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Archive for April, 2010

Basil “Pesto”

The reason I don’t like calling this sauce a true basil pesto is that it’s missing a main ingredient.  I don’t add pine nuts.  I’ve tried pesto with toasted pine nuts, with a small amount of pine nuts, with walnuts even (which is good!) but was still not happy.  The nuts seem to take away the from the flavor of the basil, which is the showcase of this sauce.  So I just stay away from them. I use this to make creamy pesto dressing, pesto bread, pesto lasagna, pizza…  so I figure I better post this recipes as the base to many!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of basil leaves
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup of olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan or Italian cheese blend
  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter

Pick all the basil leaves from the stems. Inspect your basil to make sure there aren’t any critters living on there. I had a bad experience with aphids on basil once. Gently rinse of the leaves and dry on a paper towel.  You don’t want to bruise the leaves.

Stuff all your basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil into a blender or food processor.

Blend for 20-30 seconds or until he garlic is completely chopped up and you have a bright green slurry.  It may take longer than 30 second depending on the blender you’re using, and it may need more olive oil. Drizzle oil in as needed up to 2/3 cup of olive oil.

Once your garlic and basil are all chopped up, add in cheese and melted butter.

And pulse 5-6 times to blend the cheese.  Store refrigerated in a mason jar (the glass isn’t porous and

doesn’t stain) but make sure the top is completely covered by a thin layer of olive oil to prevent spoiling.

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Nothing celebrates spring like a bright plate of pasta chock full of veggies.  I find myself craving this every year as the fields turn bright green with new foliage. It always makes me think of my friend Trina, and trips to Alexander Valley for wine tasting. Oh, the days when I didn’t have kids…    OK,  enough with the daydreaming.  At least there’s still the primavera. PS:  T- I miss your little water-tower house!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb pasta of your choice (Fettuccine is the norm, but I didn’t have any so I used farfalle in this recipe)
  • 16 stems of asparagus, woody end snapped off
  • 2 small zucchini (6-7 inches long)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 4 tbsp butter, separated into tbsp sized pats
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 4 tomatoes, preferably Roma or Plum but whatever is on hand will work
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a garlic press (which is my personal favorite way!)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan, or Italian cheese blend
  • 1/2 cup of loosely packed basil, chopped
  • the juice from half a lemon
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 large bowl of ice water

This will make enough for 6-8 entrée sized servings, so beware! You can always cut the recipe in half.

Put two pots on the stove with 3-4 quarts of water and 1 tbsp of salt in each. Start prep work while bringing the water to a boil.

I cut up the vegetables in a specific way to speed up the cooking process. Be sure to keep them separated since they are initially cooked separately. Start with the asparagus. I cut two inches of the tips off, then slice in half lengthwise along the remaining stalk, and in half again as shown in the picture below.

As for the zucchini and carrots, take a peeler and press down a little while making your peeling motion in order to get a slightly thicker peel.

Then stack up the peeled strips and cut them in half lengthwise.

If you buy whole mushrooms, slice them!!!

Once your water is boiling, drop in the asparagus and boil for 45-60 seconds.

Then remove using a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Ta-dow. Once it’s cooled down (about a minute) remove from the cold water with a slotted spoon (you’ll need the water for cooling down the other cooked veggies) and put into a colander to finish draining.

Next cook the zucchini for 30-40 seconds

then plunge into the ice water, repeating the cooling down and then draining process. Next are the peas for 30 seconds, remove, cool-down and drain, and then the carrots for  1-1/2 to 2 minutes. I bet you can guess how you cool these down.  Once all veggies are cooled and drained, you should end up with a big and beautiful bowl of color. Take a look!

Purty!

Cut an “x” into the tips of your tomatoes like so –

and put into the boiling water.  Cook until the “x” on the end just starts to peel back or split, then plunge into your ice bath to stop the cooking process.  They should look something like this –

The skins should slide off pretty easily. Use the peeler on any stubborn pieces of tomato skin.  Now cut out the stem and chop them up.

Now is the time to cook your pasta. Pour it into the second pot of boiling water and stir to prevent sticking.

