Chicken Piccata, Frankie's Restaurante, Lenox.

Kitchen Love: Berkshire chefs want to comfort you

How long must we wait to get back into these Berkshire restaurants ? To be nourished and loved?

Publisher’s note: At this publication, some restaurants are beginning to open for outdoor dining. Check ahead before going.

Few businesses are as complicated, headache filled, and crazy making as restaurants. And few folks go into hospitality for money or an easy lifestyle ⎯ although they may dream about it as celebrity chefs and restauranteurs yuck it up on the Food Channel and the pages of food magazines. There are definitely easier and more dependable ways to make a buck. Like being a plumber, a mechanic, or an accountant.

No, they tend to go into the biz because they enjoy being where the action is, around people, helping us laugh, love, and live. Feeding us with nourishment that’s creative, tasty, and continually refined and perfected.

It all begins with the entrance foyer ⎯ a transitional hearth that transforms the ups and downs of everyday life into a touch of magic, where a patron is cared for, treated with kid gloves, put at ease with a wink and a smile, comforted with food that just feels so darn good in a belly.

Bad day at work? Boss being a jerk? Feeling old and irrelevant, or just down for no discernable reason? They’ve got you covered. It’s what they do. Or at least try their darnedest to do for everyone who walks in their front door sighing with relief as they survey their cozy surroundings. A drinkie, maybe a Kier, to start? Check. Or how about a smartly mixed Manhattan after a rough week or long drive up from the City? Sure!

Remember what it was like? Seems like eons ago already. Taking off your love’s coat and pulling a chair for her. The smile of anticipation you share when seated, a candle between you. And heck, why not some sourdough buns that steam when you pinch them open? We’re not counting carbs tonight. It’s Friday. Finally.

A smiling server who maybe knows you by name, or soon will. A recital of today’s specials put together by a chef who is passionate about her craft. How about a starter? The mussels in white wine, shallots and chervil are delightful this evening. The oysters? Just in from Casco Bay this morning and as sweet as gumdrops. But maybe you’ll want to opt for the wild mushroom risotto. The chef just foraged for fresh morels. OMG, they’re delish, lightly sautéed with fresh ramp butter ⎯ also foraged! Oh, and she found some fiddleheads, too. So tender. But first ⎯ you look thirsty. How about a crisp dry Riesling for a palate opener. You may not ordinarily drink Riesling or think it’s for dessert. But this one ⎯ you’ve got to try. How about a taste?

Yes, this summer the cultural offerings will be limited, the socializing dampened, and yes, there’s a sadness in the air you can also taste, like bitter herbs. But these moments of delightful pampering will all happen again.

Our favorite restaurants, while challenged, will rise to the occasion, because, well, that’s what they do. They welcome us, cheer us, nourish us, and leave us with equivalent of a warm, enveloping embrace. Things will be okay. Tomorrow will be even better. And how bad can life be with a full belly, at least until the morrow? We can do this. Together.

Yes, together. The Berkshire chefs and restauranteurs you’ve come to love, and maybe even admire, miss you, too. A lot. And they’ve got your back. And we’ve got theirs. They’re adapting. It’s different, but the motion is forward. Curbside takeout is going reasonably well. But let’s be honest. That isn’t why these restauranteurs got into this crazy business in the first place. That crazy crew of servers, bartenders, and the sibling-close kitchen crew bonded by a baptism of heat, chaos, and the impossible? They’re here to serve you, nourish you, witness your experience, and fine-tune it for the next time. It’s their profession. And they’re professionals. With plenty of heart, and often a whole belly of laughter.

“We’re making it work,” says Bettina Schwartz, who owns the Prairie Whale in Great Barrington with her husband Mark Firth. “Takeout isn’t why we got into this business. We love the vibe, the scene, the people coming together, the community, the joy of it all. But we’re making it work.”

