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Leap Year

DVD (2010)  Written by Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont/Directed by Anand Tucker STARRING: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott

The story  If a man receives a marriage proposal from a woman on Leap Day, he must accept it — that’s what tradition says. So with February 29th around the corner, and no proposals on the horizon from her long-time boyfriend Jeremy, Anna Brady (played by Amy Adams) decides to take matters into her own hands. She will hunt down Jeremy (Adam Scott) on his Dublin business trip and pop the question! If it worked for her grandma Jane, it’s gotta work for her too, right? We quickly discover the answer to that as a storm redirects Anna’s flight and she ends up washed ashore in a tiny Irish town a day’s journey from Dublin. It’s there where she meets Declan O’Callaghan (Matthew Goode) — a tall, dark and brooding Irishman who runs the town’s only hotel as well as taxi service. In the shadow of Declan’s rugged manliness and Mr. Rochester-like aloofness, the trendy metrosexual weasel-face that is Anna’s fiance-to-be melts away like a bad dream come morning. But Anna is determined to get to Dublin and propose to Jeremy. Declan agrees to drive her to Dublin and the journey begins.

It’s a 6.5  Leap Year is a quiet movie, with a script that borders on pathetic at times. But heaven help me, I really like it. Despite the flaws of the film (dreadfully dull and contrived Boston scenes book-end the film), the movie springs to life once in Ireland, and is full of romantic little vignettes. Leap Year  is formulaic, but the chemistry between Adams and Goode totally wins you over. I can count three girlfriends of mine who speak of Leap Year with a happy sigh, and Roger Ebert, my go-to critic, gave this movie three stars out of four.

Sweet extras  As film critic Roger Ebert once wrote: “When was the last time you saw a boring Irishman in a movie?” With phrases like “jabs” (boobs) and “brown trout” (poop), the world is never dull. Here are some of the Irish phrases or objects referenced in Leap Year. You’ll find these useful for understanding some of the movie dialogue, as a few of them are never explained. What is a tripe and why should you be repulsed by it? You’ll find out below.

chancer: a scheming opportunist

eejit: an idiot

diddly-eye: foolish or foolishness

bob: money, cash

hang sandwich: a ham sandwich

tripe: edible sections from the stomachs of farm animals, in particular oxen, sheep, or goats. (Note: if you ever want to eat again, don’t google images).

Sláinte! (pronounced slán-jah):  an Irish toast, meaning “to your health.”

a claddagh ring: A  traditional Irish ring that features two hands clasping a heart topped by a crown. It is most often given as a token of love, though it can also mean friendship. When worn on the right ring finger with the heart pointing to the fingertip, the wearer indicates they are single. Worn on the same finger but with the heart pointing toward the palm suggests the wearer is in a relationship. When the ring is on the left hand wedding ring finger, it means the person is married or engaged.

Good for who? Leap Year is great for a quiet night at home alone. And this one is for rom-com lovers only. We are a special breed and no one but the forgiving rom-com aficionado will find the worthwhile moments beyond the movie’s flaws. Sexual references are minimal, with some hells, a couple of as*es, and one very loud and distinct  JC  which will grate on the baptist minister’s wife like fingernails on a chalkboard. That’s too bad, because I think she would have liked this one.

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Coq au vin and the toast you’ve been looking for

The toast  Anna and Declan stumble upon an Irish wedding, and are invited to stay. The bride gives this toast to her husband, which several readers of this blog have asked me about over the past two years. This would be a lovely one to recite at your own wedding or that of a friend.

“May you never steal, lie or cheat.

But if you must steal, then steal away my sorrows.

And if you must lie, lie with me all the nights of my life.

And if you must cheat, then please cheat death,

because I couldn’t live a day without you.”

The recipe  On their travels, Declan and Anna stay in a small farmhouse and cook dinner for their hosts. They make the french dish coq au vin with fresh ingredients found in the garden. Rumour has it this dish — a sort of chicken and veg stew braised with red wine — takes several hours to prepare authentically, but quick and dirty recipes for it abound online. Here’s a delicious quicky coq au vin recipe from http://www.eatingwell.com that I tested on the weekend. It took about an hour, and I swapped out the dry red Zinfandel for red cooking wine which was cheaper and still delish!

