Planning a great picnic


With a bank holiday on the horizon, we’re planning a picnic at an event over the weekend. Which means digging to the back of the cupboard for all the picnic stuff. Or taking a look at some of the new stuff that’s around!


Two person picnic hamper


If it weren’t for a gaggle of kids to cater for too, then I’d love this two person hamper which appears to have plenty of room for a couple of bottles, although not much food. What the heck, sounds like a good picnic to me!


Fleece Picnic Basket


Knowing our weather conditions, a picnic rug is a must, especially with a waterproof backing. I like this one, particularly with the fleece side to keep your bum warm on the ground. It’s also washable, useful for recovering from the inevitable spills.


House Melamine Picnicwares


I can’t be doing with paper plates, and am certainly not risking the china, so it’s got to be good plastic plates. I love the design on these plates, which are from John Lewis. Bold and modern, there’s a whole range of things for every kind of picnic.


Cold Drinks Flask


Now of course there’s probably a flask of tea, but equally need some cold stuff. Probably Pimms in my case. So a cold drinks flask seems like a good idea. Yes, I know all flasks can work for cold drinks, but I like the dinky little cups with this one.

So, we just need to sort out the food and drink, and hopefully the weather will play ball too. If you need some picnic recipe ideas, then I last wrote about great books in 2013, but think might do another round up soon. Anything other than some soggy sandwiches got to be on the menu.


A hamper for Easter? Why not?


I’ve obviously fallen off Forman & Field’s mailing list, as haven’t had a catalogue fro them in an age. But scanning the website I saw that they were offering a hamper of Easter essentials. Which I have to admit seems like a great idea for those strangest of food lovers, those who don’t like chocolate.

No, I don’t understand it either, but even I could be tempted by some of these essentials. I mean, an Easter morning breakfast including the London Cure smoked salmon would be a great start to the day. You could have a good lunch with TrealyFarm Air Dried Ham and a slice of chicken and ham pie. There’s even a decent glass of white wine to wash it all down with.

There is at least a little chocolate involved in this hamper, with some passion fruit truffles. But I would most look forward to the individual Simnel cakes, as love a good Simnel cake.

Great treats, decent wicker hamper, and not a bad price for such treats at £65.95, plus £9.95 delivery to mainland addresses. If the Easter Bunny is out of chocolate then this is perhaps a good family treat for food lovers of all ages, except the littlest chocolate lovers!


Hampers unhampered by bad taste


Not all Christmas hampers are naff: great hamper gifts for food lovers with taste

Apologies to those who were reading my posts last year, as I did write something similar after the horror of finding the Kids Treat frozen food hamper, but hopefully a year on, a whole heap of other interesting options have materialised to write about.

The hampers I love are those that enable you to send someone something a bit different, or something they’d usually eat but a bit more unusual or premium than their usual. Here’s my choices for this year:

* I’ve already written about how wonderful the hamper was I received from The Spanish Food Company, but definitely worth a second mention, and having a look at. I certainly thought for £30 that it was a really good selection of things, and the quality is fantastic. We’re very sad to have come to the end of the chorizo, which is kind of the reaction that you’re going to want from any gift you send. (UPDATE: sadly The Spanish Food Company are no longer trading, try Brindisa for an alternative)

* Moving slightly further North and Bien Manger are a great source for French gourmet treats. Their little box of treats is more tin than hamper, but for just under £22 gives a French food lover some tasty morsels to tempt their tastebuds over the festive season. The fig chutney will be a fantastic accompaniment to the duck foie gras, and then there’s a ballotine of capon with saffron, that could be a whole Christmas meal in one! Which you can finish off with chocolate truffles or salted butter caramels.

* Lets not forget the brilliance of our own food producers, and is a great place to find beautiful produce. For something that brings together some great British additions to any pantry, then try their Christmas basket. Smoked salmon from Inverawe, some blue Wensleydale, and some great duck liver pate, and you could be snowed in on Christmas Day and not go hungry.

* Not so much a hamper, as a chest from the Fine Food Store, but packed with organic goodies to keep the organic food lover happy. Some good stuff from Duchy Organics like Lemon Curd and Blackcurrant Preserve, as well as some coffee and pate to keep you going. If you want, and have the budget, then you also have the option to add wine or champagne to this. Currently this will set you back £65, without the wine, from Fine Food Store.