It’s a common refrain. Everyone’s missing the proximity and human happenstance minus the viral fear and isolating precautions. Restauranteurs are as stir crazy as the rest of us. And chefs? They just want to do what they do: cook in the controlled bedlam of a professional kitchen, food emanating from the hellishly sweaty flames for an audience they hope savors their efforts and creations. The crunch, the tender, the mix of acid salt and fat (yes fat, shush now), the color, the mix, the presentation, the everything, the bits, the pieces, the all that goes into a thoughtful meal, made with true heart.

We’ll soon be with them again, somehow, in some new way that we’ll adjust to. We hope. In the meantime, our restaurant pals have limited menus with absolutely awesome … curbside service. Frankie’s Ristorante, a Lenox favorite, one might say a local haunt, has even pioneered a “care package” service where they supply the ingredients and a recipe card. Sort of like Hello Fresh, but actually fresh local, with a whole lot more love. Love of the sort that emanates from your favorite place down the block.

In that spirit, we’ve asked some of our favorite restaurants and chefs to offer some of their favorite recipes. Ones you can make at home, that bear their signature vibe, but without too much fuss, and which bring comfort, nourishment, and a necessarily air-blown kiss of love from these establishments. A community cookbook, of sorts. We’ve left the very personal missives from these chefs as they are ⎯ grammar and whatever else one might be judged be darned. They’re real, honest, heartfelt. They’re food. They’re love. Lots of love.

And lots of hope. Hope we need. Hope we feel. Hope that is the seed of a future that will one day be here and shine. Because we will endure. And we will eat together again ⎯ joyfully. Because that’s what good food is. Nourishment for our bodies. And our souls.

The Red Lion Inn & Main Street Hospitality
Brian Alberg, head chef and then some

Kale, Sausage and White Bean Soup
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
1 lb. dried cannellini beans*
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced
6 cups chicken broth
3 stalks of celery, diced
4 carrots, diced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 lb. Italian sausage**
1 lb. kale Lacinato, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped¬

Preparation:
1. Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 45 minutes, then drain into colander and reserve beans.
2. Heat olive oil and cook onions, garlic and sausage over medium to high heat stirring occasionally as not to burn. Once the sausage is cooked, drain excess fat and add in the celery, carrots, rosemary and kale. Return to a simmer and cook 45 minutes. Or until beans are entirely soft. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and more rosemary if necessary. Serve with grated parmesan and crusty bread.
3. Any kale could be used but I prefer the texture and look of the Lacinato, also known as Tuscan kale. And if sweet corn is in season it makes a great addition in flavor, texture and appearance so feel free to play around with what’s in season.

* Bean notes: Many people soak beans overnight. This was done years ago as the refining of bean and length of time in storage gave the bean a thicker harder skin. Today, the beans are not what they used to be, so soaking isn’t as necessary. Also, to make this recipe quicker, you can use 3 small cans of beans, drained and rinsed, and added in after the sausage is cooked.

Photo by Clay Williams. Excerpted from The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook. Copyright 2020 by Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press. All rights reserved.

**Have a problem with meat or sausage? No problem. Substitute 1 lb. of diced cremini mushrooms instead of the meat.

This recipe brings me back to the comfort of my mom’s kitchen, where she would fill the air with smells of the garden and cooking meats, usually from something my dad or I caught or harvested during hunting season. This recipe is warming and comforting as well as easy to make and it can be adapted to anything in season. During these times of uncertainty, there is something calming about going back to our memories of food. And it’s also invigorating to think about how we can re-invent ourselves to stay relevant in the culinary-restaurant world. For the past months, I have been focusing on family dinners that can bring guests back to their food memories while exciting others with new ethnic family meals. The community has been incredibly supportive as have my staff. We will get through this and come out the other side more intelligent in business and more agile in adaptability.

Currently we are offering takeout and parking lot delivery at the Tap House at Shaker Mill as well as at The Red Lion Inn. Hours at The Tap House are Thursday through Saturday 5-8;
Sunday donut pick up 9-12; Dinner 3-7.

