Lemon Coriander Pancakes

In attempt to not apologize for the infrequency of my blogging regimen (again), let’s talk about books.

I am or used to be an avid reader. I remember well completing series after series of children’s books- The Boxcar Children, Babysitter’s Club, Animorphs, Goosebumps, etc. I also recall seeing every episode of Rugrats, and really most Nickelodeon shows, created, so I’ll also make a point of the seemingly endless free time afforded to my childhood. As I got older, books became more complex, profound. Their meaning expanded beyond a simple story: soon, the very characters became references for identity, and the settings became imaginative worlds to which I could draw parallel my own experiences. Favorite books became more important than television, than movies, than soccer practice. I defined myself by introversion, by my ability to sit down and read for hours without fatigue. The books I read and loved were compared and contrasted to the literary lists complied at the beginning of the school year, and I felt some odd sense of shame when I hadn’t yet read a classic “every one else had.” I read through high school, I read through college, I even read voraciously on breaks in graduate school.

So what do I read now?

I’ve belonged to book clubs and made friends of people who love to read equally. I talk at length about the purpose and intention of novels with my brother, who likely now balks at the slow pace of my consumption. A book a month now seems challenging, not for the objective time to complete the reading, but for the procrastination and/ or schedule demanded of the remaining 28 days. I’ve been reading the same book since February, that I argue I enjoy, but will I finish by June? Seeing as it’s May 31, unlikely.

The list of novels and short stories I have set aside to read is growing and growing, and I compel my passion for completing them by my sense of identity that still includes “reader.” In fairness, I read news, blogs, trivial headlines, and biased and purportedly unbiased articles on a daily basis. But with every intention I plan to invigorate anew my love for fiction, in hopes that this phase of my life is one of the only in which novels have demoted their position.

Anyways, here is a great recipe for lemony and herbal pancakes, to mix up your Sunday morning. Maybe you’ll follow the stack with a few enjoyed pages of your favorite book.

Lemon Coriander Pancakes

Serves 3-4

1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 all-purpose, 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground coriander

 

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tbsp. melted butter, slightly cooled

3/4 cup milk

1 lemon, juiced

Zest of 1 lemon

Butter and maple syrup to serve

In a graduated cup measure 3/4 cup of milk, then add the lemon juice and stir. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl stir together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the egg and whisk together. Add the butter and egg mixture, as well as the lemon zest, to the milk and stir. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Heat a griddle to 350 degrees. Pour out 1/4 cup of batter to make 8-10 pancakes. Cook until small bubbles appear on the surface, then flip (about 2-3 minutes). Cook an additional 2-3 minutes until the center is set.

Plate the pancakes and top with butter and maple syrup. Enjoy!

 

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Spring Onion and Thyme Chicken Salad

I last made this chicken salad, I think, over 4 years ago at my apartment in Durham. My mom and Brian were over and were hungry. I whipped this up pretty quickly for an easy dinner, and then it was promptly devoured with pita bread dippers and even a spoon. Chicken salad is so easy, yet so delicious, it’s interesting that I should go several years without making it. What’s important, though, is that Brian loved it (loves it? who knows). This chicken salad involves poaching the chicken, which seems, on first glance, to be the least flavorful way of cooking chicken there is. However, poaching the chicken in a flavorful stock with fresh herbs and vegetables actually ensures the most moist, juicy chicken ever. And once tossed with the other salad ingredients, this truly becomes a decadent lunch- or dinner-time food.

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Spring Onion and Thyme Chicken Salad

2 chicken breasts poached

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 – 1 lb.)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, quartered

1/2 cup mayonnaise, light or otherwise

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 green apple, diced finely

1/4 yellow onion, diced finely

4 spring onions, diced

2-3 tbsp. fresh chives, minced

2-3 tbsp. fresh thyme (several sprigs)

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the poached chicken, add all ingredients to a sauce pan, including the stock. Bring the mixture just to a boil, then lower the heat to very low and cover. Poach for about 15 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken breasts) until the chicken is tender to touch. Remove the poaching liquid from the heat, and allow the chicken to cool in the liquid for 10-20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the liquid and chop roughly. Strain the liquid and store as stock for a later date! (It keeps well in the freezer).