* For something packed with sunshine flavours, then try Maroque for flavours of Morocco. The Little Yellow Cookbook Ingredients Collection gives you the key spices and ingredients for the dishes in the cookbook (which can be downloaded for free). All the key flavours are there: rose and orange water, tahina, paprika, saffron…like sunshine in a box. Could brighten up Boxing Day leftovers, that’s for sure!

* Somewhere not necessarily renowned for its sunshine, but does produce some fantastic produce is Wales.  I would suggest for homesick expats then you might want to send them the Luxury Welsh Hamper from Oil & More. Everything from Welsh tea to laverbread, plus more tasty fare like oatcakes and Penderyn whisky.

* Whisk are like the contemporary version of a hamper company, with some great choices. I wouldn’t object to finding my stocking stuffed with their Foodie Stocking Filler, which contains tasty treats such as spiced winter chutney, marmalade and a baby Christmas cake amongst other things. You could tuck into all of this before you even got out of bed on Christmas morning.

So I think it’s time to stop thinking of hampers as something a bit naff and old fashioned, and instead see them as a whole heap of fantastic foodie gift ideas all conveniently wrapped up in one box. Well, you’ve heard of bulk buying!

Festive food inspiration by Dano on Flickr.


Messing around around boats


How to see the regatta?


The British summer calendar clicks on, and today sees the start of Henley Regatta. I’ve always thought Henley sounded splendidly civilised, a bit like the cricket at Lords, just with more water. The gentle splash of oars hitting water, an occasion made for Pimms and cucumber sandwiches, and no need to leave dry land at all in order to enjoy the proceedings.

Apparently, yes, there are things going on other than eating and drinking. How incredible!

If you are attending and are within the Steward’s Enclosure, then there are a heap of dress rules to obey, but some good eating to offest this mild inconvenience. According to the website, one can obtain luncheons and teas, and also partake of a seafood restaurant, as well as a licensed bar or too.

By the time you get to the Regatta enclosure then it becomes lunch and afternoon tea. And it had better be good, as you’re not allowed to take your own. Unless you’re the Hairy Bikers I seem to remember. If you want to self cater, then this is a good guide here, and it sounds like it’s a case of get there early, or pay out the cash.

Now you could get those nice people at Fortnum & Mason to do you a lovely hamper or perhaps pop into the Windsor Farm Shop for a more free form picnic still with royal approval. There is a Waitrose in town as a good fall back, but how about something different on your way in? Try the Chiltern Valley Winery, which would find you plenty of interesting wines, and also beers from Old Luxters Farm Brewery. If you wanted great patisserie and breads, then I would head to Marlow and try out Burgers.

And this is not the time for tatty glasses and plates, so have a look round for some good stuff! I thought John Lewis had upped their game this year and have some good stuff in. I rather like the Kingfisher acrylic stuff, for a more sophisticated choice, and could also be tempted by the Summer Dot range. If you wanted to give this as a gift (and it’s something no one thinks about but often needs) then have a look at the Bright Dot 4 person cooler set. If you’re uninspired by a wedding list, I think going off list for something like this would be acceptable.

If you’re going to do the eco route, then forget most paper plates and their one time usage. Try the Eco Picnic Set by Bob By Post, as this can be used several times over, and then can just go in the compost bin. Good call.

So, have fun around the water, try not to fall in, and just occasionally remember to watch the rowing!

Great shot by winkyintheuk over on Flickr.


Happy St Patrick’s Day! The best of Irish food & drink


Celebrate with good food & good friends


It seems that wherever you go in the world, everyone is happy to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, whilst the other national saints barely get a look in even in their home countries! But lets not get all partisan about it, lets just get on with some eating and drinking!

1. Ok, you can’t really start St Patrick’s Day without a glass of Guinness. Possibly two or three. There again, loyalties are divided in Ireland, and so perhaps you should order in some Murphys. Or some of each, and decide for yourself.

2. A drop of the hard stuff? Well, there’s plenty of Irish whiskey companies willing to help you out with that! Bushmills and Jameson are probably the best known, but you could work your way through some smaller producers, and try something like Connemara, from the Cooley distillery. This is Ireland’s only independent distillery, and its newest, and the whiskey has been winning awards. Worth a try.

