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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Between An Elf and a Hard Place

We have NO idea where this week has gone!! It seems like yesterday was Monday and here it is SUNDAY!!  Let’s see…we did try a new recipe that was posted on Facebook, made up a pasta recipe out of our own little Elf head, prepared some food to share with friends, and generally flew by the seat of our Elf pants all week.

Last Sunday, OH!! YES!! We had Cuban-Style Pulled Porq, Black Beans Beans with Brown Rice and steamed Broccoli. We’ve had this before and, goodness, is it GOOD. We had prepared the Pork via the recipe found in The Gentle Chef’s fabulous cookbook for meat analogs called Seitan and Beyond. More about that later, BUT, after the Porq had rested in the frig overnight, we ‘pulled it’ and prepared the recipe. We got our ‘mise en place’ with all the ingredients. We did not take a picture and so wish we had…it’s such an interesting dish. Anyway, our ingredients were: onion, orange zest, lime zest, orange juice, lime juice, minced garlic, fresh oregano from the yard and salt/pepper to taste. Everything was sautéed in a certain order with the fruit juices drizzled at the end. LOOK!! LOOK how delicious this appears…and you know what, it IS!!
This is one of the meals we shared with some friends; even they said, this tastes just like pork! As for the Black Beans, we let them soak for 36 hours before throwing them in the slow cooker until they were nice and done. We took about a cup and mashed the beans up a bit and returned them to the pot. Our seasoning was ground cumin and a very spare amount of cayenne. We had cooked the beans in the Chicken Bouillon (The Gentle Chef) with about a half teaspoon of Hickory Liquid Smoke. We also cooked the brown rice in the Chicken Bouillon and a small amount of Liquid Smoke. The end result was delightful. You can see from Big Solid’s plate that he added a bit of Daiya shredded cheese (not the pre-shredded but the hand shredded from the Daiya block cheese). We’ll give you the heads-up on the bread (with the bite already taken) next up.
But first, we need to digress a bit about the proper cooking of meat analogs…thanks to Chef Skye Michael. We have a love/hate relationship that is slowly migrating to just the plain ole love relationship. Many of the meat analogues (plant-based meats) consist of a dough that is kneaded, wrapped and baked. Sounds easy…well, it takes a bit of practice. The most recent revelation has come in the form of how to knead the dough for the Porq and the Chicken Shreds we make at least once a week. Chef Skye has been remindin’ us for a long time now that the dough REALLY needs a thorough kneading to develop the gluten and provide the texture for shreds or pulled porq. His suggestion and guidance has been to put the dough in a food processor with the dough blade and process it for 2 minutes. Well, we tried that a while back and damn near had the rather substantial Cusinart dance off the counter…scared us porqless. So we (pardon the pun) chickened out and used a mixer with a dough hook and added several minutes of kneading instead of just 2. Well, we STILL got a product that came out of the oven more like bread than shred. FINALLY, we saw a post from a person who had divied the dough up into thirds and processed it with a lot less grief and jumpin’ around. So, that’s what we tried. and behold, it worked beautifully! SEE!
What you wind up with looks like and has the consistency of taffy. The first time we did this, we almost threw it away, thinking we’d way screwed up. But, NOT. That’s the consistency that works best.
NOW, the next part is JUST as important as the kneadin’ and that’s the wrappin’. We have learned the HARD way that the use of Heavy Aluminum Foil is an absolute must AND wrapping technique is also critical. Once the ‘taffy’ dough is place on the foil, you fold it, seal the edges about a bit to give the dough room to expand, fold it again, crimp and keep doing that until the foil is used up. then you really twist the edges of the foil tightly to seal and repeat with a second (and some even a third) layer of foil. Here’s a link to a video from Chef Skye to show you.
He’s using a seitan roast but the basic wrapping technique applies. We here in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen can testify to the terror that goes through your body when you here your inappropriately wrapped dough EXPLODE in the oven…and that’s happened at least twice since we started processing the dough. BUT, when we wrap like Chef Skye instructs, the product that comes out is amazing. We really didn’t mean to get off on such a tangent BUT for many of us who enjoy the plant-based meats or the meat analogues, it offers a bit of information on how to make the REEALLY GOOD STUFF. Here’s a link to The Gentle Chef’s site
and he also has a Facebook page as well as groups. The final discussion before we move on (and we will) has to do with the usual debate of ‘why do you want to eat fake meat’ or ‘how can you call yourself vegan if you eat anything that is like meat’ or ‘why not just eat the real thing?’ The Elf’s answer for the Elf and Big Solid is that we chose to go vegan/plant-based for ethical reasons as well as health reasons. A plant-based meat analogue is a way to enjoy the flavor/texture of meat without the cruelty of factory farming or the health implications of eating and drinking animal products.
Remember way back when we mentioned the bread that was on Big Solid’s plate? Well, that’s another recipe we tried this week…Sweet Potato Flatbread. It’s a very easy dough to make
and just as much fun to cook.
The result is a rather nice flatbread that you can use for curries, beans, soups, dips, and hummus.
However, we did find that it did not toast particularly well, so if you are looking for something crunchy, this isn’t it. Here is the link to the recipe if you want to play with it.
The next recipe is one we have made before and is quite healthy, delicious and fairly easy to make. It’s from Susan Voisin’s FatFree Vegan Kitchen—Pasta with Chard and Chickpeas.
We found some beautiful Rainbow Chard at Kroger,
sautéed a LOT of mushrooms,
cooked some Red Lentil and Vegetable Pasta,
and put it all together with a wee bit of tomato paste and orange juice.
It was yummy!! Thursday night we had another sweet potato recipe we’d been wanting to try…Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burgers.
These were a little on the labor intensive side since there are quite a few ingredients but were quite tasty. Shown after being made into patties.
Our main issue with these burgers was not the flavor or taste; it was the consistency and texture. As we said on our Facebook page, The Elf in the Kitchen, a more palatable burger would  need to have more substance and resistance to the bite. However, we intend to make them again and use them as patties with a sauce and vegetable accompaniment. Here’s a close up of the burgers/patties…you can see the rich color combo of the beans and sweet potato PLUS the little quinoa squiggly part.
We love quinoa, so this burger is way healthy!! If you try it, let us know how it turned out for you.Well, gosh, another week of cookin’ and laughin’ and stirrin’ and playin’ in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen. Who knows what we’ll encounter this week…but we DO have a couple of cool things in mind! Til then, you know the drill ‘remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.’

