberries–you’ll definitely need more sugar, but with sweeter fruits–like bananas and really ripe peaches–you can use less.

Once the fruit has been blended, add the calculated amount of sugar, vodka (this also helps prevent the igloo problem), and extract/citrus juice/herbs, if you’re using them. This is your chance to be creative with your flavors, so go crazy! Here are some combos I’ve made:

  • Strawberry/banana puree with lemon juice and vanilla extract
  • Raspberry/peach puree with lavender
  • Dragonfruit puree with almond extract

Blend again. Once everything has been well-incorporated, pour the puree into a bowl and place it in the fridge to cool for 4-6 hours. This is critical: you don’t want to be putting warm ingredients into the frozen ice cream machine base.

When the cooling time has elapsed, pass the puree through a sieve to remove any seeds or big pieces of herbs that didn’t get blended properly. Now you’re ready to get things rolling!

Here are the two methods for churning the sorbet:

ICE CREAM MACHINE METHOD: Pour the fruit puree into the ice cream machine’s base and churn according to your manufacturer’s instructions. (I churn mine for half an hour, usually.) Once churned, pour into a glass loaf pan or plastic container, cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a lid, and let harden in the freezer overnight (or for at least 12 hours).

BLENDER METHOD: Pour the fruit puree into a large flat glass dish, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and freeze until just solid, 1-2 hours. Remove the dish from the freezer and cut the contents into squares–it doesn’t have to be perfect–and put them into the blender. Blend until just incorporated, about a minute, then pour the puree back into the glass dish and freeze for another 1-2 hours. Repeat this process twice more, then pour the finished product into a glass loaf pan or plastic container. (The purpose of this is to add air to your sorbet, which will make it creamier and also allow it to freeze better.) Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a lid, and let harden in the freezer overnight (or for at least 12 hours).

Let the sorbet sit out and thaw for 10 minutes before scooping and eating.


What are some of your favorite summer foods? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!


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Fire Roasted Corn and Black Bean Burgers with Mango Salsa (gluten-free + vegan)

June 16, 2015 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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Happy summer! The sun is shining! Birds are singing! No math for two and a half months! (Sorry, conic sections, but I’m giving you the Cee Lo Green treatment.) I am now officially a senior! I can read books I want to read! I can use exclamation points freely in writing without looking like a fool! HOORAY!!!

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of this beautiful season than with a fresh yet hearty veggie burger.

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How did these gorgeous burgers come about? Basically, I was in a very big cooking mood after taking my SAT subject tests last month, so I made homemade buns, black bean burgers, and salsa, all from scratch, and then proceeded to artfully arrange them for photographing purposes.

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Here are the buns I made that I’m not going to give you a recipe for…because it’s TOP. SECRET. (OOHHHH.) Actually, I’m just lazy, so you’re stuck with a photograph. Sorry bub.

To give you some perspective, these burgers were about half the size of my head, and neither of my parents could actually fit the entire thing into either of their mouths at once. Sorry to disappoint you, but this dish won’t stay this perfectly-assembled for very long.

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While these burgers aren’t meaty, I’d say, they have a wonderful chewy texture and are loaded with flavor. Black beans and corn are already a winning combination, but when you pair them with juicy mango pieces, luscious avocado slices, and crunchy fresh vegetables, you have a recipe for awesome. Studded with cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika, this dish has the perfect amount of seasoning without being too spicy.

Best of all, both the burgers and the salsa are super easy to prepare, especially if you’re using store-bought buns or making a veggie burger salad instead. (This, however, was not the case for me: to quote my AP chemistry class, “Abby, you always take the complicated way.”)

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Really, though, the process is simple. You saute everybody in a pan…

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…then for a pulse in the food processor and an orderly formation…

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…and finally a bake in the oven until beginning to crisp and tender in the center. And the salsa, well, it’s basically just mixing things together in a bowl. I think you can do that.

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But if you still need a recipe, I’ve got you covered for both below. 😉

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Mango + Cucumber Salsa

Fresh, simple, and sweet, this salsa makes for a fabulous summer accompaniment to anything grilled or simply on its own. Feel free to substitute basil or cilantro for the mint and lemon or orange juice for the lime.

