Friday, June 24, 2011

Inventing Fatherhood: Caldo de Perro

I had intended to post something for Father's Day, and then Father's Day came and went.  But I've been thinking about how we celebrate fatherhood in this country, especially after reading (thanks to the Prompt-ly list and some Facebook friends) the recent NYTimes article about a single woman whose sperm donor is a friend who now lives part-time with her and her son (the other half of the time he lives with his partner), and goes by the title "uncle."  There are a host of issues about secrecy and identity that I could talk about here (e.g. how one tells a child where he/she comes from), but I will leave those for another blogger to tackle.  What I was struck by was how the labels we have for the people who shape the lives of our children, and the celebration of those contributions, are woefully inadequate, especially given the way families vary now.

I come from a family that is pretty "traditional" according to most standards: a dad, a mom, both of them my biological parents.   And yet, when I was growing up, there were a host of other really important parental figures in my life.  If we're just talking about male figures, there are at least two: my high school friend's father, whom I referred to as "Dad," gave me the kind of open affection that my own father could not.  Twenty years later, though he lives an hour away, he baked a big pan of pasta for us when N. was born, and had his daughter deliver it.  I'd ask him for parenting advice in a heartbeat.  My high school English teacher, though he was a little more avuncular, was the kind of confidante I had always wanted in a father figure.  He made it possible for me to survive high school with my self-esteem intact, and gave me a safe haven to escape to when I needed it.  I felt like I had a safety net in that relationship that I didn't feel I had at home.

The family arrangement described in the NY Times article is imperfect.  But what family arrangement--even the traditional one-mother one-father household--is?  Fatherhood (and motherhood, for that matter) is a construct that we've invented--a problematic one, at that, given how we put parents on pedestals--and what really matters is that our children feel loved, have role models and caregivers of both genders, and have parents who are supported in the important work of nurturing the next generation.

Did you know that Children’s Day observations in the United States (during which parents are also celebrated) predate both Mother's and Father's Day,  though a permanent annual single Children's Day observation is not made at the national level?  And there is a Parent's Day, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of July, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994?  (Interesting aside: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that "Replacing Mother's Day and Father's Day with a Parents' Day should be considered, as an observance more consistent with a policy of minimizing traditional sex-based differences in parental roles."

It's funny.  As I was mulling over this post, I realized that I miss the person I wish my father might have become.  In a way, the longer he's been gone, the more I invent him.  It's not that I don't have good memories, or that I don't appreciate what he gave me when he raised me.  It's just that my relationship with him didn't follow the Hallmark script, and certainly didn't involve barbecue, beer, a tie, and a lounge chair by the TV set.  (Actually, scratch that ... there was  a recliner in front of the TV set.  But the TV was playing Sabado Gigante.)  And that he wasn't the only one who made me who I am.

So here's to important men in our lives everywhere.  Not just the biological fathers, or the adoptive ones, but the men who mentor us, who hold our hands as we take our first and four hundredth steps, who make sacrifices for us, who teach us and scold us.  It doesn't matter, in the end, I think, what name they go by ... what matters is that they were there.

Caldo de Perro 
(a recipe my father would have liked more than barbecue, made for me by some good friends just before I had N.)

1 T. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
grated zest 1 orange
4 c. fish stock
1 1/2 lb. firm white fish, chunked
8 small new potatoes, halved
4 c. spinach
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. lime juice

Boil potatoes

Saute onion in oil for 5-7 min. Add garlic and zest for 3 min. Add stock and boil/simmer for 10 min. Add fish and simmer until opaque

Put potatoes in bowl, will slotted spoon, transfer fish to bowls. Add greens and lime juice to broth until wilted. Season and pour into bowls.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

What Neighbors are For: Low Carb Gluten-Free Cheesecake

When my husband and I first looked at this house, we wondered whether it was on the "right" side of the tracks.  It was early March, and things were dead in this hemisphere, and the road was completely torn up, in the process of being repaved.  Trees had been uprooted to make way for new sidewalks and curbs.  But at the time, we knew nothing of the planned improvements, and it just looked a little scary.  And no one was outside to tell us differently.

We wound up loving the house, though, or at least loving it more than we'd loved others we'd looked at, and seeing as we were essentially being evicted at the time, we decided to take the plunge.

