Monday, January 31, 2011

Dear Snow,

It took us a really, really long time to shovel out this car.  And now we are tired.  You're pretty, but please go somewhere else this week.


That's all.  Thanks.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays, Smoking Hot Edition

I'm warning you now: do not watch without a fire extinguisher nearby.



(I have to say, though, that the shirtless thing is a bit distracting (or maybe it's just too sexy).  I'm offering to sew some buttons on your shirt, Nick Lazzarini.)

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Eating Singapore: Rojak

As you know, I ate A LOT of food in Singapore.  Like a small child's weight in food.  And while I enjoyed Hainanese chicken rice and drooled over banana fritters with kaya, the single food I thought was most memorable, most delicious, most fantastically awesome is this ugly mess of a dish called rojak.


Rojak is a fruit salad -- yes, that's fruit under that mound of sauce! -- but it's not some prissy fruit salad: it's a sweet, sour, savory, spicy POW of a fruit salad.  Scratch that.  It's a flavor experience.




Rojak is Malay for "mixture."  And that's exactly what this salad is: a weird mixture of stuff that really, really, really should not be delicious together.  Rojak commonly has jicama, pineapple, cucumber, green mango, taupok (deep-fried tofu), beansprouts, and youtiao (Chinese-style dough fritters).  Sometimes there's even squid!


But what makes this melange delicious is the even weirder dressing, which is made with varied ingredients, including tamarind, belacan (shrimp paste), sugar, chili, and lime juice.  I know it doesn't sound at all yummy, but trust me when I tell you that this sauce is bombtastic.  It's so good, in fact, that I seriously licked the plate after devouring all the fruit.


While we had rojak at a few places, the very best iteration we had was at Toa Payoh Rojak at the Old Airport Food Centre, which we found through my favorite Singapore food blog, "I Eat Shoot Post."  TPR operates out of a tiny space, just enough room for the two people (son and mother?) who operate it.    There's such a long wait for the rojak here that you have to take a number and wait . . . and wait.

This is because they make each order a la minute.  The guy toasts the youtiao and chopped peanuts over a charcoal grill, while the tiny, stooped-over elderly woman peels the jicama by hand and chops all the fruit.  He then mixes the sauce according to your spice specifications (hot or mild), then puts everything in a wooden bowl and tosses it by hand.

It's so humbling to watch these two people quietly at work, executing a dish that they've perfected.  Eating it, you taste all of the fresh ingredients, the secret dressing recipe (that's been passed down through the generations), and the earnest dedication of these people to serving the very best version of their prized dish.

Have you tried rojak?  If someone put squid in your fruit salad, would you run away screaming, or pick up a fork and dig in?

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm BHLDN

I know I'm an old married lady, but I'm so thrilled for the debut of Anthropologie's bridal line, BHLDN.  I was mesmerized by the images on the Flash page: the collection looks whimsical, romantic, and gorgeous with at least a handful of bridesmaid dresses that can be adapted for party dresses.


Also mesmerizing?  The music accompanying the Flash images, which is Ammina's "What Are We Waiting For?"  It's dreamy.  Like Sigur Ros on valium.

Are you prancing around in your prettiest heels waiting for Valentine's Day to see the new collection?

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Not your human's food truck

My sister, the intrepid reporter, has a new expose out on the newest addition to the food truck phenomena: mobile treats for pets.



Go check it out and tell her how awesome she is.  Also, Jellyby would like an ice-cream sandwich.

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Bored by Dance

Ok, I'm never actually bored by dance.  But I caught an episode of Paula Abdul's "Live to Dance" show On Demand, and wow oh wow is it bad.  Some of the acts look so under-rehearsed, ill-prepared, and sloppy they'd never make it past the first round of SYTYCD.  And even some of the talented acts come off as overly competition-oriented (shiny, sparkly, cheesy).

That being said (and despite their costumes), I kind of dig this group "Twitch" from Florida:



And this sweet ballet duo from San Francisco called "White Tree Fine Art":


Yes, the red Christo-meets-Cirque-du-Soleil thing is distracting and stupid, but if you can get past that, the dancing is quite lovely.  (Click here for the HD version that CBS won't let me embed.)

Have you seen "Live to Dance"?  What do you think?

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eating Singapore: Desserts

It's an icy, slushy mess outside on another ugly Boston winter day.  But here on my blog it's still 88 degrees and a perfect time for icy desserts!


