6/29/15

Video: Squash Blossom Pizza


You should make this pizza for the same people you had over for the rice-cooker pancake. They will think you are a really special cook/host/individual.

Squash Blossom Pizza adapted from The Mozza Cookbook
makes two 10-inch pizzas

20-24 fresh squash blossoms (see NOTE)
1 lb. of pizza dough, room temperature
handful of flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil plus more to finish the pizzas with
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
8 oz. of burrata that you've let hang out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes though it's even better if the cheese is at room temperature
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

NOTE: The Mozza Cookbook doesn't specify whether to use male or female blossoms, BUT according to Marcella Hazan: "Only the male, those on a stem, are good to eat. The female blossoms, attached to the zucchini, are mushy and don't taste good." Therefore, I was sure to buy only the male blossoms. (Here's a picture for you. The top one is male.) (p.s. Can anyone refute this information?)

Preheat your oven to 500F.

Trim and discard the stems from the squash blossoms. Cut a slit down the side of the blossoms, open them up with your fingers, and cut out and discard the stamens. Here is where you want to check for bugs and give the blossoms a good rinse. Then you'll want to pat them dry.

Using your hands and a floured work surface, split your dough in half as evenly as you can. And then stretch one portion of it into a flat, roughly ten-inch disk. (I like to lay my finished disk on a piece of parchment paper and then  slide the parchment onto my baking sheet.)

Brush the rim of the dough with olive oil and season the entire surface with salt. Ladle or spoon 1/4 cup of the sauce onto the center of the dough and use the back of the ladle or soon in a circular motion to spread the sauce over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch rim without any sauce.

Working from the outside of the pizza toward the center, and still leaving space for the crust, lay the squash blossoms in two concentric circles, plus two blossoms in the very center, covering the pizza in a single layer.

(Before you slide it into the oven, prepare your second pizza. That way, you can pull the first one out and put the second one in straight away. Or, if you have two baking sheets that can fit in your oven at the same time, cook them both at once!)

Slide the pizza(s) into the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown and crispy, 8 to 12 minutes.  Remove the pizza from the oven. Cut the burrata into four equal segments, placing one segment on each quadrant of the pizza. Finish with olive oil, a bit more sea salt and some black pepper. Serve.
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6/18/15

Saag Paneer

above photo by Heidi Swanson
First of all, thank you for your support on my presidential announcement. A lot of you have been requesting bumper stickers. We’ll let you know when we’ve landed on a slogan. Right now it’s a toss up between: LIKE JOE BIDEN ONLY MUCH YOUNGER and LIKE HILLARY CLINTON ONLY WITH WAY THINNER SKIN.
In other news, as some of you already know, in a joke that became very real, Matt did a three-day juice cleanse. And as much as I enjoyed making fun of him for it on Instagram, I’m actually incredibly proud of him as it’s inspired the whole family to eat a little healthier. For example, I’ve been seeking out healthier recipes. Whenever I do this, I find myself on 101 Cookbooks. So there I was, clicking away when I came upon this version of saag paneer.

My previous experience with saag paneer was a frozen version from Amy’s Organics that I used to take to my graduate assistant job back before this blog was invented. Heidi’s version sounded way better—what with all that golden paneer and buttermilk mixed in.

And it was. After I added about a cup and a half more whole milk yogurt than she calls for. Pre-extra-yogurt, it just tasted like flavorful spinach. Fit enough for a side dish. Post-extra-yogurt and with some toasted naan bread mixed in, it was rich, hearty, and delicious.

As Matt was setting up the final shot, Teddy pulled himself up onto one of the dining room chairs, slapped the nearby chair with his palm and yelled, “Mama, mama, mama, mama!”

It took me a few seconds but then I got it. I asked him, “Do you want to eat?” He nodded emphatically. I figured that I would let him try a few bites, but I hadn’t planned on him eating a giant bowlful of basically spinach, paneer, and yogurt. But he did and loved it. (If you try this at home and your child does not love it, apologies in advance!) (The other day I made him some salmon fried rice and he just shook his head.)

Anyway, happy summer! What are your plans? What are your healthy recipe recommendations? If the stars align, we’ll be shooting a new video this weekend! Either way, see you soon.
Saag Paneer via 101 Cookbooks
Heidi warns you about this and so I feel compelled to do so as well: 1 1/2 pounds of fresh spinach is a TON of spinach. You'll see when you go to the store to buy that much. It does cook down of course.