Ingredients

Prep Time 5 min
Cooking Time
Total Time 5 min
Yield 6-8 servings

2 mangoes, fully ripe

1 small cucumber or 1/2 of a large cucumber

A handful of mint leaves, finely minced

The juice of 2 limes (about 3-4 tablespoons)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Peel, slice, and dice the mangoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Peel and de-seed the cucumber and dice it about the same size as the mango.

Mix the mango and cucumber in a bowl with the mint leaves, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Stir together and taste, then add more lime juice, salt, or pepper if necessary. For best results, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before eating.


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What is your favorite summer burger? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know! 🙂


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Mango + Cucumber Salsa

May 20, 2015 Print this page

Fresh, simple, and sweet, this salsa makes for a fabulous summer accompaniment to anything grilled or simply on its own. Feel free to substitute basil or cilantro for the mint and lemon or orange juice for the lime.

Ingredients

Prep Time 5 min
Cooking Time
Total Time 5 min
Yield 6-8 servings

2 mangoes, fully ripe

1 small cucumber or 1/2 of a large cucumber

A handful of mint leaves, finely minced

The juice of 2 limes (about 3-4 tablespoons)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Peel, slice, and dice the mangoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Peel and de-seed the cucumber and dice it about the same size as the mango.

Mix the mango and cucumber in a bowl with the mint leaves, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Stir together and taste, then add more lime juice, salt, or pepper if necessary. For best results, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before eating.


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Purple Vegetable Sushi (vegan + gluten-free)

March 14, 2015 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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Hello there! Sorry for disappearing again…I tend to do that a lot. You may file a complaint with my AP Chem teacher if you require more Yes to Yummy in your life. 😉

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I love sushi. I love how all of the flavors and textures blend together in a few wonderful bites that just make me smile with delight. I love how fun and colorful sushi can be, and who doesn’t love eating pretty food, anyway?

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I don’t make sushi often, not because I don’t love it, but rather because rolling and slicing the sushi just takes time. To be totally honest, it took be over an hour to prepare six rolls, which isn’t too bad other than the fact that it’s completely hands-on time and the rice you have to use is very, very sticky.

But again, all of the colors and that wonderful bite where everything squishy and crunchy blends together into sushi euphoria is all worth it. And sometimes you just need food to give you a little shove of sunshine and happiness in your life.

For the record, healthy food does fill me with joy. When I’m stressed or anxious, I crave something like this sushi filled with fresh veggies, not a greasy burger or processed sugary snacks. 🙂

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This time, I used cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, mango, and avocado inside the sushi, but you can of course use whatever vegetables (and fruit) you like. I’ve actually had sushi with strawberries in it and it’s pretty darn tasty…I’d recommend it.

The steps involved are actually pretty simple! First, you prepare the rice and cut up the fillings…

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…set up your sushi rolling station with nori sheets and a bamboo mat…

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…then add fillings and get rolling!

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Anyway, onto the recipe. Time for this chica to recover from her first SAT–five hours of bubble-filling hell! (WOHOO not.)

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Purple Vegetable Sushi (vegan)

Yes, YOU can successfully make sushi at home, I promise! You can of course use regular sushi rice here, but I love how the deep purple contrasts with the greens, reds, and golds of the fillings. I’m no sushi samurai, but these wound up being both beautiful and delicious…and if I can do it, you can, too!

Ingredients

Prep Time 1 hr
Cooking Time 30 min
Total Time 1 hr 30 min
Yield 6-8 servings

FOR THE RICE:

1 bag of Thai Sticky Purple Rice, or 2 1/4 cups of sushi rice

4 1/2 cups of water

1/3 cup of rice vinegar

3 tablespoons of sugar

3/4 teaspoon of salt + a pinch extra

FOR THE SUSHI:

2 large avocados, thinly sliced

1 large bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced

1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced

6 sheets of nori (seaweed paper)

A bamboo sushi mat, which can be purchased here

Directions

FOR THE RICE:

Pour the rice into a collender and rinse well with until the water becomes clear. Dump into a medium saucepan, add the water and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cook until most of the water has been absorbed, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm for 5 minutes, or until both the sugar and the salt have been dissolved completely. Pour into a measuring cup with a lip and set aside.

Once the rice has finished cooking, let it stand for ten minutes before fluffing with a fork and transferring to a large bowl. Slowly add the rice vinegar mixture to the rice–JUST a little bit at a time–while fiercely stirring the rice with a wooden spoon or spatula. This will help the rice get properly sticky while cooling it down at the same time.

