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Sunday 28 February 2010

Pie of the Month - February

Whenever I make a pie like this, I look at my ring finger and think, 'Why isn't there a ring on it?'

Did I really say I would bake a pie every month for 12 months? I did, didn't I? Well, that's OK. I reserve the right for it to be a last day of the month rush if necessary; I can do what I like.

I have an awful feeling that I promised 'process photos' last time. In fact, I know it to be the case. Listen, sometimes I make false promises. I'm sorry! They haven't materialised. I'm not passing the blame, but my erstwhile assistant photographer went cycling with the boys yesterday, and I wasn't about to spend my whole morning rubbing fat into flour, stopping to wash my hands, taking a few pictures and then repeating the whole process. No sirree. That's just not how I roll.

Now. Let's talk about this pie, which as I type hurriedly, I am munching on a slice of (and very good it is, too). I completely intended to make this month's Pie of the Month a recipe from Barbara Swell's book, but I got sidetracked while flicking through a copy of this one. If you also have a copy, I'm sure you have the same dilemma - it is particularly greed inducing, and I am right now trying to come up with a way to get meatloaf onto this week's dinner menu.

(We don't actually have a dinner menu chez P. I believe that's called speaking figuratively. Sorry if you feel deceived.)

The recipe that caught my eye was for Raisin Pie. I loved the idea of such a simple filling (raisins, lemon, nuts and sugar), and given that the weather is as yet far from Spring-like, I thought it would seem quite seasonal. But when it came to making it, I realised I didn't have all of the ingredients to hand, and wasn't in the mood for shopping. So I allowed myself a little leeway, and made up my own, even simpler filling. No lemon? Use an orange - you know, the old one that's been in the fruit bowl forever. No nuts? Leave them out. Not quite enough sugar? Just use a jar of marmalade instead.

You can see I was quite relaxed about the whole thing. And not just with the ingredients.

Have I told you of my dilemma with photos? I can never decide which I like best.

Everyone always says that you need cold hands when you make pastry, and that you should roll it out on a chilled surface. I think they mean a marble board when they say that mind you, because I don't see how you'd get a kitchen counter into the fridge.

I think we all of us ignore the marble board trick, because let's face it, none of us actually have one. But the cold hands thing really irks me. Some cooks actually go as far as to recommend you hold your hands in a sinkful of cold water before starting to make pastry. If you have actually done this yourself, well then I'd recommend you to throw that recipe out straight away, because quite frankly darling, that isn't a cookbook you have in your possession, but a torture manual.

I mean, come on.

For the record, I just use my hands at whatever temperature they are, and I roll on the sideboard (well floured, obviously). I'm no grand master or anything, but so far, my pies have turned out fine.

Oh, and I shocked myself this time by using, instead of butter, a vegetable margarine called 'Stork - Perfect for Pastry'. And let me tell you - the name is a good one. This beats any all-butter shortcrust I have ever turned out, though I hate to admit it because it seems so low rent.

So I use them all - even though some have different backgrounds and lighting.

I have done so though; honesty is the best policy and all that. You can use all butter in yours, I won't tell.

Orange Raisin Pie

You will need:

250g plain flour
125g butter (or Stork!)
1 orange, juiced

250g raisins
1 jar marmalade
pinch cinnamon

  1. Make your pastry first; cut the fat into the flour, and using your fingertips, rub the two together. Stop when the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  2. Add orange juice, a little at a time, forking it through, until the mixture just comes together. I used half the orange juice - you might need more. I believe I have already demonstrated to you that I don't believe in the science of pastry - just wing it, it will be fine!
  3. Use your hands to form the pastry into two disks, wrap in clingfilm and chill for twenty minutes, or longer if that suits.
  4. Make the filling: put everything else into a saucepan, along with the remaining orange juice, and heat, letting the mix simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Get the pastry out of the fridge, and roll out the disks. Use one to line your pie dish (20cm), and the other to form the pie lid. I cut heart shapes out of the top to resemble a pie I remember from an illustrated book we had when I was little (the ones where you had to find the little yellow duck in each picture), but a few knife slits will do the job just as well.
  6. Bake at 200°C until done, which for me, was about 40 minutes.

I just wouldn't like feeling that I used the wrong one.

