tksday 11-12_080I’d planned to blog about Thanksgiving dinner over a week ago, just after the Chili Bake recipes, but it was not to be. I’ve been through the wringer with a tooth infection under a bridge installed by my dentist back in 1988, an experience I’d prefer never to happen again. Suffice to say that I’ve lost one of the two teeth under that bridge and have not been in writing or eating mode most of the time since (hey- I lost about 6 pounds as a result- a little leverage for holiday snacking might be the only benefit to the whole mess!). To get back into the spirit, however, I decided this morning that providing readers with one of the simplest, sweetest and most favored (at least by me) of over a dozen(!) dishes served on Turkey Day would be a good start. More recipes will follow in future blogposts.

This year, unlike most, we decided to do dinner at home with just the four of us – Bill and me with adult offspring Kristen and Adrian. Most often in recent years, we’ve gone to brother George’s (his wife is Heidi), since they have a much larger home. They had other plans anyway, and we were happy to anticipate the best part of Thanksgiving: leftovers over the next few days. We were also invited to the home of one of Adrian’s friends for dessert, and I baked an awesome and new-to-me cake to contribute to that feast.

Memories of Thanksgivings past, of course, kept bubbling up as I stirred the cranberry sauce the day before the big meal, as well as throughout the holiday. Don’t we all have those tidbits of family and friends in the back of our minds as each holiday arrives?

When we were kids, we were part of a huge family gathering. Our mother was one of eight siblings and Grandma Boyd liked to get as many of them together as possible. I have vague memories of the cousins running amok in her and Grandpa’s small basement apartment on Hamilton Street in Albany and, in other years, between the two flats on the third floor on Central Avenue where Aunt Pat and Uncle Doug lived at #61 Central and we were at #63 (same building, across the hall from each other). In our place, the living room and dining room were what they’re calling today “open concept” and that’s where tables were put together for the feast. The meal included turkey, stuffing (always a sausage version, sometimes an oyster one too), gravy, mashed potatoes, and what we called turnips (but they were really rutabaga). There’d be other vegetables, most likely corn and/or peas or green beans, and creamed cauliflower (not really “creamed,” more like “in cream sauce”). I vaguely recall sweet potatoes making an occasional appearance but, at the time, you wouldn’t get me to touch them! And the pies: pumpkin, apple and George’s favorite, mincemeat.

In addition to the turkey, unlike most households on that day, another “meat” such as roast beef or lamb, always graced that table because our grandmother wouldn’t eat turkey! She always said that she’d grown up on a farm and saw what those “dirty birds” ate off the ground. She just couldn’t stomach it!

Another memory, probably after Gramma had passed away: Mom and Aunt Pat in our kitchen, trying to get the gravy to come together just right. I think Gramma was the gravy diva on Turkey Days past and, while they had certainly made gravies themselves before, this time it just wasn’t working. It would be too thin, so they’d add a slurry of water (or milk?) and flour. Too thick, so more water. In the end, it tasted more like flour-water than gravy but it was hot atop the stuffing and turkey, and not so bad with buttered potatoes.

In 1971, the Northeast got hit with one of the biggest Thanksgiving snowstorms in its history. My dad was in the Veterans Administration hospital, having had a stroke several weeks before (his final one, which would take him from us eventually, on Christmas Eve that year), and the plan was that we (Mom, brother Bill and I) would visit him and then go to Aunt Pat’s and Uncle Doug’s house for dinner. Several years before, they’d moved to a more spacious apartment on Elk Street, about six blocks from Mom and Dad’s. George was now married, and he and Sharon lived in Selkirk, south of Albany. I no longer lived at home but was spending the night with Mom and 13-year-old brother Bill. As the expression goes, “The best-laid plans of…” – there was no way we could safely get to the VA Hospital that day. We didn’t own a car, and taxi cabs either weren’t running or were running hours late. We called the desk on his floor and asked a nurse to let Dad know we couldn’t make it, and then decided we’d set out amidst the drifting snow, trudging up Central toward our dinner.