You can finally dump out that boiling veggie water from your first pot, and rinse it out since we’re going to use it to make the sauce while the pasta is boiling. Yep, we’re only using two pots to make primavera. How great is that!

Put 3 tbsp of butter into the dry pan and saute your mushrooms until lightly browned. Add in the chopped tomatoes.

Cook until the tomatoes start to break up about 8-10 minutes.

Check you pasta. If it’s done, drain and set it aside. If not quite done, continue to boil.

Add in the last tbsp of butter and your garlic to the mushroom mixture.

Cook until the garlic has mellowed, approximately 3 minutes. Turn down the heat to low, then add in the cream and half of the parmesan cheese (Save the rest of your cheese for sprinkling on top!) and stir until the cheese has melted and blended in with the sauce.  Simmer for an additional 3 minutes stirring until the sauce has slightly thickened. Set aside off of the heat until your pasta is done.

Pour drained pasta and veggies into the sauce and stir until completely combined.

Stir in basil and lemon juice and serve! Of course I sprinkle mine with more cheese due to my dairy addiction.

Join me.

I’m a dairy pusher.

Cut to 3 minutes later.

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I love the creepy feeling I get from an old, chipped, squeeky carousel.   Insert evil laugh here.

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Not that sweet generic taste, not watered down, not just blue cheese and mayonnaise. This is so easy to make and so much better than what pre-made dressing you can buy in a store. I’m always asked to make this for family gatherings. Or thickened as a dip for functions. If you’re a blue cheese dressing fanatic, TRY THIS!!!

Ingredients:

  • 4-6oz block of blue cheese (you can use crumbles, but the block tends to have more flavor)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp minced shallot or minced onion
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp hot sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put buttermilk and 3/4 of the blue cheese in a blender or food processor

and blend until smooth, or you can put the buttermilk and blue cheese into a bowl and mash with a fork until it’s mixed well. It will still be chunky.

Pour blended cheese into a bowl, then add in the sour cream and mayonnaise.

and then whisk until smooth.   Pour in the worchestershire sauce, hot sauce, vinegar, shallot, garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper and whisk thoroughly again.

Mash the remaining blue cheese with a fork,

and stir.

Now all you need to do is enjoy!

You can use this dressing immediately, although it gets better as the flavors meld. Overnight in the fridge makes a huge difference.  To make it a dip, use only 1/2 cup of buttermilk.

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Enough said… Let’s get to work.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup cold butter cut into small pieces
  • 1-2/3 cup of rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 6oz white chocolate chips  or 1-1/2 bars coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup of seedless jam (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, boysenberry… whatever floats your boat!)

Turn on and set the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray, or a small cookie sheet which is what I’m doing in this post. I like thinner bars. And the crumb mixture will spread.  After spraying the pan with cooking spray, line with parchment paper making sure there is enough overlapping the edges to easily remove the bars from the pan later.

In a large bowl combine flour, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder

Put butter in bowl an cut into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter, or mix in with your hands

until the flour mixture looks like coarse crumbs.  Add oats, coconut, and pecans

Mix well it should look something like this

Sorry for the close up… but it smells REALLY good!

OK, I’ve got it together.

Press just over half the mixture into the bottom of you pan. If you’re using a cookie sheet, form rectangle that is approximately 9×13  like pictured below.

I know. But I did say approximately. I say it a lot.

Here’s where it starts looking amazing.  Sprinkle the white chocolate over your crumb mixture and then spoon the jam over everything.  You may need to warm up your jam in order to spoon it easily.  20-30 in the microwave works wonders. Then crumble the remaining crumb mixture on top.  Wait until you see the next picture!

AWWWWWYEA!  Going in for the close up

Place you pan on the top rack and bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. 

Let your bars cool completely before removing from the pan using the parchment overhang, then cut into squares and enjoy!!!

If  you’re not a fan of white chocolate, you can take out the jam, substitute 4oz of semisweet chocolate and add an 1/4 cup of coconut.