Friday 26 February 2010

Smurf Cupcakes

(Or, dessert 2 of 2 when we Smurfed a little party for Rowanne's Un-Birthday!)

I was something of a hoarder as a child. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than to keep all my special gifts wrapped, unspoilt and above all, in their original packaging, not even taking them out for long enough to play with.

I remember, one birthday, I was given a 'Grow Your Own Crystals' science kit, and though I longed to watch the bright, almost neon blue crystals magically appear on the thread you were supposed to suspend in copper sulphate solution, I never dared to do so, for fear of ruining the box it came in (which was full of little compartments for everything to go in - just the kind of complicated packaging a boy like me loved!).

How lame was I?

Still, it was more than likely better that way; years later, when I learned about displacement reactions in Chemistry, I remembered that birthday box of chemicals and was secretly glad I'd never opened it. I was the sort of child who would have drunk the solution.

Incidentally, Mr. Other P also had one of those kits, but he actually did grow crystals with it. We don't talk about it very often though, as during one particularly fraught childhood argument with his brother (who we'll call Mr. D), they were flushed, unceremoniously, down the toilet. It is a tale of great sadness, I am sure you'll agree. Worthy even of Tolstoy himself.

I digress.

Sadly, the hoarding has followed me into adulthood. I have a baking box, full of all manner of sugar decorations, cupcake wrappers, candles, and as regular readers will already be aware, Kewpies. In this box are several pots of coloured sanding sugars, which rarely get used (I impulse buy), and in particular a blue one, which greatly resembles copper sulphate as it happens, so perhaps that wasn't such a pointless digression after all.

I had been waiting for a chance to use it when I happened upon this bag of Smurf marshmallows - tell me you aren't as enchanted by them as I was - and knew that a batch of blue cupcakes was only mere moments away.

I have titled this photograph The Outcast.

I couldn't really see the appeal of The Smurfs when I was a child, much preferring Peanuts, or He-Man and She-Ra, but I have grown fonder of them as I have grown older, secretly lusting after my friend Al's collection of 1980s Smurfs themed Nutella pot glasses. More to the point, they are the only thing that would look at home on a sparkling blue cake, so you can see why my appreciation for the cartoon characters has increased.

Bored of my usual cake recipe, I tried a new one for this, and it's one that I have been contemplating for years. It involves adding boiling water to the cake batter - you can see why I was curious - and in the picture accompanying the recipe book it is from, it looks like the most amazing chocolate cake ever. But it wasn't; it was dry and it was awful. So I am not going to include it here. Or tell you where it was from, as the writer of the book in question is my absolute favourite, and I don't want to murk the waters of her reputation. You do understand.

It does give me a chance to give you a little tip though, should you care to know how I deal with dry cakes. I drench them, either in Bailey's Irish Cream, or vanilla sugar syrup. So if it ever happens to you too, do not despair: the answer is in the liqueur cabinet. Or the pantry, if you choose the syrup. I don't want to be seen to encouraging alcoholism.

You can have the icing recipe, since that was yummy.

Peppermint Cream Cheese Icing

You will need:

150g cream cheese, at room temperature
350g sifted icing sugar
1/8 tsp peppermint extract
  1. Simply beat everything together until creamy and smooth.
  2. Slather over your waiting cakes - this should do 10 cupcakes, but I do use a lot, so you may get more.

If you are then going to cover the cakes with sanding sugar, I recommend you pour it onto your work surface first, and dip the frosted cakes into it, rather than trying to sprinkle it on. But you do as you please. I'm not in charge.

A beautiful out-take.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Rome Guide: Caffè Sant'Eustachio

The focus of today's post.

OK, so we've just arrived in Rome. In my mind, we've travelled by bus, and have just got off at the bus stops along Via del Teatro Marcello. If you've arrived in Termini, by train, well, here's where you'd get your map out. Don't worry, it's not far.

Since it's such a lovely day today (I'm being optimistic), why don't we go for a stroll and have a coffee? There'll be plenty to see on the way, and I just happen to know of the perfect place.

I'm going to take you to Caffè Sant'Eustachio. And let me be frank: though on the way, we'll walk past the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, which I always have to stop and marvel at, and later, we'll even go past the 2,000 year old Pantheon with its incredible dome, the real deal here is the coffee. Everybody likes a little history*, but what you need to know is where to get the best espresso you'll ever drink.