3. Taken the pledge? Ah, will  you have a cup of tea then? Go on, go on, go on. Swap your regular brew for something like Bewley’s Dublin Morning tea. Then there’s Barry’s Tea, which has everything from a classic blend to a gold blend, and a long history of good brews.

4. What appears in our supermarkets as Irish sausage is a poor excuse for a sausage. If you want the real thing then try Jane Russell’s Original Irish Handmade Sausages. These are high meat content sausages as they should be made, with only prime cuts and, as they say, no short cuts. Not only are there traditional pork sausages, but you could also try the beef and Guinness ones.

5. Should you be making a trip (and you may have to, as struggling to find a retail stockist) then it sounds like it is well worth checking out the Drumgooland Smokehouse in Co. Down. The hot smoked salmon has won awards, and they also have some interesting combinations such as gin marinated wild mackerel and smoked salmon fishcakes with lemongrass and coriander.

6. If you want to try a hamper full of Irish goodies, then check out the Irish Gourmet. For those with a sweet tooth, try the Battle of the Biscuits, which will give you not all biscuits but also cakes, honey and tea. For more all round tastes, then try A Taste of the Organic, which has smoked salmon, air dried ham, oatcakes and cheese.

7. Talking of oatcakes, I really like the Smoked Oatcakes from Dittys Home Bakery, for an added dimension to cheese and biscuits. You’ll find these in many places across the UK: I know I bought them first at Waitrose and you can find them everywhere from Forman & Field to Fortnum & Mason.

So, I’m sure there is a whole heap more you could explore, so probably best to get a flight and make a start. Dublin is an obvious choice, but my favourite is Galway. No need to wait until the Oyster Festival in September, there’s good eating and drinking all year round. If you want the rock star approach, you could stay at the G or for more pampering then try the Radisson Blu with the Spirit One Spa. Or I hear great things about the resurgence of Belfast, and especially about The Merchant Hotel, both for its restaurant and its bar. In fact, the bar has been voted Best Hotel Bar in the World, not to mention Best Cocktail Menu. If that’s not a good reason to go, then I’m not sure what other reason you need.


Photo courtesy of biskuit over on Flickr.

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Where do foodies register for their wedding?


Where would foodies register? What to buy food lovers for their weddings

Being of the nosey/curious type, I love looking at the search terms people have put in to get to the blog. There’ve been all kinds of weird and wonderful ones, not to mention some very err, creative, spellings. But this one seemed an entirely appropriate question, and the sort of thing I would want to know the answer to! So, here’s a few thoughts from me:

1. How about seeing if your favourite local deli or wine shop will run a list for you? In fact, I am surprised not more local specialist stores have got into this lucrative business. Sadly, not even Ocado seem to have a listing facility.

2. Thankfully some of the wine retailers do seem to have caught onto this, so if you’re foodies who love wine, then this might be a good route for you. As one would expect, Berry Bros & Rudd will run a list for you, to which you can add wine, spirits, accessories, wine tastings and even wine courses at their school. For something with more national coverage, then Majestic also offer a wine list service. They have everything from fine wine through to champagne, beers and spirits, so you could really lay down a very interesting, and quaffable cellar.

3. Natoora offers a really wide selection of goodies from Europe, from fresh stuff through to tinned, cheese through to meat and all kinds of veg. They don’t offer a wedding list service but your guests could buy gift certificates that you could have an awful lot of fun spending after the wedding! As an alternative, check out Forman & Field who also do gift vouchers, and there’s a great choice of stuff that you could spend it on.

4. A wedding would seem the perfect opportunity to upgrade your kitchen equipment. I would be really happy to have a list at Divertimenti and would not only load it up with great stuff for the kitchen, but also with classes at the cookery school. If you wanted things for all the house but still really good, not to mention good looking, kitchen stuff, then Heal’s would be another good choice, or you can register a wishlist at Habitat. And, of course, there’s always John Lewis!


I'd put it on my list!


5. Not on the High Street is one of my favourite sites, and you can register a list with them. There would be fabulous things for the kitchen and dining room, like beautiful cake stands, stylish coffee machines and funky personalised mugs. There are also some interesting food options as well, with everything from an Over Indulgence Hamper (how lovely to come back from honeymoon to this) to organic chocolate, great oils and interesting mustard.