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I’m pumping myself up for my “A” game.  Every year I plant a zucchini, and it’s inevitable. I always end up with way more zucchini than I need, even after freezing.  I never learn my lesson, although this year, I planted a gray zucchini in hopes to keep the harvest down. I have become a firm believer in the ” Leave a stack of Zucchini on your Neighbors steps in the middle of the Night” day. Oh yeah, it’s an actual day. Look it up. Or make this bread… you may never have to get rid of zucchini again!

Ingredients:

  • 3-1/2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 3/4 cups sugar plus
  • 1/4 cup sugar divided
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or 1-1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour and 2/3 cup wheat flour
  • 1-1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1-1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup plain yoghurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 tbsp melted butter (about 3/4 of a stick)

First thing first… the  trick to a good tasting zucchini bread is to get as much water out of the zucchini as possible. There are two ways to do this. One is to freeze shredded zucchini, and when it thaws, squeeze out the excess water. Or you can stir sugar into freshly shredded zucchini which will help it release water.  Just like strawberries.  I opt for number two since in the case of zucchini, fresh is better.  The more water you get out, the more zucchini you can pack into this bread. Which means that you’re getting zucchini bread, not bread with some zucchini in it. And another this is that you get to use up more of your zucchini harvest! YEA!! OK, enough with the babble

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Shred that zucchini-

Yup, I use a regular old cheese grater. Unless I plan on making a lot of bread to give away, and then I bust out with a food processor.

Next mix the shredded zucchini up with 1/4 cup of sugar

and place into a colander to drain.

I place my colander over a bowl just to see how much liquid drains.  Plus the kiddos think it’s a pretty color. I agree!

While the zucchini is draining dump the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a big bowl, and stir until combined.

In a second smaller bowl, whisk together the rest of the sugar, eggs, lemon juice, yoghurt, vanilla, and melted butter

until combined.

Now you have to decide if you would like one large loaf or two smaller loafs, then grease  and flour your pan/s. I chose to make two, since my father caught wind that I was baking and had already called to make sure he had a loaf reserved.

Return to your zucchini and squeeze out as much remaining liquid as you can. It doesn’t have to be completely dry, But you should have a nice amount of liquid in your bowl.

Look at all that zucchini juice!

Mix the squeezed zucchini in with your egg mixture …

Then pour into the big bowl with your flour mixture, and fold (if you want to add 1 cup of nuts, chocolate chips, or what ever floats your boat, now would be the time)

until just combined.  You DON’T want to mix it too much! Mixing too much will make a dense bread.

Pour the batter into your pan/s

And bake on middle rack in the oven until golden brown for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool down for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and finish cooling on a rack.

or eat it immediately while it’s still warm.

YUM!

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Smokey, thick and chock full of veggies…nothing like a bowl of split pea soup on a gray day. Pass me a bowl please.  My Mom has eaten this cold.  It really is that tasty.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 smoked ham shanks, or 2 ham bones, or 1 of each
  • 3 bay leaves
  • water
  • 2 lbs dried split peas
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1/2  inch pieces
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by putting the ham shanks in a pot with the bay leaves and pour in approximately 12-14 cups of water.

It should cover the shanks and then some like this-

I know, there’s a shank and a ham bone in there. I said you could mix it up! We’re making a broth people!

Bring it to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to a simmer.  Cook for 2-3 hours or until the meat is tender and pulls from the bone easily.

While waiting for the broth to cook, heat up the oil in another pan and saute the onion, celery, and carrots until they are starting to brown, then add butter and garlic

and continue to cook until the garlic is cooked, but not brown, approximately 3-4 minutes more.

After 2-3 hours pull the shanks  out of the pot to cool down. Turn the heat up to medium low and add the split peas, veggies and thyme to the pot. Cook for 20 minutes. The shanks should be cool enough to separate the meat from the bone and anything else that you don’t want to put into the pot. Cut into medium size pieces

Then add the meat and the potatoes to the pot.

Cook until the peas have mostly broken down and the potatoes are starting to fall,  approximately 30 minutes. Then stir in the sugar.

Season with salt and pepper and serve!!