It's at Sant'Eustachio; you can thank me for telling you that later. And you will.

This is the place; step right in.

And this is one of the two coffee machines. Puts my moka pot to shame.

I'm not pretending for a second that I am the only one who knows about this place (although the friend who first recommended it to us made it sound as if he'd uncovered it all by himself - it's in all the guides, as it happens), but I would like to offer the following facts in support of my recommendation:

  • Caffè Sant'Eustachio has been operating from the same premises since 1958. You can't, just can't, be around that long without being good.
  • William Grimes, who used to write for the New York Times had this to say about it. He and I could be kindred spirits - he doesn't drink coffee that much either.
What this particular bar is famous for, really, is the gran caffè speciale (translation: big, special coffee - like you couldn't work that one out); rich, dark espresso, beaten with sugar (that's optional actually, though I do suggest you request), made and served by staff wearing pretty, old fashioned uniforms. They are more than pretty really. I'd say they were borderline sexy.

(You really want to go now, don't you?)

You can get gran caffè at any bar in Rome, but it really is sensational here. I don't even drink coffee that often, but I dream about cups of this stuff constantly when I'm at home in Wales and good coffee is nowhere to be found.

There's supposedly a science to all of this. Apparently, the water needs to be at a certain temperature, and pass through the coffee grounds at exactly the right pressure and speed to make a perfect cup of espresso. Since it is perfect at Sant'Eustachio, what we are really talking about here is barmen who are also scientists. Those uniforms just got a little bit sexier, didn't they?

(I wish I had a picture of the uniforms!)

I do feel, on reflection, that I would be a bad person if I didn't tell you that in addition to the coffee, the crostata served at Caffè Sant'Eustachio is some of the best I've ever had. I don't for a second think they make it themselves on the premises, but wherever it comes from, it's sublime.

Sant'Eustachio il Caffè
Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82
Tel: 06-6880-2048
And I would have taken a picture of that crostata were it not for the
barman who was joking with me about being English and living in Wales.
I lost concentration!

* I'm not being flippant about history, just so you know. Rome amazes me with each visit; at every turn there's something important dating back a few thousand years. We don't have that where I live!

You can buy the coffee in pretty cans, but since the bar staff seem so skilled,
I never bother. If I tried to do their job at home, it would be laughable.
I wouldn't mind the uniform though...

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Rome Guide: A New Series

The best gelato in Rome, which I written about elsewhere.

For the past fortnight I have not been able to blog as much as I would have liked.

One of the things I love about my job is that it gives me more free time than I imagine most people get. Another is that it takes me here and there and I get to enjoy good food in different countries regularly.

Of course, it is not all sunshine and roses; nothing is. I work irregular hours, am always tired and cranky (just ask the long-suffering Mr. Other P) and sometimes, I will have a sudden roster change and have to disappear somewhere at the drop of a hat. That is precisely what happened at the start of February. I had to go to Rome - had to - which meant no time at home and no blogging.

I mentioned this in passing to Mathea, and she said why didn't I just write something about Rome, almost like a food guide, since I was going to have to eat while I was there anyway, and might as well make an effort to make it something delicious. So that's what I have decided to do.

I feel it is only fair at any rate; I write about food on this blog, and, hopefully, others enjoy it. Rome is my favourite food destination in Europe, hands down, and I do think I know where to find the good eating. I'm not saying I only ever eat like a king when I am there, but I have places I go to. It would be mean-spirited, would it not, to keep that information to myself? This blog is called Delicious Delicious Delicious, not Selfish Selfish Selfish.

I am not without apprehension, however, and I think there are three main reasons why this is so:

  1. I may blog, but am not actually a gastronome, and attempting to write a food guide to somewhere, anywhere, makes me feel nervous and worried. What would people think of it?
  2. I am not Italian, and do not live in Rome. I am English and live in Wales. (Can you see my dilemma?)
  3. Food can be so subjective. I can't tell you how many times I have been disappointed after I ate somewhere or bought some expensive ingredient that gained rave reviews.
And then I thought, 'Oh, grow up, Mr. P. This is just a bit of fun.'