Mix together the chicken salad ingredients and serve, over a spring salad with cucumber or in a pita pocket or on a slice of bread. This keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

 

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Light and Lemony Tuna Salad

After long runs in the sunshine, or even just a delightful day outside, I find myself craving light, fresh, and bright-flavored foods. Little fish tacos with a margarita, or cucumber salad, or guacamole and super thin chips. Or, when you’re in a pinch, a quick and easy tuna salad. A can of tuna is a ubiquitous pantry member, yet it usually lies dormant on the shelf for months, until someone remembers it and either tosses it out or finally puts it to use. It’s definitely considered a back-up food, as most foods with long shelf-lives are, but it certainly warrants a bit more attention. Tuna salad can be heavy, rich, and, frankly, pretty gross if prepared poorly. Which is how I feel about it when I see it in a cafeteria. But by swapping some of the fat-laden components for more fresh ingredients, tuna salad can elevate to a truly delicious salad topper, dip, or sandwich.

There are pros and cons to tuna consumption, weighing on contrasting sides the mercury content and over-fishing against the nutritional benefits (when consumed in moderation). It can be considered a health food when eaten on a weekly to monthly basis, which, to be fair, it never is. The economical and moral impact of buying and eating tuna has more controversy, and you can follow-up with your documentary of choice. I always buy dolphin-safe, sustainable tuna, but that is admittedly pretty hard to find. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both have a good selection to choose from. Other choices range from albacore to white tuna to super white, packed in water or oil with or without salt. Go with whatever sounds good. I usually select albacore packed in water, lightly salted. But I love salt and buy everything with it, so take that as you will.

The best pairing, I think, to the slightly dense-tasting fish, is lemon and fresh greens. Lemon and herbs have the magic ability to freshen and lighten almost every food, and combined they almost transport you to the garden somehow. In Spring-time, of course. Herbs obviously have great variety of flavor, and alternating your choice here can give your lunch the diversity it needs, if you’re a tuna-salad-eater. But this combination I would say is pretty classic.

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Fresh and Lemony Tuna Salad

Serves 2

1 can albacore tuna packed in water

1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt (I love Fage)

1 tbsp. mayonnaise with olive oil (or mayonnaise of choice)

2 tbsp. minced chives

2 green onions, diced

1 lemon, zested

Dash of cayenne

Salt & pepper to taste

Drain the tuna thoroughly, then add to a small mixing bowl. Break up the tuna with a fork. Add the yogurt and mayonnaise and stir to combine. Add the chives, green onions, lemon zest, and seasonings. Stir to mix completely. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Serve the tuna salad over a bed of mixed greens, on a pita, on a sandwich, with crackers, in a wrap, or whatever way your head can dream up.

Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad

It’s been warm for the past two days, which would be exciting if the weather channel didn’t have that 10-day-forecast of anxiety available. So while it broke 50 degrees (60 yesterday!) for three days in a row, I know it’s fleeting, with promises of colder, rainy weather later this week. I also had no opportunity to enjoy a spare minute of warmth with travel and working late, so I’m hardly feeling like Spring is around the corner. It’s nice wearing a different coat, though, and not freezing walking to my car. But, man, everybody is talking about the weather these days. Maybe because we’re all desperate for it to change. Onto other topics- salad. Vegetables in salad. Spring vegetables in salad. Because agreeable weather or not, it seems as though lighter, brighter vegetables are finally coming into season, and that is something to truly enjoy. My grocery list is now just a list of various vegetables, with Greek yogurt and eggs tacked on to the end. It’s my favorite. So I wanted to use these vegetables in a way that would truly spotlight them. Vegetables don’t need to be relegated to the side of the plate, shadowed by a hunk of meat and barely seasoned. They can and should be the center, the flavor of the dish! This salad is absolutely bursting with veggies, which may or may not seem natural to you, but it tastes so cohesive and delicious. Holding the asparagus, broccoli, and radishes together are the quinoa and a quick and easy lemon vinaigrette. I’ve been eating this for lunch all week (with a side of Greek yogurt- yum [by the way, some Bonne Maman jam swirled into Fage is the. best. snack/lunch side. ever.]).