Since it's hot all year long in Singapore, it stands to reason that the most popular Singaporean desserts are  served over ice.  While I'm not a huge fan of icy desserts, my mom and sister have a seemingly insatiable appetite for this stuff.  My mom's favorite is cendol, which is made with coconut milk, shaved ice, palm sugar, and syrup.  The funky-looking green substance on top is a jelly made from pandan leaf and rice flour.  It's like a more sophisticated, chewier, and more filling snow cone.


My sister, however, loves ice kacang, which is also a dessert that involves shaved ice, flavored syrups, and red bean.  As evidenced by these photos, we had a lot of ice kacang.  Some places serve it with corn, others with mango or durian, still others with red beans, grass jelly, aloe vera, attap chee (palm nuts), or even ice cream.  All, however, begin the same way: with a huge bowl of ice that is freshly shaved off a cylinder (like an icy version of gyro, no?).


If you like your ice with more fruit, the above dessert, from Blue Ginger, is a shaved ice topped with coconut and calamansi, a citrus fruit.


And this version from the Maxwell Food Centre has mango, mango syrup, aloe vera, and attap chee.  I'm a huge fan of attap chee, which is the translucent, jelly-like fruit of the nipah palm; it doesn't have a strong flavor -- maybe a hint of coconut -- but it's got a very satisfying snap, sort of like eating a gummy bear that's been refrigerated for a while.


My favorite icy dessert from this trip, though, was probably gula melaka, which has sago (a tapioca-like substance), palm sugar syrup, and coconut milk.  It has a rich, caramel-like taste, and the sago is chewy and gives the dessert a bit more texture and heft than the versions that have only shaved ice.

Are you a big fan of iced desserts?  When you're staring at freshly fallen snow on the ground, are you tempted to stick out your tongue and taste it?  (Jellyby likes nothing more than to eat fresh snow!) Or are you (like me) a bigger fan of baked goods, fresh from the oven?

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Eating Singapore: Sweet Snacks, or All About Kaya

I am sure you must have been drooling in anticipation for the next installment of my "Eating Singapore" series.

Oh.  I think that was actually me drooling.

In any event, we're up to my favorite class of food: sweet snacks!  Singapore totally gets my palate on this front, being that the first snack item I encountered there was banana fritters with kaya fondue.




For this dish, the geniuses at the Gluttons Bar and Sweet Spot at Makansutra Gluttons Bay have taken sweet plantains, fried them, and served them with a dipping sauce of kaya (a delicious jam made out of coconut milk, pandan leaves, egg, and sugar).  The fritters themselves are pretty awesome: a crispy, light coating enveloping a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth plantain.  But dipping them in the kaya makes them totally out of this world.  I could have eaten the whole plate by myself, but my sister forced me to share.


I know that when it comes to battering and frying food, Americans are supposed to be the champs, but everywhere we went in Singapore, we saw stands touting banana fritters, and each one I tried, with or without the kaya fondue, was amazing.  At this stand in the Old Airport Food Centre, for example, they sold nothing but banana fritters, and they were doing brisk business at dinner hour with lots of fried-food lovers clamoring for some plantain goodness.


Well, sometimes deep-fried fruit is too healthy.  That's when you have to get your kaya kick on toast instead, like the kaya fondue with toast sticks at Gluttons Bar and Sweet Spot.


Kaya toast is the quintessential Southeast Asian snack food: decadent, not too filling, and highly portable.  At Ya Kun, a chain kopitiam (coffee shop) famous for their kaya toast, the little old ladies behind the counter toast wheat bread on a countertop grill, carefully divide the toast into two super thin slices (it's like watching someone pull apart two layers of kleenex -- they are so delicate with it), brush on a thin layer of butter, and schmear on a generous amount of kaya.


They treat the kaya toast like it's some art form: the butter has to be cold (they put it back in the fridge between every order), the bread super thin, and the kaya room temperature.  The composition is delicious (though, as my sister points out, not nearly as delectable as the version we had in Thailand).

Have you had kaya?  Are you a fan?  Are you drooling thinking about the dessert post I'm putting together next?  Or is that still me?