More to the point, for every argument there is a counter-argument. Thus:

  1. I may not be a gastronome, but the whole point of blogging is to share information with others; someone might take my advice and have a great food experience in Rome as a result of this.
  2. I would LOVE to live in Rome, but that's just not going to happen. However, I have spent considerable time there, albeit as a tourist, and brief stays for work, but still - I am now at the point where I don't even need to carry a map, which is big for me.
  3. The only places I would write about would be restaurants, shops or cafes that I have already taken other people to, and that they have enjoyed. Which is actually something I have done before.
So there you go. It looks like I'm doing it!

It occurred to me last time I was in Rome that I do actually have a bit of a routine now anyway, which of course, is mostly centred around filling my stomach. So my guide is going to take the form of one of my strolls around the city, starting with a morning coffee.

Come join me - the first instalment is coming up soon!

Sunday 21 February 2010

Chocolate Party Spoons!

My original thinking with these beauties was that they would become the modern day Welsh Love Spoon. The one you'd actually like to receive on Valentine's Day, as opposed to one of those outrageously over-priced and overwhelmingly useless, hideous, hand crafted, wooden goodfornothings. Those of you not in the same country as I am might not know what a Welsh Love Spoon is, and in this case, Google is your best friend - he's found this for you.

My timing is off though; I've been busy! Thus, I didn't make them in time for Valentine's Day, and they became Dessert One of Two at Rowanne's Un-Birthday Party. (It's a little-known, but fortunately often implemented rule that one must always have two desserts at an Un-Birthday Party).

I confess that, fabulous though my spoons are, they were not actually my own idea; I saw something similar in a Valentine-themed cookbook in Tokyo a week or so ago, and immediately decided to make some at home (as I've said, as Valentine's gifts, but that didn't happen). But actually, they went down so well at Row's Un-Birthday that I think I'll make them a party regular.

I'm just mad for this one - it's like a jewelled brooch!

The making and eating is ridiculously fun and easy to do; you could even get children to help. You can see that this isn't really a 'recipe', so I'm going to attempt a step by step tutorial.

(A tutorial - ha!)

Now, hold on to your hats, because here we go.

First of all, get yourself some spoons. I found these coloured plastic ones in the kind of cheap shop that you love going into but wouldn't want to be seen in. Have a hunt around to see what you can find.

Then, you'll need some chocolate. I'm not a snob (honest!), but I do think you get what you pay for, so make it a chocolate that you actually feel comfortable eating. Nothing too expensive; you'll be covering it with trashy sweets and sprinkles after all. I got these bars in Rome - I'm a sucker for pretty packaging.

While you melt the chocolate, either in the microwave, or over some simmering water, you need to make your spoons level so that when you pour in the liquid chocolate, it doesn't spill. I simply propped them up using a copy of James Wong's enlightening Grow Your Own Drugs. (Calm down: he's talking about things like chamomile.) You could use anything suitable - the edge of a plate or chopping board, for example.

Then, spoon in some chocolate. I'm afraid the sun came out and cast some shadows on this, but you get the idea. (Remind me never to do a step-by-step 'tutorial' on party spoons ever again.)

Then you simply go mad with whatever small sweets, silver balls and sprinkles you have. Jelly beans are a must - we all agreed they go nicely with the chocolate, however odd that may sound. If your sweets are chocolate themselves though, wait ten minutes before putting them onto the molten chocolate, just in case they also start melting.

Serve, at parties, with gleeful abandon!

Thursday 18 February 2010

Cake A Difference

An update!

Mr. Other P sold all the cupcakes, which made a total of £38.00. I'm going to make it up to £50.00 out of my own pocket, because let's face it - fifty is better than thirty-eight, unless we're talking about lashes of a whip.

Thanks to everyone in RCT who bought cupcakes, and extra special thanks to Mr. Other P for helping me out.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Cake A Difference

A while ago now, my auntie emailed me to let me know about a charity that I'd never heard of before called Bliss. I suggest you take a look around their website for more information, but simply put, it's a charity especially for premature babies.