6. I do love my cheese, but yet to find someone with a listing facility. Paxton & Whitfield offer gift vouchers, so I guess you could run your own list and ask for those. You could then spend them as you needed cheese. Or have a look at the Cheese Club from Teddington Cheese (great cheese shop, unlikely location), where you could ask people to buy you one of each theme, which covers selections suitable for St Patrick’s Day, Halloween and Christmas, as well as one for each month of the year. The Fine Cheese Co in Bath also offer something similar, and people could buy you a whole year’s worth of deliveries.

7. You may have also gathered that I have a reasonably big cookbook addiction. Which would have made listing with Amazon a perfect choice for me. It would enable you to explore the far reaches of your food reading and cooking desires. You can explore old and new, rare and not so rare. I guess Amazon is almost like a huge department store now, so you can also list for lots of equipment too. Just don’t forget the books.

So, that’s a few suggestions for a couple who love their food as much as they love each other! Happy listing!

Interesting wedding cupcakes taken by clevercupcakes on Flickr.

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It’s all about the pork pies


Know your pies - Mrs King's the best of my very local pies. Although possibly not the very best


I have no idea what’s been going on out there, but all of a sudden I’ve had a whole heap of people ending up at the site looking for the answer to one question: what is the difference between a mini Melton Mowbray pork pie and a mini pork pie?

I did rather cheekily tweet that the answer was rather obvious and already in the question, but must remember that not everyone is so close to the differences. We live as part of Melton Borough Council and therefore the pork pie figures large in our life around here. I am not saying it’s the only reason we live here but…well, put it this way, when you’ve got Stilton and pork pies, what more could you want?

In case you didn’t already know, a Melton Mowbray pork pie has Protected Geographical Indication status, meaning it has to come from a specific area , and has distinct characteristics. Its sides are bow shaped, as it is baked free standing rather than in a tin of some description, and it uses fresh pork, not cured, giving the meat a more grey appearance, not pink. The meat must be pure chopped pork, as opposed to minced, and you’ll get a good amount of jelly and seasoning.

If you want to know about the history of the Melton Mowbray pork pie (and it is interesting in terms of clever cooks turning a problem into a profitable business) then I recommend a read of Rupert Matthews’ Leicestershire Food & Drink. The book covers the pie’s history from humble beginnings through to protected status, and also covers that other great protected product of the area, Stilton.

Never mind all that, what about eating them? Well, there are 10 manufacturers who belong to the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association. Here’s my thoughts, coloured completely by the big pork pie lover in the house, who has worked through them all!

1. Dickinson & Morris – if you came to Melton Mowbray, then Dickinson & Morris is the most visible pork pie manufacturer in the town. You can possibly even see a demonstration of how the pies were made. You don’t even need to come to Melton as most of the big supermarkets carry them. A number of family members proclaim them pretty good, especially the hand raised one. But you will have to go to the shop for that one. They do good hampers of local produce which I have sent to my awkward to buy for relatives a couple of times, and they have been well received.

2. Mrs King’s – I don’t know how many more accolades Mrs King’s needs. One of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes, and also features in Simon Majumdar’s Eat My Globe, this is also MGG’s favourite and features on the lunchtime menu at our local, and several others in the area. Generally we buy this ready to be cooked at home, where you also add in the jelly as well. Or not, depending on your preference. This is an old family company, and there are a number of stockists around the country, but they don’t have a website. Give them a ring on the phone. Or if you are in Nottingham then stop in the excellent cheese shop in Flying Horse Walk, they definitely stock them.

3. Brockleby’s – I’ve featured these before, but the pies from Brockleby’s are the only certified organic Melton Mowbray pork pie. The pork is from rare breed pigs, either at the farm or from neighbouring ones. These are worth the trip out to the farm shop, or you’ll find Ian and his team at many of the farmer’s markets in the area. Or, if you’re posh, then Daylesford Organics carry them too!

4. Pork Farms – you know what, I don’t buy their pork pies, or any other of their products. I am amazed they are in the organisation. My view, and that of these tasters, is don’t waste your money.