P.S. Intrigued by kaya?  Susan Feniger of "Top Chef Masters" fame has a recipe for kaya toast that is supposedly the bomb.  (It's the top-selling dish at her restaurant, Street.)  I haven't tried it yet, but if you beat me to it, please share your results.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Love Illustrated

I've often thought I'd make a good cartoon: I have a cartoonish face (big eyes, smushy nose, buck teeth) and a cartoonish life (I swear an anvil* nearly dropped on my head the other day), and I've got all types of silly schemes I am looking forward to implementing against an evil nemesis.

* Ok, it was a hammer, but close enough.

But since Tom already has Jerry, and Jem the Misfits, I have to satisfy my desire for an illustrated life elsewhere.  Our friend's sister, Dina Kantor, made me this sweet illustration based on our favorite wedding photo after I fell in love with the whimsical illustration and photography work on her blog and website.

Illustration by Dina Kantor (Sam and Gertie Photography)

Since our third(!) anniversary is coming up, I was thinking of maybe having the illustration printed on canvas or simply framed as part of an anniversary gift -- sort of like this framed version of an illustration Dina created for my sister- and brother-in-law to commemorate the arrival of our niece:

Image source: Dina Kantor (Sam and Gertie Photography)

It's pretty awesome, right?  (I particularly like how the illustration picked up on all the details important to my BIL and SIL: the framed photo of our parents dancing and the Dylan and Springsteen prints.)

Image Source: Dina Kantor (Sam and Gertie Photography)

For her own wedding, Dina created a display of illustrations she made of family wedding photos.  It's such a charming and modern take on a traditional concept.

Image Source: Dina Kantor (Sam and Gertie Photography)

The most genius touch, though, is that she made a framed illustration of each of her wedding guests, which doubled as favors and escort cards.  I so wish we could have had something personal and fun like these instead of the semi-useless tchotchkes we imposed on our guests.

Sigh.  Maybe for the next wedding.  ;-P  I kid, I kid.

What are your favorite personalized gifts?  Any additional ideas for third anniversary gifts?  (It's supposed to be leather . . . or crystal . . . but I'm not really into either.)

Editor's note: My friend Alisa just pointed out that the upcoming anniversary is my SECOND, not third. Doh! Apparently marriage has broken my brain. The second anniversary gift is cotton, so perhaps I should screen print Dina's illustration on his/her t-shirts and make my husband wear it as punishment for making time stand still?!

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So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays

A little Jason Mraz, a whole lot of easy breezy gorgeousness.  So perfect for a Sunday.



The gloves are a little WTF, but I love the unadorned beauty of dancers just dancing . . . no tutus, lights, or props needed.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Conversations with my husband

Here's a typical conversation with my resident physician husband when he's post-call.

Me: Dear, wanna help me dig my car out so I can go visit friend X?
Him (groggily): She's hemodynamically stable.
Me: What?
Him: Snore.



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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Homemade Pop Tarts!

When I was a child, my mom used to send me to elementary school with congee in my lunch box -- congee! -- when what I desperately wanted was to have what all the other kids were having: Squeeze-Its, fruit roll-ups, and PB&J sandwiches.

What I wanted most of all, though, was to have pop tarts.  I would pine after them, and I would see them everywhere . . .  at the supermarket, in other kids' sack lunches, in advertisements . . . everywhere but my own hot little hands.  And that's pretty much Joanne Chang's memory too.



As she writes in her Flour Bakery cookbook:

I took the bus to elementary school every day with Linda, my best childhood friend and next-door neighbor. We always sat together in the third row and shared our breakfasts-on-the-go. Most of the time I had buttered toast or a traditional bao (Chinese white steamed bun)—pretty boring. Linda’s mom often sent her with foil-wrapped packets of Pop-Tarts, which I could never get her to trade with me. She shared bites with me occasionally, but I longed to have my own, and I could never convince my mom to buy them. When I started baking professionally, I dreamed of all the things I would offer at my own bakery. Those childhood tarts were high on my list, and I thought if I made them from scratch, they could surpass the packaged supermarket version I remembered. I was right.


I love visiting Flour Bakery, so I was pretty excited when the cookbook came out.  And of course the first recipe I tried was the homemade pop tarts.  I followed Joanne Chang's instructions (below), but used lemon curd (jarred, from Trader Joe's) instead of jam, and made my tarts in the shape of circles instead of rectangles.  They were quite a bit of work, but I assure you that it's worth the effort.