One in nine of the babies delivered in the UK each year is born premature or sick. You don't need to be a great mathematician to work out that that equates to a lot of poorly babies to look after. Which is good, because I am no great mathematician! I was premature though, and according to my mum, had a tough old time of it as a result. So you can see why I was really happy to learn about a charity that is dedicated to improving the care and treatment provided for babies that are 'born too soon, too small and too sick to cope on their own.'

Last week, Bliss held a nationwide campaign to raise money called Cake A Difference. The campaign forms part of their annual fundraising appeal, Kiss for Bliss. This isn't just clever rhyming. Think about it: a kiss is such an instinctive way to show love or affection. Imagine if you were unable to kiss or touch your newborn baby?

The deal is, through baking and selling cupcakes (symbolising sweet kisses), participants can raise funds that Bliss will use to help families through what must be a very lonely and frightening time.

That is the idea; frankly, I was on board from the moment I realised there was an excuse to make cupcakes. And if that makes me charitable, well, it's possibly the best thing that's ever happened!

I had intended to make cakes for Mr. Other P to sell at work on Friday - Romantic Red Velvets for St. Valentine's Day, of course - but owing to a roster change, had to delay. So I'm baking them today, and they'll be sold tomorrow. You may wonder why I'm not selling them at my place of work, but if you think about it, the answer's simple. Can you imagine trying to get three dozen cupcakes through airport security?


Wish me luck selling them all. It's certainly a worthy cause! If you yourself are interested in following suit and holding a sale, see the Cake A Difference website. Or if you'd just like to make a donation to Bliss, you can do so here.

Saturday 13 February 2010

"Can I Popen that for you?"

You know when you have those days when you feel like all you've been doing is running around like a madman and cleaning? Welcome to my life.

I have been away, which hopefully explains the lack of posts. But I am back, and ready to write lots about where I was and what I was doing. But not yet. Far too busy right now. (It was Rome, and eating/food shopping though, for those who want to know now.)

Anyhow, look at this!

Isn't it just the most amazing, kitschiest thing you've ever seen? It's a 'Popener'! Albeit, an out of date one, but I was actually quite happy to have John Paul II; the Benedict XVI ones were pretty scary, and bore no resemblance to the man himself.

Sadly, I am giving this away later; I should have bought two. It's Rich's birthday and everyone needs a Popener on their birthday. I still need to sort out my costume actually. Or maybe I'll just join Mr. Other P on the sofa and watch Flash Gordon.

Yeah, that sounds like an idea...

Sunday 7 February 2010

Blood Orange Marmalade

Not so very long ago (in fact, this was just last month), I was having breakfast with some work friends in Milan.

Now, I know how that sounds, but let me just make very clear from the start that we weren't lounging glamorously, sipping espressi and nibbling crostata on the terrace of some lovely bar near the Duomo (obviously - this was January; nobody was doing that!). No, we were in Linate Airport, waiting to catch a flight back to London.

(I know, I know... Dreams shatter, the romance that filled the air becomes a mere memory... Welcome back to the real world.)

Anyway, the breakfast we ate was completely unremarkable - can't even remember what we had - but the orange juice they brought us to drink with it has been on my mind ever since. Well, not constantly, but I enjoyed it enough to remember it, put it that way.

I say orange juice, but actually, this stuff was crimson. Sanguine. Red-as-you-like. It would easily pass for tomato at a Fruit Juice Fancy Dress, no questions asked. Or indeed, blood, but I prefer the rather more appetising lure of my first comparison. Feel free to choose which you like better.

Anyway, it turned out that I like blood orange juice very much indeed, and not least because I am just crazy about the way Italians serve freshly squeezed juice - as it comes, bits and all, and at room temperature. It was so good I ordered a second, risking terrible acid indigestion (which thankfully never came), convinced I would never have the chance to enjoy such an elixir ever again.

So far, I am sorry to say, I have been proven right, but let us not dwell too much on the negatives in life. I did succeed in finding some blood oranges in the greengrocer's last week, and wasted little time in buying several kilos, full of hope that I would be drinking freshly squeezed, blood-red OJ at home all week.

It was not to be.

We can go about this the easy way, or the hard way, but the long and the short of it is that my blood oranges were anaemic. No sanguine juices for me. I didn't even bother to photograph the juice they produced, as it was just too devastatingly orange.