Eatingwell.com said it makes four servings, but I found it only made three. Note: I served my dish with yellow baby potatoes — halved, sprinkled with olive oil, and baked in the oven on a cookie sheet while I prepared the recipe.  Also note: Unlike Declan O’Callaghan, I did not kill my own chicken to make this.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 bone-in chicken breasts (about 12 ounces each), skin removed, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, quartered (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 large carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, preferably Zinfandel
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

HOW TO MAKE IT

  1. Place flour in a shallow dish. Cut each chicken breast in half on the diagonal to get 4 portions about equal in weight. Sprinkle the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and roll through the flour.
  2. Whisk water with 2 tablespoons of the leftover flour in a small bowl; set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the chicken. Cook, turning once or twice, until lightly browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. (To make sure the chicken would be cooked completely through, I gave the thicker pieces a head start in the microwave. Just a few minutes for each piece).
  4. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan; reduce heat to medium-low. Add mushrooms, carrots, onion and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and browned in spots, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add broth, wine, tomato paste and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir until the tomato paste is dissolved. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Return the chicken to the pan. Cover, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring once or twice, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°F, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving plate. (Note: I did not have a thermometer to test the chicken — another reason I pre-cooked the chicken a bit in the microwave first).
  7. Increase the heat under the sauce to medium-high. Stir the water-flour mixture, add it to the pan and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened, about 1 minute. Serve the chicken with the sauce, sprinkled with parsley. Optional baby potatoes placed along side.

Enjoy!

Paula Jane

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Something’s Gotta Give

DVD (2003)  Written by Nancy Meyers / Directed by Nancy Meyers     STARRING: Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Frances McDormand, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet

(McDormand, Keaton, and Peet in “Something’s Gotta Give.”   Image: Columbia)

We first see the house of our dreams as the male lead and a female secondary character pull into the driveway. “The perfect beachhouse,” he says, in awe of the expansive cedar-shingled oceanfront home. We too are in awe, and giddily await the architectural delights beyond the front doors. The characters say a few more things — things that are probably pertinent to the plot — and then enter the “fabulous two-storey livingroom” which oozes both comfort and New York chic. We ooo, we ahhh, we don’t notice that the female character is removing her pants. 

Okay, yes, we do notice she’s removing her pants, but I just wanted to stress how gorgeous this beach house is. Just being able to admire the film’s set and settings for 128 minutes was, for me, worth the theatre ticket price for Something’s Gotta Give.  The script and the cast in this sophisticated romantic comedy by Nancy Meyers are unbeatable to begin with, and the addition of such a glorious set is like warm caramel sauce on an already delicious bowl of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s borderline indulgent, but I love it.

This Hamptons beach house belongs to divorced 50-something playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton).  Erica and her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand) had hoped to spend a quiet weekend at the beach, but that plan goes out the window with the unexpected arrival of Erica’s daughter Marin (Amanda Peet) and her 63-year-old boyfriend Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson).  Erica is put off by the age difference between her 30-ish daughter and the new boyfriend, and she and Harry clash. Things get weird when Marin and Zoe must return to the city, leaving Erica to spend a few days alone in the house with the cigar-smoking rap-pushing girl-chasing Harry. The situation is so tailor-made for laughs and romantic encounters that only a couple of chumps like  J-Lo and Alex O’Loughlin could screw it up.  The fact that Jack Nicholson’s charm is in the mix makes Something’s Gotta Give my top-of-the-heap romantic comedy favourite.

My friend J. says she doesn’t usually like Keaton because she is just so over the top when she’s acting. Yes, Keaton has really rubbed me the wrong way a few times, like in 2007’s  Because I said So, but in Something’s Gotta Give she seems to be in the zone. Keaton is at her best when she seems to be playing herself, and it’s been said by critics that she’s doing that here. I’m not suggesting Diane Keaton should be a one-trick pony, but if the saddle fits…

Anyway never mind all that. Did you get a load of Erica’s freaking kitchen? And her office. My lord, her office.

Sweet extras  Two words: Keanu Reeves. He appears throughout the movie as Dr. Julian Mercer, and as a love interest for Diane Keaton. Also to note is Frances McDormand: she’s the coolest romantic comedy sidekick, and I wish there had been more of her in the film, but alas, more time given to her would have probably meant less time for Keanu, and that is unthinkable.

If you liked this movie, you’ll probably  like  It’s Complicated, also written and directed by Nancy Meyers.

Good for who?  If you’re any kind of adult and you don’t enjoy Something’s Gotta Give, then you should have your head examined by the handsome Dr. Julian Mercer. I will just note that sexual references and scenes are numerous although not graphic, and the f-bomb drops two or three times. I know these things bother a few women who frequent this blog (no matter how artfully placed the cussin’ is), so I’m just issuing a little warning for you, ladies.