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Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad

Serves 4

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups chicken stock

2 stalks broccoli, chopped into small florets

12-15 asparagus spears, chopped into 1 inch segments

3-4 spring onions, chopped into 1 inch segments

4-5 radishes, sliced thinly into rounds

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chicken stock

Lemon vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Dash of freshly cracked black pepper

Romaine lettuce, sliced/ chopped

Goat cheese, crumbled, to serve

Hard-boiled egg, diced/ crumbled, to serve

To prepare the quinoa, add to a hot pot over medium-high heat. Toast the quinoa for 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Stir to fluff and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables. In a large sautee pan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. olive oil. Sautee the asparagus and broccoli until softening and lightly browning, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of chicken stock and allow to boil, steaming the vegetables. Continue to cook until the liquid has boiled off, about another 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon vinaigrette. Add the cooked broccoli and asparagus, as well as the radish rounds and spring onions. Mix to coat. Add the cooked quinoa and stir to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To serve, add the chopped Romaine lettuce to a plate. Top with the spring vegetable quinoa salad. Sprinkle on goat cheese and/or a chopped hard-boiled egg for additional protein to round out the meal. Serve with a small side for a complete lunch.

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This isn’t exactly dinner, necessarily; but would be a great side or main lunch component. The lemony spring flavor and fresh, bright vegetables are so inviting with the nutty quinoa holding everything together. This is how I like to eat salad.

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

It’s the first day of Spring! Oh my god. The first day of Spring! It almost was never going to happen. I hear the birds chirping in the morning now. And while I still don my heaviest and puffiest of winter coats, I don’t always have to zip it up to my chin. And sometimes, in the afternoons, I don’t wear gloves anymore. I don’t experience the weather between 2 and 3, when it’s supposedly the warmest, but it looks like it’s almost nice outside. And the sun is effectively fooling me into thinking it is so. There is so much hope in today. Even though the forecast predicted 50 but it never felt much above 35. Tomorrow, though; tomorrow it is supposed to be 60 degrees! 60! This is what Spring is, really. The promise that tomorrow will be 60 degrees. If I were still in North Carolina, Spring itself would be a celebration. Spring is the most beautiful time, I believe, in the South. Summer can just get a little too warm and long. Chicago isn’t quite the same, as Spring usually means a bounce between winter and summer just long enough that you start to wonder if it’ll ever be Spring… until it’s Summer in late June. I’ll take anything, though. Absolutely anything.

I wasn’t sure I was going to share this recipe, because it is so very simple. It’s more of a technique, applicable to multiple spices and variations. But it’s a worthy one, I feel. And with Spring starting today, it just feels right to share a lemony side dish. I guess mostly because it reminds me of Easter, and that’s now just weeks away. These potatoes certainly aren’t a meal on their own, but this preparation- the boiling then roasting- prepares absolutely perfect bites. Crispy, crunchy exterior and a smooth, mashed potato like inside. Tossed in lemon and sprinkled with fresh rosemary, these potatoes are a wonderful side. I also enjoy them plain, dunked in ketchup, so really whatever you want to do is probably fine.

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Lemon Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4

6 yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes (ish)

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium pot filled 2/3 full with water, add cubed potatoes. Bring the water to a boil, and boil the potatoes for 4-5 minutes, no more.

Drain the potatoes and add to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes gently to coat. Pour the potatoes onto a baking sheet (best if lined with parchment paper). Roast teh potatoes for 20-25 minutes, until crisping and browned on the edges.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and toss with fresh rosemary. Add additional seasoning if needed. Eat hot, room temperature, or cool; pretty much all ways these taste great.

 

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SPRING. Eat some potatoes.

Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

In Chicago, you cannot be outside and not see winter. Not in the densely gray sky; not in the salt-bleached asphalt; not in the naked trees, with snow climbing high up their trunks; and especially not in the ground, exhibiting at any point a full mountain range of snow piles, exhaust-stained at its base and crisply white at its peaks. Winter is truly everywhere, save a few perfectly positioned glances out the window at sunset. So maybe this makes me a Chicagoan now, but I am utterly delighted at the idea of snow falling thickly on my south-eastern friends and family, while I optimistically drive on clear paved roads on a (remarkably) sunny day that nearly breaks freezing. We’ve suffered enough winter this year, and I’ll take any wins I can. Even if it’s just “oh, thank God it didn’t snow today!” I’m a little jealous that for other parts of the country (that I so recently called home), snow is an exciting rarity that requires immediate rest and relaxation. I wish snow meant hot chocolate and blankets instead of freezing, slow commutes. But there’s promise of a genuine heat wave- temperatures sky-rocketing to the 40s- so maybe it’s time to celebrate Spring, just a little bit, just to see how it feels. This dinner is nice in that it incorporates the fresh components of Spring flavors- lemon, peas, thyme- but requires ingredients that are pantry staples or easy freezer grabs. It’s a healthy variation on an Italian favorite, and a nice mix up from rice or pasta. The barley creates this “risotto” through the slow cooking process, yielding starches to the surrounding broth with time. It’s utterly creamy as a result, and while I’ve had “real” risotto only once or twice, barley risotto is a pretty fair comparison.

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Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

Serves 3-4

1 tbsp. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup pearled barley

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

3 cups water

1 tbsp. thyme, fresh or dried

2 cups peas, frozen

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, (freshly) grated

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Salt & pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, mix vegetable or chicken stock and water and heat until boiling. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, with a ladle ready for use.

In a pot, melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add barley and toast, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Once the barley is fragrant and lightly browning, add thyme and bit of salt. Next, add about 1 cup of stock/water to the barley and stir. Cook  the barley until it’s absorbed most of the liquid; then, add another cup of stock/water. Repeat this process, adding about 1-1/2 cups of liquid at a time, stirring regularly, until the barley is tender and the liquids are almost entirely absorbed. This process can take anywhere from 25-45 minutes, depending on the barley.

Just before the barley is finished, with a bit of liquid remaining, add the frozen peas. Cook the peas in the barley for 2-3 minutes, until bright and softened. Remove the barley from the heat and add juice of 1/2 a lemon, zest of 1 lemon, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Stir together and season additionally if necessary.

Serve the barley risotto plain, with a sprinkle of goat cheese. Or, serve along side some lemon grilled chicken or your other favorite protein of the day.

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I went with some meat this time. It’s been awhile. (Also, I know you like this chicken, Brian).

An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 1: The Sides

In theory, it’s healthier and more satisfying to eat with people. You slow down, socialize, and relax; it becomes an experience rather than a quick means of quieting an empty stomach. But in actuality you’re often alone, or at least eating your own meal, and there’s not much more to it than spoon-mouth-swallow-repeat. And that’s fine (I hope), but in order to alleviate the redundancy of lonely eating, sometimes a dinner party is in order. Living in Chicago, it seems like it would be easy to get a group of friends together several nights a week. In every TV show I know featuring a group of friends in a big city (which is pretty much every TV show), group gatherings are a nightly occurrence. It’s almost as if these TV shows don’t accurately portray the busy schedules inherent in our actual reality (gasp!). But in real life, it’s hard to find time. Everyone works different jobs, everyone is an obnoxious amount of public transit away, and everyone has his/her own life to uphold. So the dinner party is thought of, pondered about, mentioned in passing, and usually forgotten. But with a little bit of effort, and a lot of in-advance planning, it comes to fruition: a fantastic weeknight in with friends, food, and awkwardly invasive dogs. It is so worth the preparation, the extra time, the poor sleep that night, and the slightly-more-rough-than-average day at work.

I’d highly recommend, if I can, an enchilada dinner party. Not only were several trays of these enchiladas downed by a moderate group of people in barely enough time for the dogs to lunge at the plates, but they were very conducive to prepping in advance and, consequently, quick to pull together the day of. But enough about enchiladas; we’ll get to those later. What about their classic additions, the staples of Spanish and Mexican-inspired cuisine? Every party needs its drinks and appetizers.  I’m of course talking about guacamole, the most delicious of dips, as well as sangria, the fruity-yet-classy drink of the Spanish gods. The recipes for these sides are barely recipes, more like a list of components, but they certainly become greater than the sum of their parts. With recipes this delicious, easy to prepare, and relatively hands-off when the guests arrive, we’ll certainly be doing this again.