Your Elf

Sunday, September 10, 2017

ProgDay Elf!

Sometimes the fickle finger off fate offers you an opportunity to enjoy North Carolina twice in as many weeks! Such was the case this past week, when, on the heels of our Asheville eating extravaganza, Your Elf was in the air to visit the Raleigh NC area. For the past 23 years, a Progressive Rock Music Festival has taken place at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill over Labor Day weekend and for most of those years, my brother has attended. Your Elf started going in 1996 but missed several years until getting back in the Prog-groove (isn’t that an oxymoron?) last year.
ProgRock is not Big Solid’s cuppa, so he was more than happy to stay home with the ‘fur’ kids. As always, the challenge is finding Plant-based/Vegan options in an area that is reminiscent of MS, meaning those options are not plentiful, especially in the smaller towns.
For those of you who do not know what ProgRock is, it’s short for Progressive Rock and can best be described as a genre with a multiplicity of identities. Best way to characterize Prog is to just offer up the names of bands that you may be familiar with as good examples. Most everyone remembers the bands ‘YES’, Pink Floyd, Emerson/Lake&Palmer, early Genesis—well, there you have it. It’s that TYPE of music but the bands playing at ProgDay are not household names. In any event, we have great fun, sell a few things from Jud and Suzanne’s store (Oak City Collection)
and see people we’ve known via music for several years. This year’s crowd actually sported several younger folks, which is nice to see. We managed quite well food-wise, so lets share our ProgDay weekend eating experience. This year, food was available on site via food trucks, which was a GREAT idea!! Both food trucks had vegan options and Your Elf was delighted. But first, on Thursday evening, we went to a little restaurant in downtown Smithfield NC called Simple Twist.
No specific vegan option but a veggie wrap that could be veganized by omitting the goat cheese, so that’s what we got along with an order of fries to share as an appetizer.
The wrap was quite tasty but we could only eat half of it. Got it ‘wrapped’ up for a second meal option, which we had on Friday. As we dove into the remaining wrap, we thought we tasted something different…lo and behold, a big hunk of goat cheese was there. So, sometimes it pays to make sure that all non-vegan items have indeed been omitted from an order. Friday being ProgDay Eve, we worked getting all the vending ‘stuffs’ together and then the bottom fell plumb out of the sky. Tornado WARNINGS and severe weather caught us  as we were enroute to a restaurant called Manning’s in nearby Clayton NC.

