Monday, October 27, 2014

The Outbreak Cook: Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Friends




CAUTION! WALKING DEAD SPOILERS AHEAD!

Tonight, on The Walking Dead, our buddies from Terminus met their bloody end. And as I suspected last week, Bob was, indeed, bitten during the mission to the food bank. Bob revealed the bite when he was laugh-crying hysterically as the Termites were munching down on his leg, "Tainted meat!" he shouted.

I can't get into the science of the zombie virus and food contamination but we can talk about the very real biological danger cannibalism presents. Aside from being mortifying and heavy on the "ick" factor, our good friend, Science has proven cannibalism leads to degenerative neurological diseases and ultimately, death. In the 1950's and 60's, a Kuru epidemic swept through a tribe of 8,000 people in Papua New Guinea. 1,000 people died. Scientists attributed the disease to the tribe's regular practice of "ritualistic mortuary cannibalism."

What is Kuru disease? Here's a nice, science-y explanation from scienceblogs.com: "The word kuru means “shaking death” in the Fore language, and describes the characteristic symptoms of the disease. Because it affects mainly the cerebellum, a part of the brain involved in the co-ordination of movement, the first symptoms to manifest themselves in those infected with the disease would typically be an unsteady gait and tremors. As the disease progresses, victims become unable to stand or eat, and eventually die between 6-12 months after the symptoms first appear."

So, why would eating human flesh cause such devastating physiological problems? According to Andy Ellington at the University of Texas at Austin, part of it has to do with these little guys called prions. "Prions are interesting because they’re sort of the exception that proves the rule of DNA. That is, while DNA replicates sequence, prions replicate conformation. Prions are peptides or proteins that assume a particular conformation. When a prion comes in contact with a similar protein that is not shaped the same the prion forces the protein to assume its conformation, and they aggregate together in a tight knit architecture known as an amyloid. This is the same sort of amyloid that occurs in the very similar prion disease Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD) and in Alzheimer’s. So, you can sort of think of prions as the first domino that initiates a cascade of conformational events that leads to a big, tangled mess in your brain. Not good."

Below is a picture of brain tissue on a microscopic scale. The damage is obvious.



Remember several years ago in the UK there was an outbreak of something called "Mad Cow Disease?" Yeah...same thing. In that case, the cows became ill because they were fed OTHER COWS in their feed. And then people became ill and died because those cows were slaughtered and turned into burgers. The cows suffered from the exact same symptoms as the human members of the tribe in Papua New Guinea half-way around the world. 

It would seem nature is sending us a very, very clear message: Cannibalism = bad. So, although Gareth and his crew met a brutal death at the hands of Rick and his group, the Terminus people had already doomed themselves to a much slower, debilitating end. In a way, what Rick did was a mercy. 

So, remember, kids... no matter how bad things get in the zombie apocalypse... just eat a squirrel.


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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Outbreak Cook: Open A Can Without a Can Opener

I have zero survival skills so I'm fairly certain I wouldn't live through the zombie apocalypse on my own. The one thing I can do is cook and in the event of a zombie outbreak, I'm hoping that skill would be enough to make me valuable to a group. Until that nightmarish day when the dead rise and survivors are on the brink of losing their humanity, I will prepare by honing my skills in the kitchen and doing as much research as possible into survivalist cooking so that I might save the world with campfire cupcakes. I'll be doing a new regular feature on this blog as I do us both a favor (effectively saving your life...you're welcome) by combing the internet and posting a new tip every week for cooking in an apocalypse.

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CAUTION: WALKING DEAD SPOILERS

This week, on "The Walking Dead," we saw our group go to a food bank in search of supplies. Naturally, the building was full of walkers and the basement (where the much needed food happened to be) was waist deep in some really nasty water and who-knows-what else. They scuffled, they killed, they got their canned food. But Bob was pulled underwater and emerged in kind of a funny state.  I thought he was bitten. Did anyone else get that impression? Let's discuss in the comments below. Well...now that the Terminus crazies have him, he was DEFINITELY bitten. Oh, well...that's what you get for leaving the group to go have a cry in the woods. Poor Bob.