We were almost ready to turn back in less than 10 minutes when, lo and behold, one of the few cars driving up Central (in those days, usually a busy thoroughfare in the city, a shopping area in fact) stopped and the driver waved at us. It was Uncle Arch! Crazy, lovable Uncle Arch was out driving in that mess! I have no idea why he was buzzing through what would wind up being 22.5 inches of the white stuff (30 inches in some areas), but, as the three of us piled into the car, we were grateful he showed up! George and Sharon arrived at Aunt Pat’s a little while later, having decided to risk snow-filled roads because all they had to eat in the house was the pie they were contributing to the table fare! We didn’t stay late because of the storm, but it was probably one of the most appreciated Thanksgiving repasts we’d ever consumed!

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There are other memories but it’s time to get on to this year, or I’ll be writing all day before the recipe gets posted. So here’s the menu, from a day whose weather was clear, bright, and above the average temperature (in the low 50s!):

Roast Turkey
Stuffing with turkey sausage, made with homemade croutons
Gravy (a little thin, but I wasn’t risking the flour-water possibility!) 
Mashed Potato Casserole
Buttery Rutabaga
Cauliflower in Cheesey Cream Sauce
Broth-and-butter-braised Carrots
From-Scratch Green Bean Casserole
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Beets
Buttered Peas and Carrots
Cranberry-Orange Sauce
Magic Chocolate Flan Cake (brought to Frank & Robin’s house for dessert)
Thanksgiving CakePops (Turkeys & Snowmen, made by Kristen, also brought to Frank’s)

Growing up, the only cranberry sauce I tasted was the “jellied” kind bought in a can at the local supermarket. Always Ocean Spray brand (store brands were less prevalent in those days). I was married several years before discovering there was something called whole-berry sauce, and I loved it. Imagine my delight when I first made it from scratch, rather than the canned version first ingested. As usual, I consulted several cookbooks and then made it my way (sounds like Frank Sinatra, doesn’t it, “I did it my way…”). Eventually, that recipe evolved into a cranberry-orange rendition. tksdy notes12_001I’m not sure I even create it the same way every time, but this Thanksgiving I was adamantly scribbling ingredients and other info on yellow sticky notes as I made the entire meal (two days of cooking and baking)—so I now have this basic game plan for the next time I make this awesome condiment. Plus notes for a few more posts on KitchenCauldron.

Getting a little witchy (this blog is a cauldron, you know), you might like to know that, according to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications), the “sourness of cranberries makes them an ideal protective food.” Cunningham notes that these berries are native to North America and Europe. He says, they were ckbk wicca kitchen“eaten by Indians long before being introduced to the Pilgrims.” I’m thinking it’s not just the sourness that would point to cranberries’ protective energy. There’s something about their deep red hue that speaks of strength to me. After all, aren’t red and orange foods supposed to be rich in nutrients? Food science tells us there’s the carotenoid called lycopene in the reds (especially good for prostate health) and oranges contain beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body (supporting the immune system, promoting bone growth, and regulating cell growth and division). Sure sounds protective to me.

So let’s get on to a recipe for good health, albeit one of many one might indulge in on an over-indulgent holiday. (This is also especially great when prepared the day before – convenient, so lower stress, ergo better for you too!)

tksday 11-12_042

Yields a couple cups (with extra juice to freeze for later use!)


  • 24 oz. bag cranberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1½ cups sugar (have a bit more available, in case needed)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (or regular cinnamon)
  • up to ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (or less, if preferred, & I prefer fresh-ground nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • juice of ½ orange (or substitute juice from small can of mandarin oranges)
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 oranges, peeled, each section cut into 2 or 3 pieces (or use equivalent in canned mandarin oranges)


  1. In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring cranberries and all other ingredients except for orange sections to a boil.tksday 11-12_048
  2. Reduce heat and simmer until all berries seem to have popped and sauce begins to thicken a bit.
  3. Add orange sections and let simmer another couple minutes.tksday 11-12_045
  4. Taste for desired sweetness. Stir in extra sugar, if desired.
  5. If the sauce doesn’t thicken to your preference, you can choose to use a slurry of the juice and a bit of corn starch to aid the process, but it’s just as good without being too dense. (I froze extra juice, with a plan to use it in a future pork tenderloin recipe, as yet to be concocted.)
Sauce for The Day, a portion for daughter to take home & juice for a future roast!