It turned out to be one of the best possible moves we could have made.  There's something about this street that cultivates community in a way that I've never experienced it anywhere else: I know not only my immediate neighbors, but many of the people up and down the street.  I feel like I could walk over to any house and ask to borrow and egg, or a cup of flour, or a pair of jumper cables.  People bake casseroles when babies are born and when family members are sick.  The guy who owns a painting business has painted many of the houses (though whether he follows through on promised touch-ups is another story).  You can hear the neighbors playing their homework at the piano teacher's house.  We have babysitters three doors down.  I carpool to yoga with two of the women on the street.  It's really an awesome place to live.  And oddly enough, people who move here seem to fit right in, even if they don't stay long.  (How I can say this just after a post about my inability to connect with the SAHMs on the street is complicated ... let's just say it's a different kind of relationship.)

This week I'm watching one of the neighbors' children for a few days, because his mom is a teacher, and has a gap in care between the end of his daycare and the beginning of her summer break.  I'm not doing it because I'm a great human being; it's more that I know exactly what it feels like to be in a bind for child care ... those snowy mornings when we got an early phone call, and S. and I both had to go to work, are the worst.  He's a very active little boy, and I've kept my own son home from school/camp this week to play with him, but honestly, I feel a little drained after today ... especially since I'm also managing the (minimalist) napping and (insatiable) nursing schedule of my four month old.  I've been rummaging in the pantry for stamina, and finding dark chocolate and multigrain tortilla chips, instead.  No wonder I can't lose these last 10 pounds.

But the thing is, it really does take a village to raise a child ... or to do anything else, for that matter.  While I celebrate the blogging community and the rich landscape of social media (I am still trying to manage Twitter, and am drowning in Tweets), I also mourn the loss of real-life community that makes so many people turn elsewhere for support.

It's not like I expect the world to be like the Truman Show.  There are times I don't feel like talking to my neighbors, and times they don't feel like talking to me.  We piss each other off with regularity.  I just wish that community were more evident in more places more often than when the nor'easter hits, or when you need to activate the casserole brigade.

Last week, one of my neighbors asked me to bake her sister, who is on a very strict diet, a no-carb (or very low carb) birthday treat.  It was fun to brainstorm with her about what she could eat, and even more fun to cook something up that she really enjoyed. She wound up paying me, insisting that she was building my catering business, but I would have done it even if she hadn't.  I know that the karma will come back around, anyway.

I don't like to use artificial sweeteners, but I did so this time because of the circumstances.  You could use regular sugar and it would work just as well.  Go make them for a neighbor, or for a dozen neighbors.  What better way to celebrate the beginning of summer than with the people you share your daily space with?

Low Carb Cheesecake

3 packages (1 and 1/2 lbs) cream cheese (room temperature)
4 eggs (preferably room temperature)
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 t. lemon juice
1 1/3 c. sugar equivalent of artificial sweetener
1/4 c. sour cream
Crust: (double if using muffin cups)
1 c. almond meal
2 T. melted butter
2 T. sugar or equivalent in artificial sweetener

Heat oven to 375 F.

Tip: If you have bricks or a pizza stone, put them on the lower rack of the oven. This will hold the heat in the oven. This is good for cheesecakes not baked in a water bath. (Well, actually, it's helpful for any kind of baking, as it keeps the heat in the oven more constant. I keep a pizza stone in the oven most of the time.)

Combine ingredients for crust, and press into the bottom of a springform pan or into 24 muffin cups. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to brown.

Raise oven heat to 400 F, or lower to 350 F if you're using a water bath (see below ... I used the non-water-bath method, and it worked quite well).

Put cream cheese in mixing bowl, and beat until fluffy. Add other ingredients, scraping the bowl and beaters each time (this is very important), fully incorporating each ingredient. When all ingredients are combined, scrape one more time, beat one more minute, and pour mixture into pan over crust.

Instructions for water bath: Wrap the bottom and sides of the springform pan in foil, put it in a baking pan and pour boiling water around the sides. Bake at 350 F for 60 to 90 minutes, checking often. When the cake is firm to touch but slightly soft in the center, or the center reaches 155 F, remove from oven.

Instructions for non-water bath: For this method, you start the cake at a high temperature, and it slowly drops. If you have stoneware, bricks, etc, this allows it to happen at a slower rate, and you'll get better results in less time. Put the cheesecake on a sheet pan in case of drippage. After putting the cheesecake in the oven at 400 F, turn the oven down to 200 F. Bake for 60 to 90 minutes, checking often after an hour. When the cake is firm to touch but slightly soft in the center, or the center reaches 155 F, remove from oven.  (Mini cakes will take less time; start checking after 30 minutes or so, but be careful not to open the oven too often, as it will drop the temperature more rapidly.)