This recipe makes a large pot of soup,  but it can easily be halved for a smaller group. And for my vegetarian friends,  you can make a broth out of veggie stock, 2 tablespoon of smoked paprika, bay leaves and a tablespoon of salt. Bring it to a boil, and add the peas and sauteed veggies and potatoes all at once.  Then lower to a simmer. Be prepared for a split pea soup that’s has an orange color, but is still tasty!

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Good mixed in with scrambled eggs, or on bagels, baguette, and crackers. This spread is great to have around to for an impromptu get-together or just to enhance your favorite bread. It reminds me of a certain cream cheese that my friends and I would DEVOUR when visiting a local coffee shop. Try it, it’s that good.

Ingredients:

  • 1 8oz package of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 green onion, white and green parts sliced
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced or squished through a garlic press
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, or 2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp dill seeds
  • 1/2 tsp whole caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp milk

Mix cream cheese and milk together until fairly well blended

Dump in the rest of the ingredients

And mix well.

Now put it into a container and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors blend. And you’re done!

To showcase the cream cheese (instead of the herbs) , half the amount of dill and green onion.

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Yet another swarm decided grace us with their presence. But instead of landing on a tree or a bush, they went straight for our roof. I was getting ready to go get the mail, and heard the tell tale buzzing outside. AMAZING. I was able to catch a few pictures before they picked a spot to land.

And they’ve landed…

Then the beekeepers came

Four swarms in one week. Five swarms in a year.

The beekeepers get excited when I call now. They know my number!


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the holidays… good? bad???

Ugh.  We have an extended family, and because of this, during the holidays we tend to have three of each. Three Halloweens,  three Christmases, three Easters. This can be very bad. The Fams like to lavish the kids, and unfortunately my Hubs and I with WAY TOO MANY treats.  Those of you who know my family understand. For those of you who don’t believe…

This doesn’t include a bottle of white chocolate liquor, or the two boxes of iced cookies or all of the rest of the candy that kept falling out of the basket.

And me without self control…

Pray for my behind.  It will need it.

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Bored with the same old side dishes?  My Hubs was too. I’d mention green beans, and he would cringe. I had to get a little crafty, and thank goodness it paid off! This is one of his new favorites.  Add a protein and some potatoes into this mix and you have a full skillet meal.

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped or sliced

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed (frozen will work too)

2-3 carrots, cut carrot stick style (or into rounds or whatever!)

2/3 cup water

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp salt

2 cloves garlic, minced or pushed through a garlic press

pepper to taste

Melt on medium high heat your butter and olive oil in skillet until butter is foaming. Add in onion and mushroom and sautee until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add in 1 clove of minced garlic and cook until fragrant, which only takes another minute. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

In the same skillet add, green beans, carrots, water, onion powder, salt and remaining garlic.  Simmer, covered for about 4 minutes. Remove the lid and finish cooking until water is mostly evaporated, another 4 minutes or so.

Pour the mushroom mixture back into the skillet and stir until everything is combined. Season with pepper and more salt if needed, and serve!!

This is also pretty darn good with a fresh herb mixed in, like basil or thyme, or rosemary, parsley… the list goes on!

Sorry!!

I will update with photos asap…

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I love the smell of fresh majoram. I have a thriving patch of it outside. It’s one of the herbs that I brush when I walk by just to smell it on my hands. I recently noticed that my one of my kiddo’s broccoli plants was ready to be harvested, and knew exactly what I was going to do with it. Not that she wasn’t telling me exactly what she wanted me to make with it anyway.  Yep, ordered around by a two-year old. That’s me!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups broccoli, chopped (you can include stems and leaves, I do!)
  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped (chop those leaves in too!!)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh majoram or 1-1/2 tsp dried majoram
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 4 cups chicken broth (beef if you’d like a richer flavor or veggie for my vegetarian friends)
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 2/3 cup of shredded parmesan or shredded Italian cheese blend OR
  • 1-1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1-2/2 tsp salt or to taste
  • pepper to taste

Put chopped broccoli and cauliflower into steamer basket, put it in a pot, and steam until soft but not overdone, about 10-12 minutes. The broccoli should be about this color:

I would normally chop the broccoli and cauliflower up smaller, but I had a kiddo bugging me about soup.