With some finagling with the menu, we were able to get a marinated/sautéed portabello served over angel hair pasta and a great salad. The original menu item had the portabello served on a bed of grits BUT the grits were cooked in milk and then all buttered up. NOT. We asked about rice but it was cooked in chicken broth…that’s when the pasta was suggested. It actually turned out quite nicely and Your Elf was a happy camper.
After their meal, Jud and Suzanne shared a Cream Brûlée that they said was quite good and definitely NOT plant-based!
The storms and rains went on for most of the evening, so once again (as last year), we were faced with the possibility of having the first day be moved indoors. BUT!! When we got up Saturday morning, the rain was gone and it was just foggy and cloudy. Off we went to Chapel Hill with the van loaded to the gills. A quick stop at a local Harris Teeter and adjacent Starbucks had us completely happy with mimosa fixin’s and a Starbuck's Flat White (extra shot)! We unloaded our stuffs and settled in for a day of cool music and seeing old friends. And, of course, the obligatory mimosa(s).
Needless to say, after the fog and mistiness cleared off and the sun came out, the day was PERFECT. The food truck, Chirba Chirba, even had a vegan option that was quite tasty.
Here’s the menu and link to their website.
And here’s the dish before it was gobbled up by a hungry Elf.
We took off for ‘home’ after the last band of the day and stopped on the way for something to eat. We tried to get into the new Babalu in Chapel Hill but it was packed with a 45 minute wait. Maybe next year!
We wound up at a kinda fast food place called Zoë’s Kitchen. It was ok for fast food. Your Elf had a Power Grain Bowl without the tzatziki. Passable and we were hungry! Sunday brought another spectacularly beautiful day and arguably the best music. The food truck of the day was The Merry Franksters and their food was awesome.
They had a ‘vegan hot dog' made from marinated carrots! Yes CARROTS!! See the Menu's Peter Rabbit!

Now, Your Elf has made these at home, initially on a whim. BUT, we are here to tell you, done right, you cannot tell the difference. We had ours over a great salad.
Really good stuff for vegans AND from the looks of the number of people in the almost constant line, the rest of their food was just as good; as was the Merry Fanskster folks’ connection with the audience/patrons. All good things must, you know, come to an end and ProgDay 2017 was over before we could get a good breath! We packed up our goodies and took off for home when we decided to go into Raleigh proper for dinner. There was a huge festival going on downtown, so it was hard to get to the original idea. We wound up going to a restaurant called Irregardless. It’s in a great Raleigh neighborhood of older homes and new apartments for a growing population of young adults. And, we are here to tell you, we have saved the BEST for LAST. This restaurant was FANTASTIC!! It has been in business since 1975 and has a great neighborhood vibe. The live music (open mike night, we think) was ok but y’all know Your Elf is a very noise sensitive elf. The Hostess seated us away from the music and that was great. Now, when we opened the menu, we were NOT prepared the the vegan options a WHOLE PAGE OF Entrées for Herbivores!! So, WHOA!! We were blown away! Apologies for the glare; most probably from the shine in our eyes!
We settled on the Wild Mushroom Polenta, but, gosh darn it, we wish we could eat there every night to sample them all. Your Elf’s brother had a Greek Salad (which was huge and delicious, he said) and Suzanne had the Poached Salmon, which she also said was really lovely. BUT, Your ELF LOVED her dish. It was delicious, tasty, beautifully presented, and just, well, what a vegan really loves…a restaurant that delights in preparation using local foods and doing it with a sense of adventure. Isn’t this lovely?
And here is Your Elf’s plate a bit later.
But WAIT!! We aren’t finished! We then asked for the DESSERT menu. This is typically where many vegans just have to sit back and watch their table mates slurp up something sweet, creamy, or egg-based. Well, here’s what our Little Elf Eyes spied on the Dessert Menu. Look at the LAST item.
Yep, the Chocolate Truffle. Even though our little Elf belly was about to pop, we ordered it.And here you go!
It was incredibly good. So, this restaurant puts to rest the concept that vegan eating is boring and limited. Irregardless of your thoughts on eating vegan, IRREGARDLESS is your find in Raleigh. From our server to the food to the ambience, it could not have been better. Here is the link to their website.
Our flight home was picture perfect with the exception of a rather long layover in Atlanta with no vegan options to be found on Concourse A. Big Solid was waiting patiently in the 'waitin' place for us to arrive; complete with a toddy on hand for Your Elf. Thankfully, we had our favorite vegan Thai dishes waiting to be picked up on our way home, making the ending of the day and the trip just right.
Now, we are looking forward to ProgDay 2018 and another gathering of Brother Elf; Brother's Girlfriend, Suzanne; Your Elf; and Brother's BFF, Dave.
We ended our last blog (8.27.17) with thoughts for all of the folks impacted by Hurricane Harvey and we end this one with thoughts for the folks now in harm’s way from Hurricane Irma. It's time like these that even the smallest kindness can bring monumental meaning and joy to others. So, like we always say,  remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.
Your Elf