Chill completely. Top with fruit, if desired
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Way of the Warrior and the SAHM: Kale Chips

Around this time last year, when I didn't think I was going to be having a baby, and was mentally preparing myself for yoga teacher training as a way of distracting myself from loss and infertility, I started to read the Bhagavad Gita.

In some respects, it's an easy book to read.  But it's also a difficult text to wrap your mind around, if you start thinking about it enough.  And I'm an expert at overthinking things.

It was interesting to me that a text that's supposed to be about a more peaceful way of being in the world is situated in a war.  Technically, though, the protagonist of the story--and, by extension, the yogi--is a warrior against his (her) own ignorance.  

This month in yoga class we're focusing on Virabhadrasana, or Warrior Pose.  If you've ever practiced yoga, you know that Virabhadrasana's a humbling posture: you're balancing, half-squatting, reaching, grounding all at the same time.  If you attempt to stay in the post for any length of time, chances are you'll confront your own bodily, emotional, or mental weaknesses.  But Virabhadrasana isn't about experiencing pain; it's about rising up out of your own limitations: whatever limitations you have, the pose will reveal them so that they can be addressed.  When viewed this way, Warrior can be seen as fighting the good fight, seeking the triumph of spirit.

It occurs to me that being at home with my four month old daughter is a lot like practicing Virabhadrasana.  Increasingly, each day, I find myself asking, who am I, anyway, this stay at home mom person?  I'm juggling a host of new things that I never really had to juggle before in this particular way (though I had to do them all, I had time away with adult conversation and contact that refreshed me a bit).  I'm reaching in ten different directions simultaneously.  And I can see my limitations all too clearly.

I'm still a control freak.  When N. doesn't want to nap, I feel like my brain is going to explode.  When she naps for a long time, I keep orbiting her, trying to figure out when she's going to wake up.  I keep my calendar like I did at work, full of things, only to have people cancel or forget or need to change plans.   I need to be "busy."  And sometimes being busy prevents me from actually enjoying parenting.

And yet, at the same time, I have trouble going out of my way to make friends.  There are four or five other stay at home moms on the street.  I've known them all in passing for a while.  So why am I not walking over to these people's houses to ask if they want to take a walk or have coffee?  I'm so wrapped up in my solitary routine, needing to be a good one-on-one parent, thinking that I have to play with my daughter Every.Single.Second (I feel guilty doing laundry while she's awake) that I don't build in the kind of relationship-building that I will need if I'm going to do this for any length of time.

I need to remember what the Gita teaches us about acting and not being attached to the result of the action, what we can't control, and giving ourselves the right tools to fight the good fight, against our often stubborn ignorance, against our unwillingness to let the universe unfold as it will around us.

These are good for snacking when you need extra strength to fight the good fight ... and when your access to the kitchen is a little too easy for your own good.

Kale Chips

1 bunch (about 6 ounces) kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 300°F. Rinse and dry the kale, then remove the stems and tough center ribs. Cut into large pieces, toss with olive oil in a bowl then sprinkle with salt. Arrange leaves in a single layer on a large baking sheet (I also lined mine with parchment for easy clean-up but there’s no reason that you must). Bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp. Place baking sheet on a rack to cool.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Learning to Eat: Vegetable Jalfrezi

(First, thanks for the lovely comments on my last post ... I swear, I wasn't fishing for compliments!)

This weekend, at the suggestions of the pediatrician last week at N.'s four month checkup, we fed N. rice cereal for the first time.  She's been eying my plate for over two weeks now when she sits on my lap, sometimes very intently batting at it with her hand, and in the last few days, she has been following the food with eyes that say, "c'mon now, really?  you're not even going to give me a bite?!"  At coffee hour, when I'm wearing her facing forward, she strains towards the plate of cake, and at a barbecue this weekend, she actually interrupted the fork en route to my mouth.  While I know that the introduction of solid foods is controversial, especially among breastfeeding mamas, and that now many people recommend starting at six months or even later, we did it this way with my son when he seemed ready (also at four months), and it seemed to work, so we decided to do the same when N. was ready, too, provided it was suggested by her doctor.  I think that learning to eat should be a fun activity, and though we don't plan to make solids her sole source of sustenance for a long, long time, we will likely combine the approaches of "give the baby a bunch of mushy food on her tray and some of it will get into her mouth" and "feed the baby by hand."   We started with the latter, and she actually pulled my hand, holding the spoon, into her mouth, where she gobbled it up.  Not much came back out, either.  She's a quick study, that girl.  I almost felt badly about feeding her something so bland, and had to restrain myself from running to the kitchen for some garam masala to season it.