Sauce for The Day, a portion for daughter to take home & juice for a future roast!


Most pasta – no matter what kind or how prepared – qualifies as comfort food for me. The old standard Macaroni and Cheese ranks #1 in my book, probably because it was a my mother’s dish my mother often served. She tossed together canned, diced tomatoes and American processed cheese – plus elbow macaroni and whole milk (no one even hear of 1% or 2% milk back then, and skim was too skimpy). That’s about it, except for salt, pepper and maybe a little garlic salt if she had it. It was always delicious. I make a sort-of version of hers about once a month, although with different (and alternating) cheeses, but I often hunger for something a little different.

Uncle Champ (Frank), Aunt Mary with cousin Mary; circa 1950.

Then there was Aunt Mary’s spaghetti and meatballs. It was a super-treat to get invited to Aunt Mary and Uncle Champ’s house for the ultimate Italian dinner back-in-the-day. After all, Aunt Mary’s parents were Italian immigrants from Puglia — this was a genuine recipe! Her meatballs became forever the ultimate high standard against which all meatballs were measured, at least as far as Mom was concerned. When the family (my brothers and I and our families) took her out for her 70th birthday to a celebrated Italian restaurant in Albany, allegedy the place where former Governor Mario Cuomo preferred to eat when doing Italian, she naturally order spaghetti with meatballs. Asked how the meatballs were, she replied, “They were pretty good.” Not great. Just pretty good.

Decades ago, my cousin Mary gave me her mother’s recipe but I tend to go off on my own where these things are concerned, so I’ve only made it a few times. It requires cooking at least overnight, until a chicken breast literally dissolves in the tomato richness. And there’s more than just meatballs involved—sausage comes into it as well. A lengthy project. Still, it holds such an honored place in my personal history that it even worked its way into a poem I wrote some years ago, which just posted on this blog’s Food for Thought: Getting Literate page, for your reading pleasure.

Dolly (Mom) out to dinner on 70th birthday, at head of table. 1997.

When Mom (Dolly) made spaghetti sauce it could be okay or it might be what I dubbed as her “cardboard sauce.” She’d give me a dirty look when I used that term, or would comment, “And how would you know what cardboard tastes like?” It was clear she was inferring that we ate pretty decently. Dad ran a tiny grocery store in the South End of Albany (he worked there for something like 14 years; later owned it –the business, not the building- for a few years before he became too disabled by a stroke to work). We often get leftovers where meats were concerned, the ones not sold to his customers, but there was always a decent roast on Sunday for dinner. And the Grand Union was less than a half-block away for items Dad didn’t sell or couldn’t tote home after work in a taxi.

In retrospect, I should’ve called that not-so-great sauce “Mom’s hurry-up” meal. Most likely, she just didn’t feel like cooking that night! Who wants to prepare an all-night affair, or even your own one-to-two-hour sauce, when there’s an easy way out- especially when you can get invited for The Real Deal and walk just a few blocks to consume it with lots of family?

Seems natural that I’d look for an easy-to-prep pasta dish for some of the homemade ricotta I’d made (see previous blogpost, dated October 4, 2012). I checked out a fav cookbook that’s been on my shelf for years, The Best 125 Meatless Pasta Dishes by Minday Toomay and Susann Geiskopf-Hadler (Prima Publishing, 1992), and found Ricotta with Nutmeg and Peas. Nutmeg being a favorite spice of mine, plus knowing it goes great with cheese of almost any kind, it was no contest about this selection.

The dish went over big with both Bill and Adrian. I loved it and will make it again. Of course, I made it my own with a few changes (which are noted) – the big one, of course, being that I used my homemade ricotta, made with whole milk.