END SPOILERY TALK

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This week's tip: how to open a can without a can opener! Let's face it, you're going to be busy grabbing up provisions, weapons, ammunition and the occasional bottle of booze for a Molotov cocktail (or to simply chug to try to escape from your new, terrifying reality). You might forget to snag a can opener from that previously looted house or department store before running for your life. I found this nifty video on YouTube from Mission Survivor. Check out their website and YouTube channel for more helpful tips and tricks.





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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Video Game Pick of the Week: Contrast



The official description from the game's website: "CONTRAST is a charming 2D/3D puzzle platformer where you can shift from a fantastic 3D world to a mysterious shadowy universe in 2D in the blink of an eye. Initially scheduled to release on PC, Contrast will also be available on the PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE® Arcade in late 2013.In CONTRAST, you will explore a dreamlike, vaudevillian world of the 1920s. In this universe, where the boundaries between showmanship, magic, intrigue and deception are blurred, you play as Dawn, the imaginary friend of a young girl named Didi."


A friend first turned me on to this game on the Xbox 360. The second it loaded, I was completely blown away by everything about it. "Contrast" is a stunning visual treat with a completely immersive environment. The world is rich with some of the most beautiful artwork I have ever seen in a video game and the score is hauntingly beautiful, adding to the environment without being intrusive. The game is challenging and fun as you're forced to come up with new and different ways to traverse the city and complete Didi's tasks.

My only complaint is that "Contrast" is only single-player. Should Compulsion Games decide to put out a sequel, I would love to see it be single-player or co-op. A game this beautiful deserves to be shared with friends!

Check it out on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One!



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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Verse: A Firefly Fan Film Q&A With Director Julian Higgins





I am a Browncoat, through and through. If you need to ask "What's a Browncoat?" then stop reading. Stop reading IMMEDIATELY and go binge-watch the Joss Whedon masterpiece "Firefly" and the movie "Serenity" (available on Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime). You will thank me for it later...trust me. The only disappointment you might experience is that it ends; it ends way too soon and that might break your heart a little (or a lot, depending on your level of obsession). "Firefly" was a genius mix of sci-fi and western following the rag-tag crew of the firefly class cargo ship, Serenity. Led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), we explored the outer reaches of space, smuggled cargo, robbed a train, outran Reavers and the Alliance alike...we laughed, we cried, we misbehaved. The show originally aired on FOX and never really had a fighting chance. The episodes were aired out of order and the show was shuffled from night-to-night with no hope of ever finding a foothold. And then it was gone. But the deed was done and a fandom was born. Here we are, 12 years later, still talking about it.

Recently, a friend sent me the link to a "Firefly" fan film called "The Verse." I clicked the link, not really sure what to expect. I wasn't actually prepared to be blown away by the quality, story and effects. Produced by Loot Crate, "The Verse" follows the crew of the Overland, a Serenity-style transport ship. The characters are fun and interesting and the dialogue perfectly captures the vibe of the original universe, complete with plenty of Chinese swearing and my personal favorite, "gorram." But where this fan film sets itself apart is in the detail. From the original music to the set design, this little film is the perfect tribute to the world we love so much. The film stars Ryan Caldwell (Bret Hunter), Jennifer Wenger (Caroline Stack), Zack Finfrock (Rusty Duvall), Peter Weidman (Travis Sandspur), Tybee Diskin (Maribelle Crawford), Alex Marshall-Brown (Annie Whitehall), Ewan Chung (Jon Zhou), and Vic Mignogna (Commodore Woodruff).



Director and producer Julian Higgins took the time to answer 8 questions about the making of "The Verse" to give us a little more insight into the making of this labor of love. Find Julian on Twitter @JulianHiggins!

Q) First, let me congratulate you on a fantastic short film! You’ve done the Browncoats proud! Loot Crate is an amazing company but seems an unusual choice for a producer. How did the film evolve with Loot Crate as your production partner? 