 

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Late night pajama-and-pancake party

(Keaton and Nicholson, sharing a late night snack.  Image: Columbia Pictures)

Erica and Harry are night owls and meet up in the beach house kitchen one evening for pancakes and conversation. It’s here in the smiles and looks they exchange that we realize these two really are attracted to each other. Before it can amount to anything (not even the pancakes come to fruition), Marin returns from New York and her lively presence and attention to Harry has a disappointed Erica saying she’s going back to her bedroom to write.  “You don’t want pancakes anymore?”  Harry asks — perhaps the saddest and most sweetly pathetic question ever uttered in rom-com history.  “No,” replies Erica quietly. “I don’t.”  Ouch. Shot through the heart.

Well, Erica Barry may not want pancakes anymore, but I do!  The movie gave me new appreciation for the idea of pancakes as a late-night snack. They’re delicious, filling and easy — plus the world is quiet after midnight and a little cooking and chatting is a great way for you to get to know or re-connect with your boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, roommate, child, neighbour, or anyone you might find  hanging around your yard at that time of night.  Keep the work to a minimum by using a good pancake mix instead of cooking from scratch. I use Aunt Jemima  buttermilk mix.

If pancakes seem too cheap and low-brow for your bourgeois tastes, don’t knock it until you try it. Hey,  Erica and Harry shunned leftover coq au vin for pancakes. Plus some toppings can turn pancakes into more of a highfalutin dessert than a breakfast staple.  Here are some quick and easy topping suggestions that require minimal effort (there are lots of fancy homemade syrups and sauces you can make, but the idea is to make it easy — no intensive cooking and boiling and fussing. It’s freaking midnight, afterall). Have the toppings alone, or mix and match with others from the list:

  • Maple syrup, of course
  • Blueberries (that’s what Erica was planning to use)
  • Strawberries
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Whip cream
  • Milk chocolate chips (on top or cooked right into the batter)
  • Chocolate or butterscotch syrup
  • Sugar with lemon juice (recommended on several sites online)
  • Applesauce
  • Jam (spread cold with a knife or warm in the microwave)
  • Yogurt
  • Powdered sugar
  • Peanut butter (cold or warmed and melted over the pancakes)
  • Ice cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Caramel
  • Honey
  • Bacon (quickly cook in the microwave and then crumble either on top of the pancake with syrup, or sprinkle the bacon pieces into the uncooked side of your pancakes while they’re in the pan. Top with a little maple syrup afterward.)

Do you have a favourite quick-and-easy pancake topping that I haven’t listed here? Let me know and I’ll include it in the list.

Paula Jane

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Moonstruck

DVD (1987)  Written by John Patrick Shanley / Directed by Norman Jewison

(image: MGM)

You should never love  the man you’re going to marry. “When you love them, they drive you crazy,” says Italian mama Rose Castorini to her Italian daughter Loretta. The 30-something Loretta (Cher) is going to marry mild-mannered Italian Johnny Cammareri — not because she loves him (she doesn’t) but because he’s nice and sweet and why not? She was married once before, to a man she did love, but he died after being hit by a bus (Italian?). Now she just wants practical and easy — and that’s Johnny.  But things get messy for Loretta when Johnny has to fly to Sicily to attend the deathbed of his ranting, Italian mother. He asks Loretta to call his estranged brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) and invite him to the wedding. Loretta does and, much to her dismay, she and Ronny connect on the deepest of levels.

Cher as Loretta is part girl-next-door, part Roman goddess, part Rocky Balboa. She offers up some deadpan brilliance and I like her character’s practical approach to all aspects of life: “I’m in love with you!” confesses Ronny. “Snap out of it!” Loretta instructs.  One of my favourite scenes has Loretta at the kitchen table with her father (Vincent Gardenia) as she tells him she’s getting married again. I love their timing, animated gestures, and the real sense of relationship.

As for Nicholas Cage, have you ever watched an ultra-weird acting performance and wondered “Wow, was that on purpose?”  A young Cage gives one of those here as Ronny, a tormented soul whose life experiences are the stuff operas are made of.  He works in the ovens at a New York bakery and stokes the fires like he’s fueling his hatred and bitterness. “I have no life! My brother Johnny took my life from me! And now he’s getting married!” he stews.  Moonstruck is my favourite all-time Nicholas Cage performance and he delivers two  priceless monologues, the kind that would seem so old-school and out of place in  21st-century film and television.  Ronny “ain’t no freakin’ monument to justice,” and you gotta love it.

As well as being a story about love and  transformation, Moonstruck  describes the joys and pains of being a part of a close-knit family. You can see the many ways in which My Big Fat Greek Wedding must have been inspired by this earlier film.  Greek Wedding,  however, is a light-weight compared to the more sincere and tension-driven Moonstruck. The film has a beautiful simplicity and if you like romantic comedies but doubt it’s a genre that can produce anything truly worthwhile, you should watch this.  The film won several Oscars: lead actress (Cher), supporting actress (Olympia Dukakis as Rose), and screenplay (John Patrick Shanley). It was also nominated for best picture and best director.