We also feature pop-up dinners on occasional Mondays and do a community lunch program on Mondays from 11-1 free to anyone in need, pick up for elderly neighbors is encouraged.

RLI hours for takeout and curbside delivery are Noon-7 Monday through Sunday.

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Swiss Hutte
Chef Gert Alper (and front-of-house Cindy Alper)

Swiss Hutte chef Gert Alper

Crisp Rösti Potatoes
Serves: 4

In these challenging times, this is something inexpensive, easy to find and prepare, and very comforting. Rösti potatoes are the Swiss version of a classic potato pancake. Topped with braised vegetables or smoked salmon, sour cream, and chives, or a slice of your favorite cheese or maybe cheese and ham ⎯ whatever your heart desires. Or serve as a side.

Ingredients:
1 lb. Idaho Russets Potatoes
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Olive oil, clarified butter or vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced Spanish onion
2 strips of bacon diced

Preparation:
1. Cook bacon in a Teflon pan till nice and crisp, drain fat, add onion and cook for 3 min over low heat. Set aside
2. Cook washed and unpeeled potatoes at 375° for 30 min a day before ⎯ this is optional. Peel and grate the potatoes using the large holes of a hand grater or food processor. Add salt and pepper and mix well, add bacon and onions and worked it in.
3. Take an 8-inch Teflon frying pan and place over medium heat, add your oil (1/8 of an inch), test by dropping a potato shred, the oil should sizzle enthusiastically. Let the potato mixture fall loosely from your fingers into the pan, spread evenly and shape it with a heatproof rubber spatula into an even pancake. Pay attention to the sides so they are the same height as the middle, so not to burn. Cook till the bottom is a deep golden brown, 8-10 min. If you see smoke, you may have to drizzle some more oil around the edges.
4. If you are confident, flip the Rösti in the pan, go for it ⎯ its quick, easy and fun.
5. If not, put another plate on top, hold tightly, and flip. Slide the Rösti back into the pan and cook for another 5-8 min. Slide onto a platter, plate or wooden board.
6. Enjoy!

Too much of a hassle? Don’t worry, Swiss Hutte is OPEN FOR TAKEOUT!
Let us do the work as you support the Swiss Hutte Inn and Restaurant and Staff. Hours of Operation as of now: Thursday-Sunday with pick-up times 5pm-7pm

Please share this message with all:

The Swiss Hutte started takeout service April 10th after our scheduled spring break. We find ourselves in a battle we did not seek ⎯ but hope to win. The outpouring of support has been humbling and heartwarming! Spring flowers are out, the sun is trying its best to warm our hearts, and soon holding hands will be encouraged. Keep your smiles on your face, love in your heart, and support on your mind. THANK YOU ⎯ Gert, Cindy and Crew

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The Old Inn on the Green
Chef-Owner Peter Platt

The Old Inn on the Green Chef-Owner Peter Platt

Whole Roast Chicken, Smashed Fingerling Potatoes and Asparagus
Serves: 2-3

1. Rub the chicken with a little butter (or a lot). Put it in any kind of pan that will hold the chicken and fit in your oven. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, scatter some fresh herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme) and garlic around the bird and put it in a preheated oven anywhere between 325° and 450°. Cook until done.
2. While the chicken is cooking, boil the fingerlings until cooked through, drain, allow to cool slightly and gently press with the side of a knife to smash them slightly. Finish by browning them in a pan on top of the stove or in the oven with not a small amount of butter and a piece of rosemary, salt and pepper.
3. The asparagus you just drop into boiling salted water and cook for a few minutes, drain and add a little butter, salt and pepper.

Chef Peter Platt’s Whole roast chicken

When my wife Meredith and I are cooking for ourselves we keep it pretty simple. We are usually pretty busy during the day running errands for the business, prepping for the upcoming week, and trying to stay ahead of outside work. Last night was no exception: Whole Roast Chicken, Smashed Fingerling Potatoes and Asparagus. This is a meal, with slight variations, that I have been cooking for forty years. When the kids were still around, I’d cook two chickens, usually with mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, a green vegetable and a simple salad. It’s simple, beautiful, and delicious.