A) Thank you for the kind words! We've been overwhelmed by the amazing response from the Browncoat community. Loot Crate is an incredibly awesome company that are just huge fans of all things geek and gamer culture. I personally started working with Loot Crate in November of 2013 after my long time collaborator Zack Finfrock, Loot Crate's inhouse artist, invited me to join him and writer/actor Peter Weidman as the main director/editor/co-writer for their monthly web shorts. Monthly, we'll do some fun web short for the community that ties into the theme of Loot Crate that month. I've been doing them since then.

When it became clear that there would be a GALACTIC themed crate that included some amazing Firefly items from Quantum Mechanix, we both immediately had the same thought: We HAVE to make a Firefly short film. Luckily, the owners of Loot Crate, Chris Davis and Matthew Arevalo, were 100% on board. So, the weekend after Comic Con I sat down and came up with the characters, the story and the title. I took those over and pitched them to Peter and Zack, who loved it and we fined tuned the basics. Peter went off and wrote our first draft, and then we all three polished it into the final script. After that, Loot Crate approved it and gave us the creative freedom to go off and create something that would make everyone proud.

One month time in total. August 10th the script was finished, September 10th "The Verse" went live! It really wouldn't have been possible to do without Loot Crate.



Q) One of the many things about the film that was a huge stand-out was the ship, the Overland. The design (inside and out) was the perfect homage to the Serenity without being a carbon copy and the effects were extremely impressive! Can you tell me a little about the design process and how your crew pulled off such shiny boat?

A) Living in Los Angeles, we're incredibly lucky to be in close proximity to a lot of great movie studios and sound stages. One of those is the famous Laurel Canyon Stages, who's Stage B houses a beautiful space ship set. This includes a couple great ship hall ways, two different cockpits and a medical bay. Amazingly enough, this is the exact same space ship set that they filmed as the derelict transport for the Firefly episode "Bushwhacked". Talk about a geek out moment.

Once we secured Laurel Canyon Stages for filming, designing the Overland became a lot clearer. Zack and I worked together using screen captures of that episode and, since we'd be filming on the same sets, decided to use that ship's exterior design as a starting point and inspiration for the Overland. Zack drew up some great concept art sketches of the ships exterior and also an interior layout that would correspond with the sets in a way that makes sense for our film. The 3D model was expertly built by some of the fantastic artists on the "Firefly Online" video game team, and was brought to life by Dastoli Digitial -- our visual effects team. Once we were on set, we added our own Firefly-inspired interior set decoration and detailing created by our production designer Paul Bianchi. He even built our ships engine from scratch, and hand cranked it himself during the scene! All of those pieces come together beautifully and voila: Welcome aboard the Overland!


Q) The music gave me chills. As a massive Firefly fan, I was taken back to the series with that wonderful twangy steel guitar and fiddle. If I’m being honest, I actually got a little misty with nostalgia. So much detail obviously went into the making of The Verse and the score was a subtle, yet vitally important co-star. Was it difficult to capture the feel of the original music?

A) I'm a huge fan of movie and television music. I think Greg Edmonson's Firefly's score is one of those things that elevates the show to another level. It's a beautiful sort of nostalgic, fly-with-the-wind sound that makes the ship feel like a home. Full credit goes to our talented composer Dan Martinez (www.danmartinezmusic.com), who absolutely understood and brought that emotion and sound from the Firefly series to life for our film. Together, we played with the choices about the familiar themes and instruments that inspired thousands of fans to fall in love with the original series. Once we established the sounds needed, Dan did a wonderful job composing the music and adding his own personal artistry to that existing pallet. I especially loved his use of the beautiful live violin, mandolin and guitar. Furthermore, all of that beautiful music was done in less than two weeks! The man is ridiculously good at his craft and was a huge part of what made "The Verse" work.

Q) The original characters of Firefly were so memorable. It’s difficult to watch The Verse without making comparisons to Captain Reynolds, Wash, Jayne, Zoe and Kaylee but you still managed to create a unique crew with their own unique personalities and relationships. During the writing process, what aspects of the story and character development proved most challenging?