1 1/2 pounds fresh (baby) spinach, well washed and dried
2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
8 - 12 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon spice mixture* (see below)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup buttermilk
splash of cream or dollop of plain yogurt (optional) [I personally found this non-optional, adding about 1 1/2 cups of whole milk yogurt in the end.]

LOTS of fresh lemon to finish, and toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle

Chop the spinach well, and set aside in a large bowl.

While you're chopping spinach, cook the paneer in one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure the paneer is in a single layer and use a spatula to flip it regularly so all sides get deeply brown. This typically takes 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of butter in your largest soup pot. Add the onions and salt, and saute until the onions soften up, five minutes or so. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, and turmeric. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nicely combined - a minute or two.

Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach to the pan all at once, if possible. Cook, stirring all the while, until the spinach is collapsed and wilted, a couple of minutes. If you need to add the spinach in batches (adding more spinach as it collapses), that is fine too, just do it as quickly as possible.

Stir in the buttermilk and cream and heat gently while stirring. If the mixture seems dry, add more buttermilk a splash at a time (this rarely happens to me). Taste and add more salt if necessary and more red pepper flakes if you like. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stir in the paneer, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Serves 4-6.

*Spice Mixture: Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the following spices as finely as possible: 2 tablespoons cumin seed, 1 tablespoons coriander seed, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 3 whole cloves. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.
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6/4/15

Spicy Coconut Political Shrimp


Well, John Oliver did a pretty great segment on this a few weeks ago. Definitely watch it if you haven’t already.

In it, he illuminates the fact that the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries in the world that don’t offer mothers any paid maternity leave.

I don’t love getting political on this site—partly because it always takes more time than simply saying: This was delicious! You should make this! But when I saw this recipe hailing from Papua New Guinea right around the time the John Oliver piece aired, it felt like a no brainer, classic, recipe-as-political-statement opportunity.

Whenever I get really worked up about this issue, I always think of Luisa’s Motherhood Monday interview on A Cup of Jo. It’s called, “20 Surprising Things about Parenting in Germany” and if you want to cry in frustration, you should read it!

This is the line that really makes me want to become a German citizen: “Self-employed women can take up to 12 months off, at approximately 60% of the previous year’s income.” All I can say is: Dude! That would have been so helpful for me and my family.
As for the shrimp themselves, they were enjoyed by my whole family—even Teddy liked them, though I think the bit of cayenne in the batter gave him a moment’s pause. Maybe I’m just growing up, but I was also surprised at how easily it came together. I associate deep-frying with making a huge mess. But that wasn’t the case with these shrimp.

Oh and lastly, this is another recipe from that issue of Food and Wine I loved so much.

In closing, I would like to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.

I remain,

Your public servant in food and life,

Amelia


Spicy Coconut Political Shrimp via Food and Wine
serves 4

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 cup panko
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined (Unlike I did, get them with the tails still on!)
Canola oil, for frying
Lemon wedges, for serving

In a shallow dish, whisk the flour with the cayenne and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In a second shallow dish, mix the 
panko with the shredded coconut. Add the coconut milk to a small bowl.

Season the shrimp with salt. Working with 1 shrimp at a time, dredge it in the flour mixture, then dip it in the coconut milk, letting the excess drip off. Coat the shrimp in the panko mixture. Transfer to a plate. Repeat to coat the remaining shrimp.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering. In 2 batches, fry the shrimp over moderate heat, turning, until golden and crisp and cooked through, about 
3 minutes. Drain briefly on paper towels and serve hot 
with lemon wedges.
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5/26/15

Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake

Hi Friends,

How are you? How did you spend your long weekend? Matt, Teddy, and I decided to take it easy. Apart from making this cake, we went for a few walks and napped. Sunday was Mavis’s birthday (she’s 3!) so we spent a lot of that day singing her “Happy Birthday” because once you finish singing a song, Teddy does the sign language sign for “more,” which is really hard to say no to.

After Teddy went to sleep, Matt and I watched a lot of television. We started the Netflix series, Chef’s Table, which I initially wasn't interested in at all because I thought it was yet another culinary-based television show. (I think I might have even thought it was a competition?) But we are 2.5 episodes in and it’s been fantastic, even dare-I-say-it inspiring, especially the one on Dan Barber (although I am a bit worried about Barber’s overall well-being and stress levels). We also watched the movie, Blue is the Warmest Color, which I loved. There was something so insanely refreshing about watching a film that moved so slowly and where the main character, who is a teenager, actually looks like a teenager and who isn’t caked in makeup. I also finished listening to Amy Poehler’s book, which I mostly really enjoyed, and of which I feel like I took away three main points about her life. One: Wow, she really didn’t enjoy the process of writing her book. Two: Wow, she smoked (smokes?) a lot of pot. And three: She’s just like us! She gets sad and frustrated and reads Pema Chödrön!
But let’s talk about this cake, shall we? It’s that time of year where we celebrate Matt’s life by making him a layer cake of his choosing. This birthday, he went with chocolate and chocolate. And since that Vanilla Celebration Cake was so amazing, when it came to picking out which recipe to use, I decided to stick with Jane Hornby’s What to Bake and How to Bake it.