How are we doing? We were fortunate to get a PPP loan through Lee Bank and will be fine for the next few weeks. After that, who knows? We never stop thinking about how we can adapt and adjust to what comes next. Right now, we are open seven days a week at The Southfield Store from 8 am to 2 pm.

At The Old Inn On The Green we are offering a To-Go Menu Wednesday through Sunday 5 pm to 9 pm.  Our buttermilk fried chicken has been particularly popular.

When possible, we encourage pre-ordering for pickups and delivery. It works really well for everyone and is appreciated. It gives us a chance to organize things so we can have your order ready for you when you want it. During high volume times, there may be a teeny-weeny wait. Please bear with us!

Thank you all so much for the outpouring of support. We’re definitely feeling the love!

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Mezze Bistro
Chef Nick Moulton (and owner Nancy Thomas)

Mezze Bistro Chef Nick Moulton. Photo: Find, Eat, Drink

From Nancy: Thank you for being in touch with us! We’re missing our community. We are beginning to get back in our kitchen next week with our OKIE BURGER, FRIES, SEASONAL STYLE SALADS etc. Casual, affordable, good local ingredients! We’re very much looking forward to growing the menu each week, collaboration with other food friends, farmers, doing outdoor cooking, and coming up with all kinds of new socially distanced and delicious ideas. Thanks much and we really appreciate the support. https://www.mezzerestaurant.com

From Nick: At Mezze, we are a modern American restaurant with a strong focus on seasonality and ingredient-focused food sourced in our region. While the majority of what we do is a direct reflection of my personal cooking style and beliefs, at the end of the day we are Mezze Bistro, and it is important to us to hold on to some of these classic bistro dishes and preparations that our clientele has grown to love over the past 20+ years. Here is my recipe for a delicious dish on its own or served with just about any protein, especially roasted chicken or pork. The supporting characters in the dish are of what is coming into season.

Risotto of Peas and Carrots
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 small shallot, minced
1 medium carrot, small diced
1 cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3.5 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
Kosher salt and pepper (I would not suggest using iodized salt.)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano
Additional 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup chopped fines herbes (equal parts parsley, tarragon and chive)

Chef Nick Moulton’s Risotto of Peas and Carrots

Preparation:
1. Begin by warming up the chicken stock in its own separate pan from what you will be cooking the risotto in.
2. For the risotto, start by placing a heavy-based saucepan or pot over medium heat. Add the 2 tablespoons of butter, the shallots and the carrots. Season with a pinch of salt and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until soft with no coloration. Add the rice and toast it for an additional 3 to 4 minutes with the shallot and butter. Add the white wine and cook until absorbed.
3. Continue by adding a small ladle of chicken stock at a time, stirring constantly until it is absorbed. Continue to add the stock little by little until about 3 cups have been absorbed. At this point, taste the risotto and decide to your taste whether you would like it to be softer. At the restaurant, we like the finished risotto to be slightly toothsome, as it will continue to cook once you spoon it into a bowl.
4. Once you are satisfied, add the peas, Parmesan cheese, butter and lemon juice. Your risotto should now take on a creamy and delicious texture. If the risotto looks too stiff, add a few drops of the leftover chicken stock to adjust. If the risotto stands up, it is too stiff. Taste and season with salt and black pepper to your liking. Add the herbs at the last second before plating and enjoy.

I can’t say enough about the importance of taste. Taste, taste, taste and adjust.

The entire team at Mezze can’t wait to begin serving you again. We are beginning to get back into our kitchen with our popular Okie Burger menu with French fries and seasonal salads. This menu is casual, very affordable and fun, and uses the best ingredients available to us, including East Mountain Farm beef and produce from our local growers. We look forward to evolving our menus and social distancing ideas with friends, farmers and outdoor cooking.