After all of the rice vinegar mixture has been used, set aside the prepared sushi rice and set up your sushi-making station.

TO ASSEMBLE:

Set out a bowl of water mixed with a little rice vinegar. You’re going to need this to wash your hands, because things are about to get, er, sticky.

To make a roll of sushi, place a piece of nori on the bamboo mat shiny-side down. Place a large scoop of the prepared sushi rice on top and, using damp hands, spread it out all over the nori sheet, leaving about an inch free on the end farthest from you and just a little space around the edges. The rice should form a layer approximately 1/2-inch thick all over the nori sheet and spread evenly throughout.

Now it’s time for the fillings! Place a couple of slices of each filling about 1/2 inch from the edge closest to you, keeping everything as tightly packed together as possible. You don’t want too much or else your roll is going to explode, so go light on fillings, especially for your first roll.

To roll the sushi, fold over the bottom of the bamboo mat on the edge closest to you over the fillings, picking up the nori sheet with you as you go. Give it a good squeeze to secure and continue rolling, using the mat to fold the nori over itself and applying gentle pressure every so often to keep things together.

Once you’ve completely rolled up the sushi, pull out the bamboo mat and use a sharp, damp knife to slice the sushi into smaller pieces. Repeat the process with the remaining rice, fillings, and nori.

Serve immediately with tamari or coconut aminos, and give yourself a big pat on the back for being a sushi ninja.


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What is your favorite sushi filling combination? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!


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Purple Vegetable Sushi (vegan)

March 4, 2015 Print this page

Yes, YOU can successfully make sushi at home, I promise! You can of course use regular sushi rice here, but I love how the deep purple contrasts with the greens, reds, and golds of the fillings. I’m no sushi samurai, but these wound up being both beautiful and delicious…and if I can do it, you can, too!

Ingredients

Prep Time 1 hr
Cooking Time 30 min
Total Time 1 hr 30 min
Yield 6-8 servings

FOR THE RICE:

1 bag of Thai Sticky Purple Rice, or 2 1/4 cups of sushi rice

4 1/2 cups of water

1/3 cup of rice vinegar

3 tablespoons of sugar

3/4 teaspoon of salt + a pinch extra

FOR THE SUSHI:

2 large avocados, thinly sliced

1 large bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced

1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced

6 sheets of nori (seaweed paper)

A bamboo sushi mat, which can be purchased here

Directions

FOR THE RICE:

Pour the rice into a collender and rinse well with until the water becomes clear. Dump into a medium saucepan, add the water and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cook until most of the water has been absorbed, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm for 5 minutes, or until both the sugar and the salt have been dissolved completely. Pour into a measuring cup with a lip and set aside.

Once the rice has finished cooking, let it stand for ten minutes before fluffing with a fork and transferring to a large bowl. Slowly add the rice vinegar mixture to the rice–JUST a little bit at a time–while fiercely stirring the rice with a wooden spoon or spatula. This will help the rice get properly sticky while cooling it down at the same time.

After all of the rice vinegar mixture has been used, set aside the prepared sushi rice and set up your sushi-making station.

TO ASSEMBLE:

Set out a bowl of water mixed with a little rice vinegar. You’re going to need this to wash your hands, because things are about to get, er, sticky.

To make a roll of sushi, place a piece of nori on the bamboo mat shiny-side down. Place a large scoop of the prepared sushi rice on top and, using damp hands, spread it out all over the nori sheet, leaving about an inch free on the end farthest from you and just a little space around the edges. The rice should form a layer approximately 1/2-inch thick all over the nori sheet and spread evenly throughout.

Now it’s time for the fillings! Place a couple of slices of each filling about 1/2 inch from the edge closest to you, keeping everything as tightly packed together as possible. You don’t want too much or else your roll is going to explode, so go light on fillings, especially for your first roll.

To roll the sushi, fold over the bottom of the bamboo mat on the edge closest to you over the fillings, picking up the nori sheet with you as you go. Give it a good squeeze to secure and continue rolling, using the mat to fold the nori over itself and applying gentle pressure every so often to keep things together.

Once you’ve completely rolled up the sushi, pull out the bamboo mat and use a sharp, damp knife to slice the sushi into smaller pieces. Repeat the process with the remaining rice, fillings, and nori.

Serve immediately with tamari or coconut aminos, and give yourself a big pat on the back for being a sushi ninja.


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