Comfort Past (with Ricotta, Nutmeg and Peas)
Yields 4-5 servings


  • 15 oz. homemade whole-milk ricotta (or store-bought part-skim), at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
    …with homemade ricotta!
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups peas (frozen or fresh – I used frozen)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated preferred (but ok to use jarred)
  • a dash of cinnamon (optional, my addition- not in original recipe)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (I use sea salt, but table salt ok)
  • a few twists of the pepper grinder, to taste
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 12-14 ounces dried pasta (recipe said 12 ounces but I knew I could stretch it!; recipe also recommended small tubes or spirals but I used angel hair, our favorite, and it was great)
  • additional Parmesan and nutmeg, as needed and/or desired

Note: it’s important that ingredients be at room temperature, since nothing except the pasta will be heated!


  1. Cook the pasta to al dente in a pot of several quarts of boiling water, adding the peas for the final two minutes. (In Italian, “al dente” means “to the tooth” which suggests that the tooth should meet a little resistance when it meets the noodle. The packaging for your pasta should give you guidelines for how long that particular pasta takes to make it to this stage.)
  2. Meanwhile, mash ricotta and butter in a large bowl, along with nutmeg, cinnamon (if using), salt and pepper.
  3. Set the bowl in warm spot on the stove while waiting for pasta and peas to cook.
  4. Drain the pasta and peas, allowing a bit of water to remain with the noodles and veggies.
  5. Toss the ricotta mix with the Parmesan in the warm bowl.
  6. Add the pasta and peas to bowl with ricotta/Parmesan mixture, and mix it all together using tongs or a forks.
  7. Serve (on warmed plates, if you like) sprinkled with additional Parmesan and a little nutmeg, if desired.

Guest Blogger: Alice Orr and her “Sauce of Life”

I’m proud to introduce my first Guest Blogger to KitchenCauldron: Alice Orr, a writer friend I met many years ago, probably at my very first summer conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild, attended in 1995. Only in more recent years have Alice and I begun to connect on deeper levels, and our foodie interests seem to enhance that friendship. It’s only natural that my very first Guest Blog should be written by Alice.

Alice also gifts us with a bonus – a writing prompt following the recipe! Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer (and I have to say that you’re wrong if you believe that’s the case because we’re all storytellers), her suggested tale-telling/memoir-writing exercise is Food for Thought. Which brings me to another innovation for KC: if you write something, perhaps you might like to share it with KC readers? That happens to be what KitchenCauldron’s “Food for Thought – Getting Literary” Page is all about (see righthand column). If you write a short piece from Alice’s prompt (preferably up to 500 words, but no longer than 700), you can submit it via e-mail it to me at wmnwords@nycap.rr.com and I’ll consider adding it to that page (or subsequent pages, if I decide to create a “Volume 2”). Hey—if there’s a recipe with it, maybe you too might become a KC Guest Blogger!

But back to Alice Orr.

I first realized that Alice was somewhat of a foodie while she was still living on Vashon Island, in the state of Washington. I can’t recall whether it was during her bout with cancer (mentioned below in her story-intro to the recipe) or just afterward, but I have a strong memory of an e-mail in which she bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t find any place in her area that made good meatballs; and she didn’t have a decent recipe for them either. Having moved to Washington from New York City years before, she was somewhat spoiled by the tasty convenience of many an authentic Italian restaurant within walking, subway or taxi range, including a few in formerly Italian-immigrant sections of the city. I know this is not the reason she and her husband once again reside in The Big Apple, but I’m sure it has to be the “icing on the cake” regarding their return to her home state and beloved NYC. Or should I say, “the meatball in the sauce”?

This recipe, however, isn’t about the meatball(s). It’s about where the meatballs usually wind up, in the sauce, although this version is marinara. Connected with the recipe are special childhood and other memories, including the source of the recipe – a hometown restaurant. Alice has made it her own, as most foodies do. She says, “I feel okay calling this Alice’s sauce because I have added my tweaks to the original. They are part of the story too. For example, I picked up the paste sauté trick from an actor named Charlie a long time ago. It adds a depth of flavor and aroma that makes me and my kitchen smile.” She advises reader-cooks to “Feel free to add your tweaks – and your stories – also. Stories make kitchen life as rich as this sauce and then some. So be sure to spin your yarns as you stir your pots.”