A) When you're making a short film, you have an incredibly small amount of time to introduce your characters to the audience in a meaningful way that gives them a chance to know them and fall in love with them. Peter Weidman, one of our co-writers and the actor who played "Yoke" in the film, said it really well: "It's like writing Firefly on fast forward". Introducing and establishing 6 new characters in 15 minutes was by far the biggest challenge. Joss Whedon created a brilliant dynamic between the characters on Firefly. For us, there was definitely inspiration taken from the original series in our writing. The Serenity crew was a family. The Overland crew is a dysfunctional bunch. We wanted fans to quickly recognize the world, and feel like they were back with a new, yet familiar, crew of misfits.


Q) The cast is fantastic. I can honestly say I enjoyed every performance. Was the casting process difficult or were they all as passionate about Firefly as you seem to be?

A) The entire cast and crew were full of Browncoats! That's what made the project so fun: Everyone was a fan of Firefly and couldn't wait to get to work on our own little slice of Joss' world. Zack, Peter and I discussed the characters dynamics and who would work best for what character. Some characters changed from male to female early on. Some roles adjusted for the actors and as the story developed. Ultimately, the final cast was made up mostly of actors and people that I've directed in previous projects of mine. There were also some great actors that I had wanted to chance to work on something with, and who happened to be right for the roles. It all worked out beautifully. By the end of the whole thing, it was great to get to play around with a gang of old friends and make some new ones as well.



Q) Quantum Mechanix, the creators of Firefly Online, are credited as creating some of the original models and props for The Verse. How did they come to be involved?

A) Quantum Mechanix was a humongous help in making "The Verse" a reality. They were an early collaborator, as they were providing some amazing exclusive items in the GALACTIC crate that month. We met Andy Gore, CEO of QMx and executive producer of the "Firefly Online" game, and he was thrilled with our idea and wanted to know how he could help. From there, Andy introduced us to Sean Kennedy, one of his very talented 3D artists from "Firefly Online". We worked together on creating the final design for the Overland using Zack's concept art and designs. Over the following weeks, Sean took the time to build our 3D ship model from scratch and we passed it along to our visual effects team at Dastoli Digital to bring it to life..

Likewise, Andy offered us access to the fantastic "Firefly" props and replicas that QMx creates for use in our film, which helped add an extra layer of authenticity. We are very thankful to have had their help and support, and we're all super excited for the reveal that you will have the opportunity to fly the Overland in "Firefly Online", as well as play an exclusive game mission based on our film's story!



Q) Fandom can be daunting. Every fan has an opinion (usually quite a strong one) and sometimes, it’s not a good one. Was it at all intimidating to create something in a universe so passionately loved?

A) Absolutely! I think if you're making a film based on something that is known and loved, there should be a lot of pressure, in a good way, to make sure you're doing a good job for your fellow fans. You want to make sure that what you're making is connecting to the original material, and that you're working hard to bring that spirit back to life. The overwhelmingly positive response from the fans for this project has been incredibly exciting and humbling. And when you're even getting a loving shout out from Nathan Fillion on Twitter, and executive producer/director Tim Minear on Facebook... What more could you ask for as a cast and crew?

We're just incredibly happy everyone is just as excited as were to bring out something we love as fans, for fellow fans. As the director, I feel lucky to be part of an amazing team of fellow producers, writers, actors and crew that ultimately were what really made this project shine. We all had a lot of fun playing in Joss Whedon's amazing sandbox with "The Verse", and we hope that we get to come back and play again!



Q) What are your current obsessions (ie. Video games, television shows, websites, music, comics….FOOD)?

A) Man, that's a big question! I'll keep it short and give one of each.

Video games: DayZ on PC. Love me some zombie games.
Television Shows: "Comedy Bang Bang" on IFC, my brother Aaron has been working on the show! Ridiculously funny.