And for the most part, this cake was just as great as the vanilla one; the recipe is clear and simple, and the cake turned out like a dream. The only thing was that my icing didn’t thicken up as promised, though this may have been because I didn’t given it enough time to do so. The problem was that we were losing light and we didn’t want to have to wait until the next day to ice it / photograph it / eat a slice.

In closing, happy birthday to Matt—the perpetual hero of this website and my life!
And just for fun, here’s the history of Matt’s birthday cakes/meals on this site:

One year ago: Scroll down to see the vanilla/vanilla cake with a basket-weave motif
Two years ago: Funfetti!
Three years ago: Classic yellow cake with vanilla icing
Four years ago: Crack pie, a salad with creamy dressing, and onion rings!
Five years ago: Stuffed roasted garlic paste and blue cheese hamburgers (Holy sh*t! We were so young! We ground our own meat.)
We turned around for one second and this happened.
Incidentally, ask Matt about the time he did this to a wedding cake at our dear friend's wedding.
p.s. Thanks for indulging my foray into sports journalism! (Well, thanks to everyone except my mom who didn't finish reading it. In her words: "It was really long!" She then followed that up by asking, "What ended up happening at the meet in Italy?")
Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake via Jane Hornby’s What to Bake and How to Bake it

For the cake:
1 1/4 sticks (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) butter, plus extra for greasing
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar

For the chocolate frosting:
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (50-70% cacao, depending on your taste), chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, gently melt the 1 1/4 sticks of butter. Remove from heat and whisk in the milk, oil, and vanilla. Meanwhile, grease two 8-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, then sift into a large bowl.

Add the brown sugar and break up any lumps. Make a well in the center and add the butter mixture. Using a whisk, slowly mix the ingredients together, then give it a good beating until smooth and evenly blended. Using a spatula, divide the batter equally between the pans and spread it flat.

Bake until the cakes are risen, firm, and have shrunk back slightly from the edges of the pans. Let cool in the pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Make the frosting: In a medium saucepan, stir the condensed milk and cream over low heat until it starts to bubble at the edges. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Let the chocolate melt, stirring and beating occasionally as it cools, until thick, fudgy, and completely cooled.

Assemble the cake: On a cake plate lined with strips of parchment paper, sandwich the cakes together with 1/2 cup frosting. Spoon the remaining frosting over the top of the cake. Spread it out thickly, then, working on a quarter of the cake at a time, work the frosting over the edge of the cake and down to meet the plate. Try to keep going in one fluid movement. Repeat all over. Smooth and swirl the frosting as you like, or leave it rough.

Let the cake sit somewhere cool for an hour (or up to a day) before slicing.
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5/17/15

My Gymnastics Diary, Part 1

Hi Readers,

Remember when I asked the question, “What is Bon Appétempt?” and said that I wanted to write about gymnastics? Well, that wasn’t an empty threat. Truthfully, I’m feeling pretty weird about posting this here, but whenever I feel this way, I’m almost always reassured by the fact that I’ve definitely posted weirder things here in the past. Point being, thanks for reading part one of what I think will be a three or four part series.


Sincerely,
Amelia


~ ~ ~

March 25th, 2015

I’m on Gymnastike.org (pronounced Gym-nast-eek), which is the website where I get most of my gymnastics information, to find out what is going on in Jesolo, Italy. A competition is set to start there this week. It’s not a big competition, but it marks a big moment in the present-day milieu of elite gymnastics as it’s the first competition in almost three years for 2012 gold-medal winning Olympians Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. Put in more familiar terms, Raisman and Douglas competing in this meet is the gymnastics equivalent to that moment in politics when a major politician announces their candidacy for president—only of course instead of running for president, these gymnasts are throwing their hat in the ring for a second Olympic team.

Even if you’re not a gymnastics fan, if you tuned in to any of the 2012 Olympics, these names probably sound familiar. In addition to the team gold, Douglas and Raisman also took home individual gold medals: Douglas in the all-around and Raisman on floor exercise. Raisman won bronze on beam too, making her the most decorated gymnast of the 2012 Games.