Without further ado (and saving Alice Orr’s short “bio” for the end of the blog), please enjoy – and hopefully cook up – a  potful of…

The Sauce of Life
by Alice Orr

I dedicate this to my Grandma – Alice Jane Rowland Boudiette – because she gave me my first Warm Kitchen Memories.

Grandma cooked on a cast iron stove so massive it had to be cut apart with a blowtorch to get it out of her house after she passed away when I was seven years and three days old. A circle of heat radiated around that stove the same way a circle of tranquility radiated around my grandmother. I basked in both through many frigid Northern New York winter days.

I would sit at the small wooden table between the kitchen window and the door to the storm porch at the back of Grandma’s house on West Main Street in Watertown NY. The storm porch was where I stopped to knock the frequent blizzards off my buckled rubber boots before going inside. It was lined with cupboards stocked to overflowing during August canning season with Mason jars of peaches and pears – corn and tomatoes – jams and jellies – chili sauce and pickles.

To be honest I do not remember Grandma’s cooking anywhere near as clearly as I remember what it felt like to be with her. Not just safe and accepted but at the center of the essence of safety and acceptance where I was simply Ali Bette, and that was plenty enough to be. I have no doubt that the reason I find calmness in cooking and peace in preparing meals hearkens back to the heart of my Grandma, at the heart of her house, which was always her warm kitchen.

Twenty-some years after Grandma was gone, I inhabited another warm kitchen. I had been married by then and had become a mom, only to be unmarried again and become a single mom. My friend Gayle was in the same boat and our boat was floundering financially. We shared a house and pooled our resources, but that pool was pretty shallow and our grocery budget suffered accordingly.

We had a big battered cooking pot with a lid that bounced to a clattery rhythm when the contents boiled. This pot was residence for the three main staples of our diet – potatoes for mashing, macaroni for cheese and spaghetti for sauce. Our kitchen on Moffett Street, also in Watertown, had its own small table near the window. The top was covered in off-white Formica with a pattern of gray wavy lines.

Our kids sat there every morning before school, each with a different brand of breakfast cereal in their bowls. They ate fast and slopped cereal and milk onto the tabletop. Gayle and I were also hurrying to make it to work and had little time for cleanup. We came home most nights to a mosaic of cereal flakes and shapes glued so tight to the Formica that they had to be soaked in soapy water, then pried loose with a spatula before supper could be served.

The greatest gift Gayle and I gave our children and each other back then was our ability to laugh amidst the hurrying and our lack of money and, of course, the mess on the tabletop. That laughter is at the heart of my Warm Kitchen Memories from that time when the hands-down kids’ favorite among our battered pot meals was Spaghetti with Sauce.

One particular Italian restaurant in Watertown was renowned for its sauce. Canali’s sat oddly off the main road which rose above it as an overpass. My family could not afford to go out to eat much when I was young. Cooking and eating happened at home. The same situation prevailed for Gayle and me. When I finally did get to Canali’s for a meal, their Spaghetti with Meatballs embedded itself in my taste memory forever. The sauce especially took my taste buds by surprise – subtle and full-flavored, with just the right amount of garlic.

Alice's former home on Vashon Island

I had never experienced sauce like that before and would not again until Cousin Robin reappeared in my life. We hadn’t seen each other since we were kids in Watertown. He was a towhead back then, a few years older than I with a big personality like so many of us in the Boudiette clan. His presence had not shrunk when my bout with cancer brought him to my house in Washington State a couple of years ago.

His robust frame filled our large dark green chair near the living room window. I languished nearby on my couch-turned-recuperation-bed. I could tell he loved to talk and let him do that. Robin is a raconteur with a memory for detail. His stories of our family washed over and through me as I drifted on the pleasant flow of his Texas-Oklahoma transplant drawl. Then he said two sentences that brought me to full attention.

“Do you remember Canali’s Restaurant in Watertown? I have their sauce recipe.”