Joanne Chang's Homemade Pop Tarts Recipe

Pâte Brisée (please see recipe below)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (340 grams) raspberry jam

Simple Vanilla Glaze
1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons water
Rainbow sprinkles for sprinkling (optional)
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Press each half into a rectangle. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a 14-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a paring knife, lightly score 1 rectangle into eight 3 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch rectangles (about the size of an index card).

Brush the top surface of the entire scored rectangle with the egg. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the jam in a mound in the center of each scored rectangle. Lay the second large dough rectangle directly on top of the first. Using fingertips, carefully press down all around each jam mound, so the pastry sheets adhere to each other.

Using a knife, a pizza roller (easier), or a fluted roller (easier and prettier), and following the scored lines, cut the layered dough into 8 rectangles. Place the rectangles, well spaced, on a baking sheet.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tops of the pastries are evenly golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

To make the glaze: While the pastries are cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You should have about 1/2 cup. (The glaze can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.)

When the pastries have cooled for 30 minutes, brush the tops evenly with the glaze, then sprinkle with the rainbow sprinkles (if using). Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the glaze to set before serving.

The pastries can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Pâte Brisée

Makes about 18 ounces dough, enough for 8 pop-tarts or one 9-inch double-crust or lattice-top pie

1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks / 228 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cold milk

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), mix together the flour, sugar, and salt for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top. Mix on low speed for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or just until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and lumps of butter the size of pecans are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk until blended. Add to the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough just barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, then gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface (at Flour we call this “going down the mountain”), until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.*

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

* This process is best attempted after watching the following Youtube video.  I had NO idea what any of these instructions meant until I saw Joanne Chang making the dough.

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Ollie

This is Ollie.  He's 10 weeks old, and his parent's unwisely let me have a photo session with him, which consisted of me spending two hours scheming over how to smuggle him out of their house.










Alas, I did not succeed in kidnapping him . . . yet.

Happy Wednesday!



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Sunday, January 16, 2011

So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays

I'm a little bit obsessed with Tokyo's choreography.  This is, with all its flaws, still Perfection.



Also, it's kind of reassuring to see professional dancers flubbing a pirouette once in a while . . . .

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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Unchippable Manicure

For some inexplicable reason, I cannot keep a manicure for more than a day: I must be operating heavy tools or doing some serious manual labor in my sleep, because inevitably my nails become chipped and sad looking within hours of a manicure.  Recently my fashionista friend Alisa introduced me to the UV gel manicure at the Pyara Aveda Salon in Harvard Square, and I swear it's changed my life.

Shellac manicure, day 3

The gel or shellac manicure is like a regular manicure in almost every respect, except they use a special polish by CND and "cure" the polish in between coats under a UV light.  The polish dries and hardens, and you can walk out of the salon and go about your day immediately without waiting for additional drying time or worrying about chipping.  (I know!  It's totally mindblowing.)


Day 8

In fact, the manicure is supposed to last for two weeks.  Since I was traveling, I actually had mine on for thirty days(!), and with the exception of minor peeling on three fingers, the polish was still on.  Of course, your nails grow, and at some point it starts looking a little weird that you have polish only on the top 2/3 of your nails.

Day 30

When it's time to remove the polish, you're supposed to return to the salon to have the polish removed.  They  soak your nails in acetone for about ten minutes and buff them slightly to remove the polish.  (I watched the removal process, and it didn't seem so complicated as to warrant my paying someone to do it, so I might try do it myself next time.  We'll see.)  CND says that the polish removal process doesn't damage your nails (the way removing acrylics, for ex., will), but I'm still planning on taking a break between manicures.

New manicure, day 1

The main drawback to the shellac manicure is its cost.  It's $45 for the application, and $15 for the removal.  For this reason, I probably won't be getting another manicure until I have some sort of special event.  Then again, it lasts so much longer than a regular manicure that perhaps the cost difference becomes negligible.  Another negative is that CND has a fairly limited array of colors right now, though I've heard they will be expanding their product line shortly.

Now for the positives: The polish really does dry immediately under the UV lamp, and you can put on your gloves, rummage through your purse, etc., etc. as soon as the manicure's done.  And the polish lasts for so long that it's completely cured my bad habit of biting my nails.  Finally, as someone who equates manicures with fanciness, I no longer feel like a goblin when I go out in public.

Have you tried the shellac manicure?  (I heard OPI has one too.)