Websites: www.seehearparty.com -- Pick some categories for GIFs. Pick music. Instant music video! You will lose a lot of time on this site.
Music: "Guardian's of the Galaxy" soundtrack. All amazing tracks.

Comics: Re-reading the "Serenity" comics.
Food: Trader Joe's Cookie Butter. Seriously, get it.

Thank you, Julian, for taking the time to answer these questions! 

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"The Verse" gives us a little taste of what it could be like to bring back "Firefly." Joss Whedon created such a rich and interesting universe that is so full of potential for more characters, more stories and a lot more adventure! Even if the crew of Serenity never graces the screen again, "Firefly" has inspired a generation of filmmakers and provided endless joy to millions of people around the world. So, as long as there are Browncoats, she'll keep flying.


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Friday, October 17, 2014

Video Game Pick of the Week: Chariot!

Welcome Back!

Today, I thought I would share with you a fantastic video game that I just discovered on my Xbox One called Chariot. The best part is that Chariot is FREE this month for Xbox Live Gold members! And who doesn't like free?


Chariot is a co-op platformer/puzzle game where you play a blue-haired princess on a quest to deliver your dead king's funeral chariot to his final resting place. Naturally, the ghost of the king accompanies you the entire way providing you with snarky comments and a boatload of criticism. You can play by yourself or with a friend as your faithful fiancé.

The goal of the game is to push, pull, shove, tug and fling the chariot through 25 levels of underground, maze-like catacombs. The environments are gorgeous and magical, fun to traverse and even more fun to conquer! I could probably sit here and talk about the environments all day long. The design is unique but the colors are what pulled me in. The levels are vibrant and bright with just the right mix of fantasy and realistic landscaping. The physics are realistic and provide a genuine challenge. Personally, I love platformers. These games remind me of simpler days when all I had was my trusty Nintendo NES and Super Mario Brothers.

I had a blast playing this game with my friend but it was just as fun playing it alone! So, give it a shot. I dare you not to become immediately addicted!

Chariot is available for Xbox One, PS4, Wii U and Steam.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

EASY Flour Tortillas

Welcome Back!

Most people, when they want a burrito and are out of tortillas, will go to the grocery store and buy them...or simply run out to Taco Bell or Del Taco and order a burrito the quick and easy way. I decided to try to make tortillas from scratch. I had never done it before. Tortillas were just something I always bought in the package or were already handily wrapping my delicious fajitas for me. But I was feeling adventurous!

Flour tortillas are shockingly easy to make. Most recipes call for lard or shortening but I used butter instead and the results were delicious! These tortillas contain ingredients you may already have in your pantry so you won't find yourself going out of your way to find what you need. They were slightly thicker and more filling than store-bought (as is usually the case with homemade bread) and they actually kept my burrito hotter longer than store-bought as well! Who woulda thunk? So, take a step outside your comfort zone and and whip up a quick batch of tortillas! You won't be sorry!



Ingredients

1 3/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
4 Tablespoons Chilled Butter
2/3 Cup Warm Water
Oil for greasing

Step One: Combine Flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix well.



Step Two: Add the butter and combine until you have a mealy, crumbly, dusty consistency. It's easiest to use a pastry cutter. You'll get a nice, even texture. These are great to have around, especially when making biscuits or scones when cold butter is essential.



Step Three: Add the warm water and mix together to form a rough, soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and work it into a smooth dough. Knead for about 5-6 minutes....



...until it looks like this!



Step Four: Lightly oil a bowl (vegetable or olive oil works perfectly) and coat the dough. Cover tightly and set aside. Let the dough rest for about 1 hour.


Step Five: Flatten the dough into a disk and cut into 8 even wedges.



Step Six: Roll each wedge into a ball and using a rolling pin, roll the ball into a thin, flat circle on a floured surface. To make rolling easier, lightly dust the rolling pin in flour and roll from the center of the ball out.



Step Seven: Stack rolled dough on a plate with wax paper between each tortilla. This serves three purposes. 1) It keeps the dough from sticking together. 2) It prevents the dough from drying out. 3) It makes transferring the dough to the pan WAY easier!