He went on to unwind a tale of wheedling the recipe out of a chef there. I can easily imagine Robin wheedling anything out of anybody. On the other hand, he is a yarnspinner and I understand that the facts of a yarn are often embellished in the spinning. Nonetheless I was happy when a few weeks later he e-mailed me the recipe. I was amazed by the simplicity of the ingredients and cooking method, but the preponderance of canned components made me skeptical about Cousin Robin’s claims. I needed to test this out.

Vashon Island kitchen

I was feeling better by then – well on my way to the positive verdict my oncologist would soon bestow on me. I was ready to return to the warm circle of my own kitchen at the heart of our yellow farmhouse at the heart of Vashon Island. I was also eager to feel the reassurance I knew I would find there, where my wooden spoons – worn smooth by years of mixing – waited for me to pick them up again and mix some more.

I did not yet have the strength for anything requiring lengthy preparation. Cousin Robin’s recipe would be perfect and the ingredients were so basic I had them on hand. I pulled out my favorite sauce pot – a flame red Le Creuset with stove stains on the bottom – and began opening cans. Soon after, I was stirring with my long-handled wooden spoon while rich aroma wafted through the house that must have missed the comfort smell of cooking as much as I did.

I held off on the tasting. I looked forward to a happy surprise and dreaded disappointment at the same time. Finally I gave the thick darkish red sauce one more stir scraping in all of the bits from the bottom. Then I lifted the spoon to my lips. My taste buds leapt with delight just as they had back in Watertown at a booth in Canali’s Restaurant many years before.

Memory and longing collided in that moment at the very center of my being – from Grandma through Gayle to my Vashon Island kitchen – and I was profoundly grateful to be alive and present for the collision. Plus this was the best sauce I had ever made in my life.

Yields one large pot of marinara sauce


  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of minced garlic (from a jar is fine)
  • Two 6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • Two 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • One 23.5 or 26.5-ounce can or jar of meatless spaghetti sauce, preferably tomato-basil
  • 2 tomato paste cans of water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 medium size bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt. (Kosher salt tastes best but is bad for the blood pressure, so I don’t use it.)
  • Sprinkles of cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Sprinkles of allspice, not more than ¼ teaspoon
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh parsley and chives, snipped into the pan (optional)


  1. Heat olive oil to sizzling in bottom of sauce pan. Add garlic and stir until aroma begins to escape.
  2. Add tomato paste to pan, blend into oil and garlic and stir constantly until paste begins to brown and smells delectable.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend together well.
  4. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat until the sauce is simmering at a comfortable bubble.
  5. Simmer for two hours, stirring every fifteen minutes. Be careful not to let the sauce stick to the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and stir more frequently if that begins to happen.
  6. Allow sauce to sit for a while or refrigerate overnight before serving so the flavors can come into true harmony with one another. Or – if you are in a huge hurry – serve it straight off. It will be delicious any way your time may dictate.

An Exercise for the Storyteller in You

Warm up as spring approaches by writing about an experience we have all had in some form or other. In my writing workshops, I do not usually specify what the mood of a piece should be. But this time I am going to ask you to make the mood of what you write WARM.

Write your own Warm Kitchen Memory scene. Something that has happened to you at some time in your life in a kitchen. Something you remember with warmth and fondness.

Do your best to make this scene come alive. The people who were there. What was said. What was done. And especially the feelings. Your feelings as you experienced this scene.

The first scene that comes to your mind and memory is probably the best one to write. It can come from your past or from this morning. There are no right or wrong choices.

Start by calming and centering yourself with some long deep breaths. Then – just write. Do not worry about how you write – just write – from the center of yourself and that Warm Kitchen.

If you have any questions about how to do this or if you would like to share the results please do not hesitate to email me at aliceorrseminars@gmail.com.

In the meantime – Keep on Stirring Pots and Spinning Yarns, Whatever May Occur.

Alice Orr has spent her career life as a publishing professional –
literary agent, book editor, published author.
In her workshops she teaches writers
how to give their writing work and their writer selves agent-editor appeal.
At her blog http://publishingsensefromaliceorr.blogspot.com,
Alice shares practical tips and pragmatic advice for writers
who want to be published or better published.
At her website http://www.aliceorrseminars.net/, she shares herself.