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Carolina Elf

Your Elf and Big Solid have been going to Asheville North Carolina in August for the past several years for primarily two reasons:  the surrounding mountains with cooler temps AND the food. For a town of about 80,000, there are more vegan options per restaurant than ALL of the restaurants in Mississippi combined. "Who'da thunk it?" Not only that, there is at least ONE restaurant that is ENTIRELY VEGAN. Opening in 2011, Plant (on Merrimon Avenue) is not only still going strong, it has now a reputation for one of the best Vegan restaurants in the country.
We will talk about Plant further with our dining experience later but we think you get the picture.
Laughing Seed
This has been and continues to be our ‘GO-TO’ place for consistently great vegan food. It is not totally vegan but it IS totally vegetarian with a TON of vegan (and raw) options. It has, until recently….like this trip, had one of the best Bloody Mary’s in town. We made a beeline to Laughing Seed Monday for our Asheville inaugural lunch and libation. Since it was already quite warm outside, we were seated inside and our server took our orders…Pinot Grigio for Big Solid and a Bloody Mary for Your Elf. In the meantime, we wanted to purchase a hoodie and a long-sleeved t-shirt but they were sold out of Elf sizes. It’s just as well since the quality of the merchandise was way less than the last time we were there. So, we saved a bit of money. Then our drinks were served and, Holy Downsizing! The Bloody Mary was about half the size it was in 2014. Here is a picture of the one we had then..complete with olive and spicy stuff.

And here is the one from this past olive or spicy stuff but a lot of vegetables.
We were quite disappointed but forged ahead. Big Solid got his usual Dragon Bowl
and since we had reservations for supper at Plant, Your Elf did not get her usual raw manicotti dish, pictured here from 2014.
It was just going to be too much food for one day. So, we opted for the ‘soup of the day’ after our server said how delicious it was and the Hummus Trio. Jason, our server, was such a delight…he was thoughtful, professional, knew the food/dishes, and just an all ‘round good server. We decided that every time we ate at Laughing Seed this trip, we’d sit wherever he was working. Anywho…the Hummus Trio was OK, not great. There was regular hummus, a Black Bean hummus, and a Baba Ganoush (not really hummus but a great dip made from eggplant) and was served with blue corn chips and pita bread.
Then there was the soup of the day…a Pineapple and Kimchi Gazpacho.
Oh.My.God! What a treat to the taste buds! Even Big Solid liked it and he does not like Gazpacho. So, now we are on the search for a recipe so we can try it at home. OH, and we had gone to The Spice and Tea Exchange to stock up on our supply of Ghost Pepper and Scorpion Pepper salts when we found two other cool things to get. Gochujang Salt and a Hot Sauce made locally from the hottest pepper of them all, the Carolina Reaper.
It would not do but for us to try a bit of the sauce in the Gazpacho. It was worth the try; very nice flavor initially with a definite slow burn. Big Solid decided on a Bloody Mary as well
so we had a leisurely and fun lunch. While we were eating, we overheard a fellow patron tell Jason that she was vegan. So, of course, we struck up a conversation. She comes to Asheville from KY every year to EAT..we think KY is about as vegan friendly as MS, so we understood completely. She recommended a breakfast place that serves vegan biscuits and gravy. We’ll get to that one in a bit! Next up…
Oddly enough, Your Elf’s first visit to Plant was the year it opened in 2011. We were working in Asheville and decided to give it a go. Shannon Hall, our partner for so many work experiences, agreed to try it since were both moving toward plant-based eating. It was fantastic! Since then, when we have gone to Asheville, we’ve included it on our food itinerary. This time was no exception. We even had a martini (vodka, bone dry) to celebrate
and ordered the Tofu Bibimbap, which is a Korean dish. Big Solid had a salad and Sriracha Broccoli…he said he was still full from lunch.
Our server got very busy with a large table and never got around to asking if we needed anything with our meals or how things were…even though I wanted a glass of wine. The Bibimbap was OK but we wished we’d gotten something else.
This trip to Plant did not rock our world as in the past.