P.S. I think I need to moisturize my hands more. My knuckles look like pug faces.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eating Singapore: Savory Snacks

We have a nor'easter here in Boston, which makes this the perfect time to reminisce about the 80-degree weather in Singapore and to continue my Eating Singapore series.


I'm a big fan of snack time.  Given the choice, I'd much rather nosh my way around town than actually sit down for a full meal.  (Then again, why choose?  Given my seemingly endless stomach capacity for good food, I'm not too worried about "ruining my appetite by snacking.")  



My favorite Singaporean snack, ever since I was a little girl, is satay, charcoal grilled meat skewers.  Back in the day in Singapore, THE place to go for satay was a section of Beach Road called "Satay Club."  All the open-air hawkers there sold satay, and (as my mom fondly recalls), you'd get charged at the end of your meal when the vendor would settle the accounts by counting the number of wooden skewers left on the table.  (Naturally, people tried to cheat the vendors by throwing the skewers on the floor or pocketing them!)  


Alas, Satay Club is no longer, but one of the original hawkers has set up shop under the name "Old Satay Club" at Makansutra Gluttons Bay.  I love that they present their satays in banana leaf cones.  Garnishing every plate are cubes of sticky rice and diced cucumbers, both of which are designed to be speared with a satay skewer and dipped into the spicy, garlicky peanut sauce that accompanies the dish.


We also tried the famous satay at Chuan Kee Satay at the Old Airport Road Food Centre.  Unlike the satay at Makansutra, which while pretty was kind of tough, the satay at Chuan Kee is so tender it literally melts in your mouth.


These folks are so serious about the quality of their satay that they grill them right as you order them.  Accordingly, there's always a huge line.  And they serve it with a sauce that is lick-your-plate-clean good: it's a small bowl of intensely flavored peanut sauce with a heaping dollop of minced garlic in the middle for a pungent, spicy, nutty, sweet kick.


For some reason, Singaporeans are also really into chicken wings.  I'm kind of "meh" about chicken wings, but my sister, who can't resist trying anything there's a line for, got these wings at FoodRepublic and claims that, with a squeeze of the lime-like calamansi, they are quite delish.


I, however, like to save room for the unusual, like these kueh pie tee ("top hat") cups we tried at Blue Ginger.  The pie tee cups are like crispier, lighter versions of mini pate brisee shells.  They are made with rice flour and deep fried in metal molds that have the shape of upside-down cannelles.


The initial crunch of the delicate shell gives way to the tender mix of bamboo shoots, turnips, and shrimp.  It's sweet, savory, and spicy.  


My mom's all-time favorite street snack, however, is popiah, which is sort of a Singaporean burrito.  Well, it's not really Singaporean, in that it actually originates from the Chinese province of Fukien (where my grandpa is from).  But immigrants from China brought the dish with them to Singapore, and now it's super popular in the Straits.


Popiah consists of a thin crepe made from wheat flour, which is then wrapped around goodness such as jicama, turnip, eggs, bean sprouts, meat, and seafood.  What makes the dish pop is a spicy hoisin sauce that gives a sweet and savory "bite" to the popiah.  We had the dish at various food centers, including Maxwell and FoodRepublic, the latter of which was deemed superior by my popiah-loving mom.  (She's not the only one in the family who pines nostalgically for popiah: my grandpa has spent hours in Xiamen, China, searching for the best popiah maker and has imported box-loads of popiahs from Fukien to Hong Kong.)

In my next installment, sweet snacks and desserts!

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Snow Day!

A crazy blizzard is keeping sane people indoors today.


Jellyby, however, is neither sane nor a person (though don't tell her that), so she had a blast making snow angels, bounding in and out of the foot-high snow drifts, and peeing on the fresh snow.


Even with the golf-ball-sized ice balls hanging on her fur, she was not going to waste a perfectly good snow day indoors.



I, on the other hand, am wet, cold, and ready for a hot chocolate.

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Snapshots from Singapore

With the Totally Rad Lightroom presets, I finally got around to editing some of my non-food photos from Singapore.

A close-up of the tower at the Hindu temple



View of the blue buoys off Marina Bay

The Chinese temple

A lantern at the Chinese temple


The full tower at the Hindu temple

Aren't the colors and details amazing?  I can't imagine how long it must have taken the artisans to create this tower.

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