5. Northfield Farm – another stalwart of local food festivals, normally cooking up very tasty sausages and burgers, but also make a very good Melton Mowbray pork pie. Northfield are really big on rare breeds, and the pork comes from their pigs. Pies are hand raised and baked without support, in the traditional manner. You can order online, and I highly recommend their burgers as well.

6. F Bailey & Son – a small, traditional butcher, this is stocked by our local butcher, and is a good standby pie for our household. This is a slight variation, as this is baked in a mould, so not entirely traditional.

7. Nelsons of Stamford – if you fancy somewhere a bit different on the pie run, then head to Stamford and get one from Nelsons. Stamford is lovely, and Nelsons not only make a pork pie but some great tasting Lincolnshire sausage as well. The pies have been feted with over 50 medals, and there has been a butchers carrying the Nelson name in Stamford since 1826. Whilst you’re in Stamford, you might want to stop by the Adnams shop, great beer and wine selection, bound to be something good to go with your pie!

8. Patricks – we have failed, I am sorry. For some reason this one has passed us by.  They’ve been in business over 20 years, so I guess they know what they are doing.

9. Chappell’s Fine Foods – look for these labelled as Forryans Melton Mowbray Pork Pies. Again, nearly 40 years of experience, following the traditional methods, this gets rated as per the company name: fine.

10. Walkers Charnwood Bakery – producing a lot of the supermarket own brand Melton Mowbray pork pies, you can also buy this under their own name of Walkers, but mainly just here in the East Midlands. But when we have so much choice, it’s a rare moment when we do.

So, this is perhaps part one, and should tell you what the difference is, and what I would recommend eating, but it has to be said there are some fabulous pork pies being made without the Melton Mowbray name, with different techniques, and enjoying a bit of a revival. I’ll come to those later in the week.

Happy pie eating though in the meantime!


Photo of a fabulous Mrs King’s pork pie by Dan Taylor on Flickr.


For the lovers of dark and smoky flavours


We were discussing my slightly obscure taste in fragrance last night, which does tend to often include those that to some smell like an ashtray. I have an absolute passion for Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford, but can be found sniffing the original Dolce & Gabbana for Men with its leather and cigar smoke notes. And then there’s Feuilles de Tabac from Miller Harris…

Anyway, this addiction transfers across to food too (in fact everything except actually smoking, which I am not at all keen on), so this is my list of Valentine’s Day gifts for those foodies with a love of good smoky flavours!

* Starting with something fairly mild on the smoke front, how about a whole smoked chicken from Upton Smokery? Bathed in aromatic smoke and slow cooked, this would make a great meal, hot or cold. Plus wrapping up a whole chicken has got to have some great comedy value.


Smoked olive oil from The Organic Smokehouse


* Upgrade the extra virgin olive oil experience, with organic smoked olive oil from The Organic Smokehouse. This would make for a whole new flavour experience whether it’s mixed into a salad dressing, or just for dipping great bread into (I would think it would work really well with a good sourdough).

* For a great accompaniment to that olive oil, then how about Smoked Sea Salt from Halen Môn? Infused with smoke from Welsh oak, this has an almost sweet edge to it, like many tobaccos, and will give the foodie hours of pleasure in working out how to best make use of the unique flavour.

* Not really new news, but the tobacco chocolate from Artisan du Chocolat is one of the most creative food uses of the tobacco flavour around. You can order it online, it has to be tried at least once in a lifetime.

* If you want to really push the boat out, then London Fine Foods offer a Smoked Hamper which has everything from smoked salmon and eel through to smoked duck and pigeon. Certainly plenty of smokiness to go at, although not for the vegetarian!

* If this flavour thing is bordering on an obsession, then how about learning how to smoke your own things? With a day course in Cumbria they could learn to smoke cheese, meats and vegetables, looking at both hot and cold smoking, as well as brining. Plenty of hands on experience, not to mention eating and goodies to take home.


Benromach Peat Smoke


* For a smoke filled finish, then how about Benromach Peat Smoke Batch 2 Whisky? According to the tasting notes, this has a seriously smoky character, being complex, intense and challenging, and yet well balanced (so, that’s where I went wrong with my men, missed the last bit out! ) And if you like a splash of water, this will bring out treacle toffee and creamy notes. Sounds delicious. Now, if only I liked whisky!