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Alta
Chef Benjamin Daire (and owner Aurélien Telle)

Alta’s Chef Benjamin Daire

Lamb meatballs, fennel tomato sauce, feta and olives

Ingredients:
3 cups can crushed tomatoes (your favorite brand)
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced fennel
1/3 cup diced carrots
4 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Preparation:
Toast fennel seeds for a few minutes in small pan, medium heat.
Pound them lightly in a mortar.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat one tablespoon of cooking oil, add rosemary, onions, garlic, and fennel. Cook until tender.
Add carrots and toasted fennel seed, cook 10 minutes, low heat.
Add tomatoes crushed and sugar.
Add ground pepper and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste.
Cooked for 1/2 hour on low heat.
Taste for seasoning.

Lamb meatballs
2 lbs. ground lamb (ask your butcher)
3/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large farm eggs
2 teaspoon of Alta’s spices blend
1 cup panko
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Topping ¼ lb. crumbled feta and 1 tablespoon of sliced Kalamata olives

Alta’s Spices Blend
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1. In large bowl mix together onion and eggs.
2. Cream Alta’s spices blend.
3. Add the ground lamb.
4. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5. Add parsley and panko crumbs.
6. Combine all the mixture.
7. Let the mixture rest over night.

Shape the lamb into 1- to 1&1/2-oz. balls

1. Preheat oven at 400°.
2. Sear the meatballs in sautée pan on high heat to color.
3. Place them into a large oven baking dish.
4. Pour tomato sauce on top.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Served over your favorite grains or simply as is with country bread.
Top with crumbled feta and Kalamata olives.

We decided on this dish as it is a favorite of ours during cool spring evenings. This comfort dish is easy to make, fun to do with anyone in the family and packed with flavor. My 7-year-old helps me make the meatball mix, then the sauce, while my 3-year-old shapes them.

Our wonderful staff and families are all doing well and staying safe. We are trying to be as helpful as we can to the great community we are part of — by helping, donating and volunteering during this crisis to give back as much as we can while we are closed since mid-March.

We are missing all our beloved customers and friends gathering at Alta, but we understand the necessity of the state’s restrictions for the wellbeing of everyone. Since we are unsure how long the restrictions will last, and since we miss cooking, we plan to open as soon as we can.

Our hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 4 pm to 8 pm for takeout with curbside delivery and free delivery within a 5-mile radius. We will have plenty of options, including family meals, prepared foods, some of our regular menu favorites and plenty of fun options around our wines! Stay tuned on our Facebook, Instagram and website! Thank you again for thinking of us.

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Prairie Whale
Chef Stephen Browning

Prairie Whale owner, Mark Firth (left) and chef Stephen Browning.

Crostini (or pizza) with nettle pesto, ricotta, and grilled spring onion/ramps

I chose this dish because it is easy to make for any skill level and uses seasonal ingredients and ingredients that can easily be utilized in other ways in the kitchen. Also, since many of us have more time on our hands at the moment, it is a great opportunity to learn more about wild edible plants while hiking and taking walks and using some of these free ingredients in your cooking.

First you need to find nettles – ask around, someone surely knows of a patch somewhere, or go out and look for them on your next hike or walk. They can usually be found in open fields and I tend to find them most on edges of paths, in rich soil, outer edges of parking areas, yards, farms etc. Most property owners are happy to get rid of them. When you harvest nettles, you should wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt because they sting, but do not worry, cooking deactivates the stingers and they become deliciously edible. Only use nettles that are around 2 feet tall or under, and try to harvest the more tender tops. Nettles can become woody and dry as they get bigger. If the nettle search fails, you can also substitute kale or another hearty green in this recipe, as it uses more oil and garlic than an herb (basil) pesto would.