On the one hand, the milestone made me sad that my little girl is growing up so fast; as much as I don't love being on constant Bo.oby Call at the All Day Cafe, I love how she looks up at me, nestles into me, when I am feeding her.  I love her wide eyes, her little half-smile when she's awake and nursing.  I waited so long for her to come ... and already, in imperceptible ways, she's leaving.  At the same time I'm excited that I'll soon be able to introduce her to the rich diversity of foods that I have come to enjoy.  Our CSA starts soon, and I'll be able to feed N. some of the amazing fresh organic produce that comes from a farm just down the road from us.  She is a lucky child, to have summer vegetables for her first foods.

As I scooped away the leftovers of this dish the other night, I thought to myself that it would make an excellent advanced baby puree.  Move over, Ty.ler Flo.rence.

Vegetable Jalfrezi
Serves 4-6, adapted from Marcus Samuelsson's New American Table

1 lb unpeeled sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 c. lentils
1/2 c. peeled and diced carrots (2-3 carrots)
2 eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 T. olive oil
4 green Thai chiles or 2 dried chiles de arbol, seeded and chopped (optional; I omitted these)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 red onions, chopped
2 T. garam masala
1 t. yellow mustard seeds
1 t. ground cumin
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 c. coconut milk
Juice of 2 limes
1 T. chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 pita rounds
Lemon-tahini sauce (recipe below)
Whole wheat pitas (for serving)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, lentils, carrots, and eggplants and boil for 10 minutes. Strain and set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chiles, garlic, onions, garam masala, mustard seeds, cumin and tomatoes and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and reserved sweet potatoes, lentils, carrots, and eggplants and simmer until the veggies are softened, another 10 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro and season with salt and pepper.

Slice the pitas to form pockets. Spoon in the vegetables. Drizzle with lemon-tahini sauce.

Lemon-Tahini Sauce

1 Twater (plus more to taste)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. sesame seeds
1 t. za'atar (I made my own - 1/4 cup sumac, 2 tbsp thyme, 1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds, 2 tbsp marjoram, 2 tbsp oregano, 1 tsp coarse salt - whiz together in food processor/blender/spice grinder)
2 T. tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1 T. hopped chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients in a food processor. Puree until smooth. Add more water and salt/pepper to taste.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Blogging Saved the Day: Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

In my church, coffee hour is a big deal.  It's not that we don't come for the service.  It's just that the fellowship is every bit as important as what happens in the sanctuary.  We talk about the sermon, our kids, surgeries and illnesses, social justice efforts, new jobs, good books.  But one of the things I really like about coffee hour is that adults don't just chat with other adults; we also talk with the children, who come and go from the fenced in playground.  This past week, for example, I learned how to "eat" honeysuckle nectar from a ten year old, who was completely shocked that I'd never done it before.  (It was absolutely delicious, in case you've never tried it either, and I now need to find a way to replicate that flavor in baked goods.)

I'm a firm believer that some of the best conversations happen when you break bread with someone, and because my fellow UUs agree, there are always treats at coffee hour: kids and adults alike orbit tables filled with home-baked muffins and scones and cookies, and fruit and cheese and crackers.  People linger after services, and for good reason.

Recently, one of the little girls in the fellowship was diagnosed with a host of food allergies: to gluten, to wheat, to flax, to eggs, to peanuts, and to dairy.  Needless to say, she's been very sad at coffee hour (and at church in general), and wouldn't talk with anyone about her allergies.  Come to think of it, she hadn't been talking much with anyone at all ... she'd mostly been burying her head in her mother's lap.  I decided that I needed to put my baking talents to good use, and so I asked if I could make her some treats.  She nodded shyly, eyes wide, flashing me a half smile.

When I showed up with chocolate cupcakes this past week in a special container with her name on it, you would have thought I'd given her the moon.  I assured her that there were other people out there who had the same sensitivities she had (in fact, I had some great blogs for her to read), and that it was possible to make some really tasty treats ... that this was a chance for her to learn how to be an expert baker.  She agreed, picking up a cupcake with a wide-mouthed grin, and taking a big lick of frosting.

As someone without any food sensitivities myself, honestly, I probably would not have delved into the world of alternative ingredients had it not been for the blogsophere.  Elana and Karina educated me about gluten sensitivities.  Lots of others helped me to learn about the ins and outs of vegan baking (though these are adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero's excellent Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World).  And strangely enough, it was through food blogs that I learned about the ALI blogging community, which continues to be an incredible source of support for me, even after my successful pregnancy.  I've been thinking about Mel's post this week about the "small blog," and how much I love the fact that blogging--even the small blogs about mundane things like food--has helped people to connect with each other and do something good.  This is "enough."  It's not about having a gazillion followers, but making some small difference in the world, just by adding our voices and our perspectives to the conversation.  And who knows what the ripple effects might be?