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Red Wine and Clementine Tempranillo Sangria

1 pitcher, serves 10-12

2 bottles of Tempranillo wine

1/2 bottles sparkling clementine juice (available at Trader Joe’s)

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 lemon, diced

1 orange, diced

1 apple, diced

In a large pitcher, mix wine, sparkling clementine juice, and lemon juice. Dice the fruit and add to the pitcher. Chill to serve.

That’s it. Easiest recipe ever. But this sangria earned compliments ALL around. It’s slightly sweet, just barely effervescent, and full-bodied without the burdensome dryness red wine can at times impart. And then obviously, the fruit is the best part.

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Classic Guacamole

Makes ~ 3 cups

6 ripe avocados, pitted

3 limes, juiced

1/3 white onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

1/2 – 3/4 tsp. salt, to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

In a large bowl, mash avocados. Add the juice of 3 limes and minced accompaniments and stir. Add chopped cilantro, salt, and pepper and mix until thoroughly combined. Serve with a ton of your favorite tortilla chips.

This is another easy recipe, but, again, oh so good.  The beauty of an enchilada night is that the snacking and drinks are nearly as good as the dinner, leading to an evening that is indulgent, spicy, fresh, flavorful, and an all-around good time.

But don’t serve your guac yet; it really goes best before enchiladas, and those recipes are coming soon.

Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Sun-dried Tomatoes

It’s approaching the day. Monday. The day in which I finally discover what -20 degrees Fahrenheit feels like. With wind chill, I imagine the meteorologists will claim the air “feels like” it is even colder, which is unfathomable, because who can possibly discern between temperatures that cold? If any of your skin is exposed, it’s instantly numbed, so what “feeling” will I be doing exactly? Regardless, I should be binging on soup and hot chocolate and deeply warm dinners, but instead I’m still yearning for fresh, bright, vegetable-heavy dishes that almost let me believe Spring is in the reasonable future (It’s not. At all). It probably helps that I’m planning monthly vacations to decidedly warmer climates to ease the pain of continuing this horrible Chicago winter. I’ll almost definitely be diving back into comfort food by mid-week, once I regain feeling in my limbs and tongue, but for the weekend, with highs in the mid-twenties, I’ll turn the heat down a bit, put on a sweatshirt, and dig into some delightful pasta and vegetables.  Beyond fresh and remarkably flavorful, this pasta salad is also quite quick to come together, and it serves perfectly as either an entree or side. So add it to your favorite chicken dish, Brian, or just pile it into a bowl. Either way, please don’t skimp on the sun-dried tomatoes.

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Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Serves 4 for a meal, 6 for a side

6 oz. pasta

3 cups spinach

1 large cucumber, sliced thinly

Several stalks of green onions, sliced

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped roughly

3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp. oil from sun-dried tomatoes

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. honey

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1/8 tsp. cayenne peper

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, with a heavy pinch of salt added. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. I used a mixture of gemelli and bowtie pasta, because I didn’t have quite enough of either (and now I’m out of pasta entirely). These pasta cooked for the same amount of time, which I’d advise if you’re mixing. Once cooked, set aside to cool slightly.

In a lidded jar or a bowl, add lemon juice, oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, honey, and spices. Shake the jar or whisk vigorously until the liquids form a smooth vinaigrette. (If the liquids are too cold, and the honey won’t dissolve, heat the mixture for about 10 seconds in the microwave to facilitate the emulsion process). Pour the lemon vinaigrette over the pasta and mix to combine.

While the dressed pasta is cooling, chop the cucumber into thin quarter-rounds (I slice the entire cucumber down the longitudinal axis so it’s halved, then slice each half longitudinally again to make long cucumber quarters. Line up the quarters and slice thinly, approximately 1/4 inch slices). Slice green onions thinly, and chop the sun-dried tomatoes. Toss the pasta with the sliced vegetables until evenly mixed. Refrigerate the pasta and vegetables until more significantly cooled, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Once the pasta is cooler, toss with feta cheese and spinach, mixing thoroughly. It is now complete! Refrigerate for an additional 4-6 hours, or overnight ideally, to serve cold. The flavors marry and become more deliciously intense with time, so I find this pasta to be better and better each day. I more or less ate it for every meal at home for 3 days straight. So forget about the temperatures, Brian; eat your vegetables and pretend it’s warm outside.