Since I wasn't going to bother making juice anymore (we always have regular orange juice in the fridge, and I am not going to get all busy in the kitchen when there really isn't a need. Call me lazy. Go on.), I was at a loss over what to do with all the citrus lying about my kitchen.

Until I went out into the shed, that is.

Have I told we we always keep our empty jars? I have now.

And have I told you that I eat more pickled gherkins than anyone else in the British Isles? Ditto.

I like to think that it is a simple and easy to follow equation:

Oranges + Jars = Marmalade.

I didn't have much time for this though, owing to a roster change, so I decided to use the whole fruit method, which is meant to be a lot quicker than the sliced fruit method (that I used to make Lemon-Vanilla Marmalade), and has the added benefit of making your kitchen smell like a Sicilian orange grove. Always a bonus, I'm sure you'll agree.

A quick note - said roster change meant that I had to photograph this marmalade immediately after jarring, (with awful food styling; I have failed you, I know) while it was still hot and liquid. I'm not trying to encourage dangerous behaviour in the kitchen, but have to tell you that there really is nothing to rival just-made, hot orange marmalade on a buttered crumpet. The flavour of the oranges is incredible. I haven't had a chance to try the fully set preserve yet - I'm away - but if it is even half as zingy as the straight off the boil stuff, then this is basically the best thing I have ever made.

Blood Orange Marmalade

You will need:

1 kg (that's six!) blood oranges
2 kg granulated sugar
3 lemons
  1. Wash, scrub and remove the ends of the oranges. By ends I mean the little nubbly bits and stems.
  2. Put them in a pan, cover them with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer, covered, until soft. This should take two hours, so you can clean away the breakfast things, hoover or do the ironing while you wait. Or all of those things. I can clean the whole house in two hours.
  3. Allow to cool slightly, and remove the oranges. Slice them as thin or thick as you like and put into a large pan. Measure the liquid you boiled them in, and either add more water to make 1.7 litres, or boil away more until you get that much. Add the orangey liquid to the oranges in the pan, along with the sugar and juice of the lemons.
  4. Stir and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring to a rolling boil, and maintain the high heat until the setting point is reached. This took 40 minutes for me.
    Allow to cool for 10 minutes, and pour into sterilised jars. I filled four great big ones (450g capacity), and one small one. Seal immediately. Unless you want to try it hot like I did, in which case proceed carefully, and don't burn your tongue!
If you don't know what the setting point is, or how to sterilise jars, see here.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Re-Inventing the Lamington - The Winners!

Well, that was all very exciting.

First of all, huge numbers of crazy lamingtons came in unexpectedly. And then voting went all ker-azy!

We have a clear winner, and I am pleased to say that it is none other than Sanjana of Ko Rasoi! Her lamingtons were not only amazing because of their lack of eggs (didn't know that you could bake without eggs, did you?), but also because of the exotic ingredients - pistachio splinters instead of coconut, and an amazing sounding filling - drained yogurt, beaten with sugar, saffron, cardamom and mace.

I am definitely making these in the future. (And that's no hollow promise!)

Congratulations Sanjana - I have to hand it to you, you got even more inventive with the lamington than I did, and I had to try ten times! Please get in touch, and First Prize will be on it's way as soon as possible.

As promised, I am also awarding a Second Prize, which is no longer a 'Mystery Prize', as you can see a picture of it below. Yup. I'm giving away no less than three of my beloved Mr. Tom bars. Only one is shown, but the winner is getting three, trust me. I haven't eaten the other two!

How it pains me to give these away.

A quick note: I used random.org to select the winner, taking Sanjana's lamington out of the equation, but I can't figure out how to post the results here. I'm going to be late for work if I don't get a wriggle on, so I am appreciating your trust on this one.

Lamington Bakers = Always Trustworthy.

And the Second Prize winner is...

Sunday Hotpants' Blueberry Lamington! (You better share your winnings with Isaac, Lisa - it's clear from the photos that he did all the leg work on this one!) Again, please get in touch; your winnings will posted to you for your immense enjoyment.

I just want to finish by saying thank you to everybody for baking, entering, following, and voting along with me throughout this challenge. It's been great to see so much baking going on (and mess being made in kitchens the world over!), and to find so many unique and interesting blogs in the process. Big pat on the bag to you all, and hope to see you around for seconds!
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