Sweet extras   The opening shot features the New York City skyline, with the twin towers as a prominent feature. It’s cool to see the city that way again, although it’s also a little startling, even nine years after they came down.

Good for who?  Moonstruck is great for couples, a night with girlfriends, or just watching alone. It’s inappropriate for kids (there’s mild sexytime scenes and conversation), and might be a little too daring  for the Baptist minister’s wife.

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Opera and eggs

Ronny Cammareri, the sexy bread-baking drama king, loves to brood and suffer to the sounds of his favourite arias. His apartment is a shrine to opera, with framed posters,  an album collection, and musical scores affixed to the wall.  The opera featured in Moonstruck is Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 work La Bohème — the story of a poet and a seamstress brought together by chance in 1830’s Paris. They fall in love but, in the end, the seamstress falls ill with tuberculosis and dies in the poet’s arms. La Bohème is one of the most frequently performed (and most romantic) operas ever put into production. The poster for La Bohème shown on Ronny’s wall (and seen here) is a vintage Metropolitan opera poster from 1978, created by artist Jamie Wyeth. This poster pops up on various internet auction sites, selling for between $150-$350.

If, after watching Moonstruck, you are craving Puccini,  there are plenty of options to satisfy you. (If, instead, you are just craving “Eggs in a Nest,” see two paragraphs below.) I recommend working yourself into opera gently with a CD for the car or kitchen. Jumping too quickly into a full three or four-hour production on DVD or in person might ruin your opera buzz, or even kill you.  The Moonstruck soundtrack contains a contemporary film score plus two beautiful arias from La Bohème: Che Gelida Manina and O Soave Fanciulla. I suggest you go beyond the soundtrack and buy a CD completely devoted to operatic arias.  One that I enjoy very much as an opera newbie is Puccini Gold, recorded in 2008. It highlights pieces from an assortment of Puccini operas including La Bohème, Turandot, Tosca, and  Madama Butterfly and features opera house superstars such as Luciano Pavarotti, Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, and Anna Netrebko.

Most classical operas will be in a language you probably don’t understand — like Italian or German. If that bothers you, you can google translations of your favourite vocal pieces. What I prefer to do is not look up a translation of the libretto but rather read an English synopsis of the entire opera (just a quick summary). It makes listening to the aria more like looking at a painting — a bit of background helps me appreciate the movement and emotion of the piece without my imagination being restricted by too much information.

Rose cooks up some special toast and eggs for Loretta one morning while they sit and chat in their big New York kitchen. Eggs made this way are often referred to as “Eggs in a Nest,”  “Italian Eggs,” or, yes, even “Moonstruck Eggs.”  I made them for myself this morning and, wow, they were so good I refused to share them with my dog Chach. (I always share my breakfast with Chach, so he wasn’t happy. I think he wailed out the entire last act of La Bohème while I ate).  I believe this was one of the first times in my life when I didn’t miss bacon with my eggs.  I can imagine that having some bacon with this — like having too much opera too soon — would just knock a person unconscious.

I need to stress that the key to this little breakfast delight is the fresh Italian bread and the olive oil. Using regular sliced bread and butter just won’t cut it. Many of the recipes online varied and so I took the elements I liked most and put together my own recipe. You’ll need: a pan, olive oil, fresh Italian bread, eggs, a green onion, and a red bell pepper.

1. Slice your Italian bread, about  a quarter-inch to one-inch thick. Make a hole in the center of the bread with whatever will work (I used the end of a little cylindrical grater). The hole should go clear through the bread. I made the hole while the bread was untoasted, and that squished the bread a little. It might work best to make the hole after step four.

2. Chop up a green onion, and cut long thin strips of red pepper.

3.  Heat olive oil in a pan and begin to stir fry the red pepper and green onions until the pepper is softening and browning a little around the edges. THEN:

4. Put bread slice(s) into pan and toast side 1, making sure there is enough olive oil still in the pan to absorb a little into the bread.

5. When side 1 is toasted, flip the bread over to toast side 2. Crack an egg and drop it into the hole to cook.

6. Keep stirring the peppers and green onions around the pan so they don’t burn.

7. For eggs over-hard: once side 2 is toasted, flip onto side 1 again for two or three minutes until the egg is cooked, then serve. For eggs sunnyside up with a soft yolk: do not flip onto side 2 again. Instead, cover the pan and the egg will cook to your desired consistency.