(Of course, this is making me even sadder that I'm not going to be able to swing a trip to BlogHer'11.  Wah.)

Here's the recipe for the cupcakes. It's usually recommended to use xanthan gum with gluten free flours, but I can't bring myself to buy a $10 box of the stuff to use only a tiny bit ... so I did without it, and it seemed to work fine both times I tried it. The secret of these cupcakes is to use really high quality vanilla and high quality cocoa powder (I use a fair trade variety), because that's the taste that comes through!

Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

1 c. soy milk
1 t. apple cider vinegar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. fava bean and garbanzo flour
1/4 c. potato starch
2 T. arrowroot
(or substitute the above three with 1 c. Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free all purpose baking flour)
3/4 t. xanthan gum (optional)
1/3 c. good quality cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or regular
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a muffin pan with paper or foil liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and other extract, if using, to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are OK). Be careful not to overmix; you'll find that if you do, your cupcakes will sink in the middle after baking!

Pour into liners, filling 3/4 of the way. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Frosting
1/2 c. nonhydrogenated shortening (Spectrum organic)
1/2 c. nonhydrogenated margarine (Earth Balance Vegan)
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. plain soy milk or soy creamer
1/4 c. or more of cocoa powder

Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.

Add the vanilla and soy milk, and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.

You can add cocoa powder to the frosting to make it chocolatey ... add until you like the taste.

Make them for someone you love!
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Spackling and Sanding, and Old Fashioned Lime Pie

This week marked my husband's and my ninth wedding anniversary.  It's hard to believe we've been married that long, though then again, it's hard to believe that we have a four year old son and a four month old daughter.  We celebrated by getting a babysitter and slipping away right after N. went to sleep for her first "long sleep" of the night, and we were able to eat dinner -- at a nice restaurant! -- and get home before she started to stir.

I've been doing some work in the kitchen these past two weeks in preparation for new countertops (the old ones are actually mold-filled pressed wood, so we need new ones, despite the somewhat inconvenient timing that coincided with our shift to a single-income household), and I've been thinking that spackling and sanding is a lot like marriage, or really, any long-term committed relationship.  You start out with something that looks pristine, but then, over time, things change, and you create holes that you have to patch up, so you get new drywall, and you spackle and sand.  You probably spackle and sand three times--maybe you even prime it once somewhere in there, hoping that will help--before you realize that you can never smooth the rough patches over entirely; your wall has changed.  Heck, maybe your house was a little crooked to begin with, so you couldn't possibly put the new drywall in without incident.  Still, you put a whole lot of time and energy into this project, and the wall is whole again, and that's what's important, even if it's got bumps and divets.  You take the next step and prime it, and then you paint, knowing that paint will hide a lot of flaws.  And chances are you'll have to go through the whole process all over again more times than you will care to before you leave the house for good.

Part of the sanding and spackling in a good relationship is compromise.  Though it will seem like a silly example: S. loves citrusy desserts.  The more tart and tangy, the better.  I made this pie for him before we got married, knowing that the quickest way to many people's hearts is through their stomachs.  S. lovingly refers to it as "blood lime pie" because I have a tendency to grate my skin when I'm grating lime peel, and I also sliced my finger open the first time when I was slicing limes for the garnish.  It's one of the few desserts I have in my cookbook that I don't much like (I'm sure that it came from someone's church cookbook years ago), but S. likes it ... and so when I have a chance to make it and serve it to more people than our intimate little clan, I do.

Happy anniversary, S.  Here's to many more years of home maintainance.

Old Fashioned Lime Pie

36 vanilla wafer cookies (4.75 oz)
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 t. plus 1 T. grated lime zest
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
3/4 c. fresh lime juice
2 large eggs
Lime slices or lime peel curls

Preheat oven to 350°F. Finely grind vanilla wafers in processor. Add melted butter and 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel; process until moist crumbs form. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Using plastic wrap as aid, press crumbs onto bottom and up sides of dish (crust will be thin). Bake just until crust begins to turn golden on edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Maintain oven temperature.

Meanwhile, whisk condensed milk, lime juice and 1 tablespoon lime peel in medium bowl to blend. Whisk in eggs.

Pour filling into warm crust. Bake until filling is set, about 20 minutes. Cool. Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.) Garnish with lime slices or curls of lime peel. Cut into wedges; serve.
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