But the first headline I see and thus the first one I click on is about Kyla Ross. New Bar Routine for Ross it reads. Ross was also a part of that 2012 gold-medal winning Olympic team, though she was by far its quietest member; she wasn’t expected to qualify for any of the individual competitions and didn’t, nor did her unimpressed face on the medal stand inspire a meme. After the Olympics, she stayed quiet. Unlike her other four teammates, she never went “pro” a.k.a. she never accepted money to endorse products, and she also never really took any time off from training. This means that her bar routine has basically been the same for a number of years now. (That is how gymnastics works: you learn skills, you learn how to connect them in a routine, and then you do that routine everyday for the rest of your young life so that by the time you compete the routine, you can perform it sans thinking.) In other words, a headline like New Bar Routine for Ross is total click-bait for someone like me.

Only, when I click on the video, I am denied access because I’m not a gold member of the site. To be a gold member, you have to pay money, about $20/month.

I’d been resisting becoming a gold member for a couple of years now, but after a few minutes of online research, I realize that Gymnastike has purchased the rights to the Jesolo meet and if I don’t become a gold member, not only will I not be able to see Kyla’s new bar routine, but I also won’t be able to see a moment of Aly and Gabby’s first competition back.

The last time the United States saw back-to-back Olympians in women’s gymnastics was in 2000, which may not seem that long ago. However, back then completely different rules applied. In 2000, seven women comprised an Olympic team. Remember 1996’s gold-medal-winning “Magnificent Seven”? Well, today teams are down to just five members. Thus, 2012’s “Fierce Five.”*

Plus, in 1997, the International Gymnastics Federation or F.I.G., which is the sport's international governing body, ruled to change the minimum age for senior international competition to 16 instead of 15. (In the 1980s, the minimum had been 14.) This minimum age requirement is key because even if you’ve never caught a moment of a gymnastics competition, you probably still know that it’s a sport lousy with teenagers. Remember Nadia Comaneci? She was just 14 when she won the Olympic all-around title in 1976. If today’s rules had applied then, we might not even know her name.

As another example: in 2008, U.S. gymnast Nastia Liukin won the Olympic all-around competition at the age of 18. She had so many world and national titles under her belt by that advanced age; who knows what would have happened if she’d been allowed to compete as a 14-year-old in 2004?

To put things even further into perspective: of the six women who comprised the 2008 U.S. silver-medal-winning Olympic team, five attempted comebacks with the goal of making the 2012 team (one of whom was a 22-year-old Nastia Liukin). None of them made it.

All of this information begs the same high-pitched question: who do Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and Kyla Ross think they are? Trying to make back-to-back U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams is like trying to get your foot in the door as some sort of highly-specialized sports journalist by writing about gymnastics on your food blog. It’s simply not done.

Or is it?
~ ~ ~

Within a few more minutes, I’ve become a gold member and am watching Kyla’s new bar routine. To be clear, what I’m watching isn’t the actual competition. It’s called podium training, which is the training (on a raised surface/podium) at the competition venue in preparation for the meet.

Within another minute, I’m watching Aly’s new bar routine. And then Gabby’s. I move quickly from video to video, event to event. It’s thrilling. Aly seems just like her old self again on just about every event except vault where she is performing a double-twisting Yurchenko instead of the two-and-a-half she competed in London. Gabby, in my opinion, isn’t quite as far along. Don’t get me wrong. She looks good and she has most of her old skills back, but this is the problem with being the reigning all-around Olympic champion: I expect more from her.

To be honest, I’m a little worried for Gabby. I mean, as worried as one can feel for a total teenaged stranger. Last summer, she left her longtime coach, Chow, for a second time. This time, seemingly for good. Chow was the one who had coached her (as well as 2008 Olympian Shawn Johnson) to Olympic gold, and now she was training with a relatively unknown gym in Ohio. Plus, she seemed distracted (a pejorative in most cases but particularly in the sport of gymnastics). There had already been a Lifetime movie about her, and now, an Oxygen reality show co-produced by herself and her mother, was to debut later this year.

I don’t seem to be the only one worried about Gabby. In some of the podium training videos, Marta Karolyi—whose official title is National Team Coordinator for USA Gymnastics but whose unofficial title could be something like “U.S.A. Gymnastics’ All-Knowing Supreme Leader”—can be seen and/or heard loudly coach-cheering for her.

In one beam set in particular, we can see Gabby’s new coach standing front and center watching her, but all the coaching—at least what I can hear—is coming from Marta offscreen. Through the entire routine, she doesn’t let up; her commands range from “Trust it!” to “C’mon!” to “Goooood, Gabby!” It’s noteworthy for a few reasons.