8. Remove toast from pan; put onions and peppers on top or on the side.

9. Salt and pepper to taste. Then let me know what you think!

Paula Jane

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It’s Complicated

DVD (2009)  Written and directed by Nancy Meyers                                    STARRING: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin  

(Image: Universal)

We meet the lovely Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) as the last of her three grown children is moving away from home. Considering the lonely days ahead on her Santa Barbara estate, Jane’s biggest dilemma is “Who will I watch The Hills with?”  She’s feeling a bit mopey, but overall, life is great: she owns a trendy successful bakery, and her kids adore her — not to mention she looks ultra-fab in her awesome purple reading glasses. It seems the only thing missing from this divorced woman’s life is a man, and it’s not long before she finds herself with two: her architect Adam (Steve Martin) and her intrusive-but-charming ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin). Jake’s married to the younger woman he left his wife for 10 years ago, but insists he never really got over Jane. As for Jane, she’s interested in her architect, but she’s also curious: would things be better with her ex-husband the second time around?

If you liked Something’s Gotta Give (also by Meyers), you will without a doubt enjoy this one too. Music and tiny snippets of familiar-sounding dialogue tie the films together in mood and tone without being too copycat. What I especially love about the most recent films of Nancy Meyers is that she takes me to places I’d love to be: the perfect beach house in the Hamptons (Something’s Gotta Give), a cozy English cottage at Christmas time (The Holiday), or Jane Adler’s terra-cotta tiled estate near the Pacific.  For Meyers, the homes must be gorgeous and the characters must wander about them, eating great meals and MarthaStewart-ing in the veggie gardens and markets. In Nancy Meyers’ world, not even the marijuana stinks. (I know that would have made Carl, my previous neighbour, a lot more tolerable.)

But what really makes It’s Complicated work is that the characters are all so likeable. There was even a moment when I felt for the hard-edged tiger-tattooed Agness (Lake Bell).  And as for Meryl, I never not love her—even when she’s as high as a kite or weirdly thrashing about in her Mamma Mia overalls.  The roles in this film seem tailor-made for the comedic timing of  Streep, Martin, and Baldwin, and the humour of this doomed love triangle is ultimately showcased in a second-act conclusion that is both gut-bustingly funny and deeply horrifying. I shall say nothing more except that it’s great fun.

Sweet extras  John Krasinski (The Office) plays Meryl’s soon-to-be  son-in-law. He’s too cute when he finds himself privy to information he wishes he never had.

If you liked this, you will also like Something’s Gotta Give, written and directed by Nancy Meyers.

Good for who?  An excellent choice for singles and couples, and a great one to watch with your spouse. If you’re watching in mixed company, be warned of the sexual content (frequent though not explicit) and some pot-smoking (though miraculously odourless).

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Croque monsieur

No, I’m absolutely not going to suggest you have an affair  with your married ex-husband, but I WILL tell you how to make a brilliant quick dinner, inspired by the movie. The dish is croque monsieur, which Jane makes for Adam one evening after meeting to discuss the architectural plans for her house.  Jane says she discovered the recipe for this toasted sandwich while living in Paris, and made the dish frequently because it was quick and cheap.

I combined several recipes to come up with one delicious and easy one.  It’s like a fancy-pants grilled cheese and very rich tasting and filling. Try it with a crisp side salad of grape tomatoes and romaine.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • several tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 slices firm white sandwich bread—can’t be too soft. (You might prefer fresh bread you slice yourself)
  • thinly sliced Black Forest ham
  • slices of Gruyère cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • 2 teaspoons chopped green onions

Directions:

Have on hand a small saucepan and a large skillet. Preheat your broiler.

In a small saucepan, melt several tablespoons of butter. Add flour and stir, and gradually whisk in milk for one or two minutes. Bring to a boil on medium-heat until the sauce thickens, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the crusts from the bread if you like (I did) and build four sandwiches with ham and a slice of Gruyère between two slices of bread.

Heat a large skillet over low heat. Brush sandwiches with 1 tablespoon of melted butter on each side. Cook in the skillet until golden brown on both sides. Place the sandwiches on a cookie sheet, then smooth a light layer of sauce over the top of each sandwich. Grate cheese over the sandwiches, sprinkle with green onions, then broil until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown (should take about 3 minutes).

Tips:

  • Test sandwiches before you pull them out of the broiler. You want the bread to be toasty, not too soft.
  • To make the recipe cheaper, substitute a cheaper swiss or gouda cheese for the Gruyère.
  • While most recipes called for just a light grating of cheese on the top and slices in the middle, I put less cheese in the middle and more on top to get a nice grilled taste.

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