There’s a fabulous article on cooking with tobacco in the first edition of Fire and Knives, and a subscription to that should be every foodies gift wish list.


Making the most of the Boxing Day sales


Not how I want to do my bargain hunting!


It’s Boxing Day evening, the turkey is pretty much stripped, the relatives are beginning to grate, and there’s no Doctor Who to distract you.

What do you do before you go completely Boxing Day bonkers?

How about getting prepared for your next foodie gift need for less with the best of the Boxing Day sales that are available from the comfort of the fireside? Or, if you’re the foodie, then either treat yourself for less or give your less foodie friends the gift of good taste. Here’s a few suggestions from my sales roundup:

1. John Lewis – middle England’s favourite has a pretty good sale going on. Plenty on offer in all kinds of kitchenware, stuff for eating off and stuff for clearing up with afterwards. Tea towels not only make great gifts, but they are great for wrapping up collections of other things that you buy, or make, like a collection of jams for example. And if you’ve always wanted a fuchsia pink juice extractor, now may be the moment to buy one! Truly though, I’d go for the hampers which are now half price. You can recombine them to make other gifts, or just indulge yourself!

2. Cook in Style – big sale going on here, and I use this for all kinds of equipment that you can’t necessarily find on every high street. Need an electric meat slicer for your home-cured meats? They’ll do you one and give you up to £25 off. KitchenAid Mixer? All sorts of colours available with £30 off. They’ve also got a small but concise selection of cookbooks with 50% off, so worth a look.

3. Buy A Gift – great bargain hunting here as they have at least 25% off everything, with code JANSALE, and they have a great selection of cooking courses available including sushi making and home food smoking. These don’t go out of date for a year, so worth stocking up at the discount price.

4. Pedlars – another of my favourite shops, especially at sale time. There are discounts on a lot of the Joseph Joseph stuff, and I love the melamine Sea Life dinner plates. Lots of stylish mugs and tea towels on offer too, which always make good standby gifts, or parts of gifts. And not necessarily foodie, but I love the Cityscape Tea Light holders, which would give beautiful lighting and interest to any dinner table or gathering!

5. Amazon – you know me, can’t resist a good cookbook, and there are over 200 in the January deals on Amazon, from Jamie’s America through to the new Larousse Gastronomique. Good place to spend your Christmas money, as it will stretch further with 60% off.

6. Thorntons – a British institution, going for less. The chocolates. Not the company. That’s someone else.

So go on, run away from the family chaos and stock up, or else plan a long trip. Up to you whether or not you take them with you!


The final countdown is upon us…


Perfect foodie presents, last minute or not

Yes, we’re really at the last minute for good foodie Christmas gifts and presents, but there are still a few of my favourite shopping places taking last minute orders still. If you’ve just woken up to the fact it’s Christmas Day on Friday, here’s a few last minute places to head to. Lets face it, it’s this or heading for the High Street.

So, sitting comfortably? Here you go:

1. A Quarter Of is fabulous for nostalgic sweets and choccies, and is usually a big hit with everyone, young and old. They’re taking orders right up until the 23rd, so you can still be sure of sweet stuff on Christmas Day.

2. Montezuma’s will express deliver fabulous chocolate to you if order before 2pm on Tuesday 22nd. And why wouldn’t you? We bought The Piper hamper to see us through our need for great chocolate. Make sure to select Special Delivery at checkout otherwise the stuff won’t arrive until after Christmas.

3. Not On the High Street is one of my favourite online sources of fabulous gifts for pretty much everyone on my list. And you can still pick out great gifts and get them delivered in time if you pay for express delivery. I wrote about my faves earlier in the year for foodies, you still have time to get some of these.

4. Sometimes you can’t beat a classic.  Thorntons can still whip an Alpini round to your house in time for Christmas if you order by 4pm on the 23rd. Can’t beat a sugar mouse as a stocking filler either.

5. For great experiences, such as Indian cooking masterclasses, Buy A Gift are brilliant. And they will deliver for Christmas if you order by noon on the 23rd, and select “signed for next day guaranteed”. This gives you something to wrap up for the big day, but you can continue to download temporary vouchers right up to the moment you wander downstairs on Christmas Day.

So, five possible ways out of your Christmas present fixes, all from the comfort of your own chair. Happy shopping, but be quick about it.