One: Marta has always come across to me as cold and unfeeling. But that’s decidedly not the tone of her coaching here. (To be fair, I think she has to maintain some degree of coldness. I mean, part of her job is choosing which gymnasts to take to which major competitions, including of course the Olympics. Therefore, she is also effectively in charge of choosing which young woman’s dream to fulfill and which to trample on.)

But here, there’s definitely warmth, or rather: a sense of a parent seizing on an opportunity to praise the child of hers that needs it the most.

Secondly: while it would make sense for Marta to have a deeper relationship with those gymnasts she’s already gone to an Olympics with, during Aly’s beam set, we don’t hear a single thickly Romanian-accented peep from Marta.

What I do notice during Aly’s beam set is her longtime coach, Mihai Brestyan. I always notice him. With his thick build, black tracksuit, cropped gray hair, and lack of a smile, he beams a half-fatherly and half-mob-boss brand of self-assuredness. If I were to put my gymnastics fate in anyone’s hands, it would be his.
Raisman and her coach, Mihai Brestyan, at the 2012 Olympics
Prior to making the 2012 Olympic team, Aly participated in a documentary called “Quest for Gold.” A portion of it focused on her grueling schedule. We watch as she goes through an average training day. It’s exhausting. At one point during the end, while she works a portion of her bar routine she's fighting back tears. Mihai seems less than sympathetic throughout. He says with his own thick Romanian accent (so thick in fact that his words are subtitled): “Nobody needs to see how tired are you. Nobody cares.”

But then, at the end of the practice, we see Aly sitting on the floor and Mihai talking to her. He tells her, “Rest tomorrow. Get a massage if you can get. Get a Jacuzzi if you can get. Relax. Okay?” And then, his voice changes in pitch ever so slightly—from that of a coach to that of a friend. “Okay,” he says.

In a more recent interview, Mihai is asked about Aly’s initial return to the gym after her yearlong post-Olympic sabbatical.

“I told her you need to choose the way you come back,” he says. “We coming back from the gymnastics or we coming back just for the fame? Again. Because I’m not interested just for the pictures.”

I like Mihai.

And back in Jesolo, I like how unimpressed he is. Aly just about stuck one of the hardest beam dismounts in the sport—a double Arabian—and his nod of approval holds less enthusiasm than the nod I use to show my husband I’m listening to his work-related story as I chop vegetables for that night’s dinner.

Of course, what do I expect? For him to Bela-Karolyi her off the mat in a frenzy of seemingly uncontainable pomp and joy? No. But sort of. I mean, she’s doing it. She’s really doing it. Though it’s an international meet and Marta actually left a couple of our better gymnasts back at home, the top five all-around spots are still filled by Americans. Aly ends up in third place behind 18-year-old Simone Biles, the reigning World Champion, and 16-year-old Bailie Key, a previous U.S. junior national champion competing as a senior for the first time. Gabby places fourth. And Kyla, because of some very uncharacteristic mistakes on floor, ends up tenth.

In her post-meet interview, Kyla addresses these mistakes with a smile. She knows it’s not like her. (It really isn’t.) There’s a lot of talk of going back to the gym and hopefully doing better next time.

In Gabby and Aly’s post-meet interviews, each is asked: “And what are you looking forward to next?” They are in Italy after all. Maybe they’re going to go tour the city and eat some gelato.

“I’m looking forward to just more improvements and upgrades,” says Gabby smiling.

And as for Aly? “Well, we have training camp in a couple of weeks, so, uhm, getting more flexible and cleaning up everything. I know I have a lot of work to do.”

And as for me? Well, I’m definitely looking forward to more improvements and upgrades—both theirs and my own.

(If Marta was forced to coach me, she would probably throw her hands up in the air and say something to the effect of, “You’ve gotta be f*cking kidding me with this sh*t.”)

The next major competition is the U.S. National Championships, which is in mid August. Marta (and the other two bodies that make up the Selection Committee) will use the results of this competition to help decide who will make the five-person 2015 World Championship team. And while of course making the World team the year before the Olympics doesn’t guarantee you a spot on the Olympic team, if history is any lesson, if you are a woman gymnast who would like to go to the Olympics in 2016, you really want to be on that 2015 World team.

I can’t wait to follow along.

* Remarkably (and in my opinion, insanely), in a decision that came in while I was finishing up this piece, F.I.G. ruled to reduce the size of Olympic gymnastics teams even further, down to a mere four members, starting with the 2020 Games.
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