Pull out the steamer basket and set it aside, then pour out the liquid in the bottom. Or use it in the soup, just set it aside.  I have.  It’s good stuff.  Use the same pot to cook your soup in, which equals less dishes, which in turn equals me happy.

Melt your butter in the pot,

I’m sure I didn’t need to include this picture, but I am a dairy addict, and look how pretty that melted butter looks!

Now add in your onion and celery

and cook until soft but not browned, about 7 minutes.

Add the broccoli, cauliflower, and flour to the celery mixture and stir well to make sure the flour is well blended. Then add majoram (If using fresh, strip the leaves from the stem), bay leaf, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper to the pot.

and give another good stir.  Pour in the broth, and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pull out the bay leaf and puree the soup in a food processor, blender or with a hand-held blender (mine went kaput a few months back), using whatever is easiest for you.

Then pour puree back into the pot, and make sure your stove heat is set on low. The soup should look something like this:

Notice it still has texture? YUM!

Pour in the cream and the cheese,

and stir until the cheese is melted. Then eat up!! I don’t think I could ever eat a plain broccoli soup again. The majoram enhances the soup flavor so well.  Feel free to omit the cauliflower and use only broccoli.  It’s just as delicious!!!

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bzzzbzzzz

With the onset of spring comes quite a few bugs, and in my case, three different swarms of honeybees on three different days. They seem to love my yard, which has me stumped since the only things that are blooming in my yard are two small blueberry bushes and two flowers (pretty little things) on one of our snowpea plants. We had one swarm make itself content on a small, bare, crepe myrtle in the front yard. Actually, they were on almost the same branch another swarm had landed the year before. The other two swarms were happily hiving on the bradford pear tree (yes, the same one I was supposed to cut back and haven’t yet) in our backyard.  One of the swarms had moved on before our local bee keeper could get to it.  Luckily they were able to get to the second backyard swarm and safely cart it away.  With this being the second year we’ve had swarms, I think a hive or two may be in my future.  I’m not sure if  I should take on another new hobby though. I will be doing a a lot of research before I decide.  Hmmmmm…    I really like bees. I liked the sound of  the hive buzzing happily away.

Darn.

I think I’m hooked.

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This is my favorite go to salad.  It’s easy to make in a pinch, but I think the key is a good quality balsamic vinegar.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of lettuce (romaine is pictured)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/2 cup prepared quinoa
  • 1/2 chicken breast, cut any way you like it!
  • 1/4  avocado, cut into cubes
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp of shredded hard cheese ( parmesan, asiago, I go for the blend!)

This is going to go pretty fast, so keep up!

Chop salad

and it into a bowl.

sprinkle salad with garlic salt

I like the kind that has parsley flakes in it. Who knows why. My brain is convinced it tastes better I guess. Now spoon in the quinoa. Or just drop it on the top. Whatever works for you. I’m using some of the leftover herbed quinoa I had made.

Now,throw in chicken and avocado… well maybe not throw. Toss in the chicken and avocado. Eh, you get the point.

Drizzle in olive oil (I like to use garlic infused olive oil. FANCY!) and balsamic vinegar.

and sprinkle over the CHEESE!!!

You don’t have to use olive oil and vinegar as your dressing… but try it at least once.  It’s worth it!

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Herbed Quinoa

This is a great side dish which flavor is reminiscent of rice pilaf and couscous mixed. High in protein, it is a great alternative to pasta or grain, and it tastes really good! It’s also super simple to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rinsed quinoa
  • 1-1/2 cup chicken or veggie broth
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced or pushed through a garlic press
  • 1 tsp onion powder

Put all ingredients into a pot,

and bring to a boil.

Cover and bring heat to low to simmer ingredients. Simmer for about 10 -15 minutes.  Turn off heat but keep covered for 5 more minutes.

Then just stir and serve!

Quinoa is so versatile, that almost anything can be added to it.  After cooked, you can stir in sauteed sherried mushrooms, fresh spinach, green onion,  parmesan or romano cheese, pine nuts, or pears and walnuts.  Or you can add any veggie while bringing to a boil to cook with the quinoa. So many choices…!

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