Step Eight: Pre-heat a dry pan on medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, pick up a tortilla with the wax paper and plop it in the pan, dough-side DOWN. Don't cook the wax paper. That will not work out well. Cook on each side for one minute or until the tortilla is cooked and browned in spots. Don't be startled when air pockets begin to form. You can mash them down with a spatula or just let them deflate on their own.




And that's it! Flour tortillas! So easy! I hope you enjoy this recipe. Please comment below. I would love to hear from you! Join me next time when we'll be making...something tasty...I'll figure it out. Now, go forth and COOK!


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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Toasted Walnut Honey Cake

Welcome Back!!

It's Fall! And Fall means it's time to bake delicious treats. I love, love, love baking in the cooler months. Everything tastes a little better and...well...I'm not sweating my a$$ off in my tiny little kitchen with poor ventilation. 

My first Fall recipe is this delicious, dense cake. It's spicy, nutty and perfect with a cup of coffee for breakfast or dessert. I used brown sugar so the cake isn't overly sweet but I went all out with the cream cheese frosting for a bit of sweet satisfaction. Best of all...it's actually pretty easy. Because, let's get real, we have stuff to do....there are movies to watch, video games to play, children to warp....it's a lot. So, get your whisk ready and ratchet up that self-control because you will want to shove all of this in your face when it comes out of the oven!



Ingredients:

For the Cake:

1 Cup Butter (softened)
2/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Honey (warmed)
4 Large Eggs (beaten)
3 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Toasted Crushed Walnuts

For the Icing:

8 oz. Cream Cheese (softened)
3 Cups Confectioners Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
4-5 Tbs Milk

Pre-Heat Oven to 350º and butter (or spray with cooking spray) a 9x5 loaf pan and line the bottom with wax paper.

Step One: TOAST YOUR NUTS! Using medium-sized skillet, heat your crushed nuts over medium heat until they become fragrant, (about 10-15 minutes) and set aside. DO NOT wait for them to change color, you just want to bring out the oils and flavor of the nuts, not burn them. Burned nuts are funky, so be careful.



Step Two: Sift together flour, baking powder, ground nutmeg and ground cinnamon and set aside.


Step Three: With an electric mixer (or a whole lotta arm-power) mix together the brown sugar and butter until it forms a creamy, fluffy concoction that makes you want to eat it with a spoon. But don't. Trust me.



Step Four: Warm your honey! I don't have a picture, so just imagine what 1/3 cup of honey looks like in the microwave for about 20 seconds. You just want the honey to warm to the point where it's liquid, less thick, easier to work with. Don't COOK it; WARM it.

Step Five: Mix the honey in with your butter/brown sugar until nice and smooth. It should actually be kind of runny.



Step Six: Beat in your eggs! And beat them WELL! Gradually add your eggs to the mixture and beat thoroughly. Eggs want to separate and glob together, especially the whites. Be prepared to spend a good amount of time on this step. 

*TIP It helps to beat the eggs separately before adding them to the mix. 



Step Seven: Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, gradually add the flour mixture and toasted nuts to the egg/butter mixture and stir until a sticky dough forms.


Step Eight: Scoop the dough into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.


Step Nine: Bake for 50-60 minutes. Cover with foil for the first 20 minutes (this will prevent the top from getting too brown). The cake is done when you can test it with a toothpick and it comes out clean.


Set the cake (in the pan) on a wire rack and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Use a knife and run it along the sides of the cake to ensure it is not stuck to the pan and then turn the cake out on the wire rack. Peel the wax paper from the bottom and let the cake cool completely.

Cream together all the ingredients for the frosting until smooth and slather your cake with it! Slice and serve!



When you store this cake, let the frosting set up and wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate to keep it from drying out.  Chances are good it will only last a couple of days anyway. Enjoy!


I hope you enjoy this recipe. Please follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for all the latest 8-Bit Cook news!

Check in next time for easy home-made flour tortillas!