Tuesday we could hardly wait to go to breakfast and have vegan biscuits BUT decided we had to justify a biscuit breakfast with a rather long walk around a local park at a beautiful lake. With bellies growling and feeling so splendidly exercised, we took off for…
Biscuit Head
Asheville is currently undergoing a growth explosion resulting in a plethora of construction projects downtown. Therefore, it’s damn near impossible to get through town without running into a wall of construction and/or machinery. We, of course, got lost trying to find Biscuit Head but we DID find it.

Unfortunately, so had a substantial component of the other folks in town. We ALMOST turned around since the line was out the door but we decided to hang in. And we are SO glad we did. That place is run so efficiently that the line never stopped moving and we were in, ordered and seated outside lickety-split.

We ordered their vegan biscuits and gravy. We initially had been told that the ‘chorizo’ gravy was vegan but it is not…it has a cream base, so we opted for the coconut milk and sweet potato gravy, which IS vegan. So, we’d hardly gotten seated when our plates were brought out! These guys rock at getting people served!! The vegan biscuits are drop biscuits and are quite good. The gravy was good but the 'chorizo' gravy sure would have been nice!
Your Elf wonders if they might veganize the vegetarian 'chorizo gravy' by using cashew cream in lieu of real cream. Nonetheless, here was what Your Elf's plate looked like when we finished.

We wonder if a Biscuit Head could be brought to our area…including the vegan options. Our full little (and expanding middles) led us to the decision NOT to eat again until supper!

Nine Mile
We discovered Nine Mile on our trip to Asheville in 2015. Located in the Montfort district (what a story that is), it was within walking distance of the little house we’d rented and LOVED (a link is posted later on in this bloggery). It’s a neighborhood restaurant serving Jamaican food with many vegan options. It’s extremely active and the food is outstanding. Your Elf had a dish called The Mesach
along with one of the few beers (brewed in Asheville) that we actually like, Hi-Wire Brown Ale.
Big Solid had the Nine Mile
and lapped it up quite nicely.
That being said, we both had enough left to take home and have as another meal. The one downer for us this time at Nine Mile was the noise level. With the pending eclipse and seemingly billions of people in town, the place was jammed with people all talking, apparently, at the top of their lungs. Nevertheless, the quality of the food helped assuage our poor eardrums.

Wednesday found us at Laughing Seed again for lunch and we were damn lucky to get a place in the big parking garage near the restaurant. When we arrived at the lot at 11, there were only 7 spaces left!! BUT our lunch mates were what made this day so special! It has been 43 YEARS since Jim Blalock and I were in graduate school together at Middle Tennessee State University. He was the band director at Manchester High School with a young and growing family. Your Elf had waited 5 years to enroll in graduate school to be a school counselor. We had such a great time with the same senses of humor and inquisitiveness about learning. And, he helped me survive a major Elf meltdown over a Statistics final. Long story short, we reconnected a few years back…Jim is now a Lutheran minister, newly retired, with a larger family. He and Ida have now been married 56 years!! So, finding out how close we were in NC, it would not do but to gather. And OH WE DID!! We had mimosas and great food, for sure (served again by Jason) but the memories, joy and nostalgia that flowed through that meal was incredible. It was like  43 years disappeared! What a time it was! Even Big Solid enjoyed hearing about all of the things Jim and Ida have been involved with as well as enduring some ‘remember whens?” No food pictures but we gotta show this one. L to R Big Solid, Your Elf, Jim, and Ida.
Our supper Wednesday night was left-overs from Nine Mile with some of our own plant-based chicken we cooked up.