Seasoned ricotta
2 cups ricotta
2 oz. grana padano cheese
2 tsp. salt
2 oz. extra virgin olive oil

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and set aside

Nettle pesto
1 large bunch of nettles roughly the size of a bunch of kale from the store probably 12-16 oz
⅓ cup almonds or pinenuts
1-2 garlic cloves
2 oz. grated grana padano cheese
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. In a pot of salted boiling water blanch the nettles for 30 seconds, and place them into a bowl of ice water to chill.
2. Place in a colander and let sit while draining off as much water as possible.
3. Blend all ingredients in a blender and season with salt. Also, if the mixture is too thick and not blending, just add a little more olive oil until it blends smoothly.

Grilled onions
Season onions with salt and pepper and olive oil, then char them on a hot grill until cooked, turning them often. Let sit and when cool, chop into ¼ inch pieces

For crostini
1. Toast or grill a nice piece of country bread that has been brushed with olive oil. I recommend Berkshire Mountain Bakery, or Sparrowbush Bakery.
2. Spread ricotta on grilled bread.
3. Place some onions randomly onto the toast.
4. Drizzle nettle pesto on top, or mix the pesto into ricotta.
5. Tear some nice herbs on top: basil, parsley, chervil or whatever you prefer,
6. Drizzle with nice olive oil and serve,

For Pizza
1. Make a pizza dough or buy a premade dough from the store or Berkshire Mountain Bakery.
2. Mix ricotta and nettle pesto together and spread thinly onto the pizza crust,
3. Randomly put pieces of grilled onion and whatever else you would like on the pizza.
4. Bake in the oven 450 degrees for 7-10 minutes.
5. When it comes out of the oven, tear some fresh herbs on top, and drizzle more pesto or olive oil over the pizza and serve,

Experiment freely – this recipe could be good with many other ingredients. The crostini would be great with poached rhubarb or foraged knotweed, or different fruits at other times of the year. The pizza would be great with mushrooms. Try other foraged or bought greens and just have fun with it.

We are all well (owners Mark and Bettina, and I). Having some time off with “nothing to do” was a nice break for us all for the first few weeks. This time of year, we always close for a couple of weeks anyway, to keep the staff from reaching burn-out. Steve got to spend more time with his wife, dog and cat. Mark and Bettina had more family time with their two teenagers.

We hope everyone is doing well and has maybe explored more cooking and eating as a family at home. As a chef and restaurant owners, we barely ever have time to cook at home and while it’s such a luxury to eat at the restaurant so often, we’ve really been enjoying our meals at home during this period.

Prairie Whale is open for takeout. We are currently offering food for pick-up from 4-8 p.m. (last order in at 7:45 p.m.) Thursday through Saturday, and from 2-7pm Sunday. Our takeout menus are posted on our Instagram  and Facebook pages.

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Frankie’s Restaurante
Chef Roman Grosu (and owner Molly Lyon)

Frankie’s Chef Roman Grosu

From Molly: Chicken Piccata is such a comforting meal and easy to make. It’s also one of our customer favorites.

Chicken Piccata

    • 1. Start with 2 oz. chicken breasts, butterflied and lightly dusted with flour.
    • 2. Add 2 tbs. of olive oil to the pan and add chicken. Once hot, let cook for 1 min each side, then
    • 3. Remove from pan and set aside.
    • 4. Discard oil. Add 1/2 cup butter and half a shallot, finely chopped, to the pan.
    • 5. Once shallot carmelizes, add 2 oz. lemon juice and capers.
    • 6. Once the juice simmers, add 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup white wine.
    • 7. Add chicken and let it simmer for 10 min.
    • 8. Turn off stove, let rest for 5-10 min.
      9. Serve with potato gratin, or mash potatoes, or pasta and green beans or sautéed spinach.

How are we doing? Frankie’s is adapting. We never closed for takeout, which we feel was beneficial. We’ve wanted to be here for the community. Our driving force is just being there for the community. We miss spending time with everyone, but that’s like everybody in the world now. Everybody’s in this together. We’ve got a great community and that has really helped. That’s how we do it ⎯ together.