Thursday found us at 
Spring Creek Tavern and Inn
We like Hot Springs so much!! It’s right on the Appalachian Trail and is frequented by through hikers who may need a rest or a job or maybe just a beer. And we ALWAYS go the the Spring Creek Tavern for a lunch or a libation or both. This trip, we went TWICE! Big Solid and Your Elf drove over on Thursday and swore all we were going to have was a Bloody Mary/Beer. Of course, we wound up having some fries with that. And the perfunctory picture.
They have a vegan friendly menu (in a town population 560) which Betty Matens and Your Elf took advantage on Friday, splitting their Vegan Wrap (see below).
Their selection of craft beers is outstanding as is their Sake Bloody Mary (seen in our picture).
Chupacabra Café
We ate closer to out little ‘home’ on Thursday night at the Chupacabra Café. Big Solid had a salad
and Your Elf had the Vegan Tacos (made with tofu). Very very nice.
The server was excellent and very attentive and their Tamarind Margarita went down nicely.

With the approaching eclipse, we decided that it would be smart to leave a day early, take a blue highway route home to see some potential sites for future vacations. So, that left Friday. Big Solid and his friend Paul Matens had a golf game planned for the course at Black Mountain, so Betty and Your Elf drove to Hot Springs as she’d never been. And of course, we had to say we'd walked on the Appalachian Trail.
We had a ball and ate lunch at the aforementioned Spring Creek Tavern where we split a Veggie Wrap.
As many times as we have been to Asheville, we had never eaten at this Italian restaurant even thought it is VERY easy to get to and is in one of our favorite Asheville neighborhoods, Montfort.
Chiesa's menu is one of the most interesting and well-conceived we’d seen in a long time. So, we opted to have our remaining meal with them. And thanks to Open Table reservations, we were able to secure a reservation with only two openings left!! When we first looked at the menu, we THOUGHT we noted at least three vegan options on the menu (all pasta related), so we were doubly excited at being able to order different entrées and taste. What I SHOULD have done, when the reservations were confirmed, was contact them to make sure that the pasta was egg-free but NOOO…we assumed that with such a large vegan population, at least one would be egg-free. We were wrong…the only vegan entrée was house-made zucchini noodles with a sauce. However, the server brought this to the attention of the Chef who came to our table to tell us what he could do on the spur of the moment (one more thing that could have been prevented had we THOUGHT AHEAD!). His ideas were terrific and we settled in with a terrific pour of a nice Proseco (Elf’s fave) and Pinot Grigio for Big Solid.

The meal was delicious and our zucchini noodles were covered with a nicely flavored Tempeh, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, red pepper, tomatoes, and capers in a vegan Beurre Blanc sauce.
It was incredibly good so we will most definitely come to this place again when we are in the Asheville area. Your Elf's plate was pretty empty!
In fact, our friends Paul and Betty Matens had supper there on Saturday night and RAVED about it!! This is a restaurant where the quality of the food is paramount and so is customer service. AND, you know what, it’s very very reasonably priced in an age where a lot of restaurants feel that the higher the price, the better the turnout.
So, there you have our gustatorial commentary on our Asheville trip. We missed many restaurants that have vegan options but, gosh darn it, we don’t eat three meals a day and if we do we are miserable. Just gives us something to look forward to next go around, adding Chiesa to our MUST list.
As we publish this little bloggery, please remember the folks in Texas who are dealing with unbelievably horrific conditions. We never know when we will face a catastrophe such as Harvey; Hearts Up for Texas!

So, until next week y’all, remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.
Your Elf