Adventures in Baking: Chocolate Eclairs

 

I’ve been itching to make chocolate eclairs for the longest time.

Old-fashioned British cream cakes (French pastries filled with sweetened whipped cream) were always my favourites and Jean-Marc demonstrated how easy it is to make choux pastry when he whipped up his Saint Honore’ back at patisserie camp.  And if you don’t fill them with crème patissiere (pastry cream) they’re actually surprisingly quick and easy to make and I prefer them as they’re not too sweet.

 

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INGREDIENTS (Makes 13 small eclairs)

For the choux pastry:

60g (4 tablespoons) butter

1 good pinch salt

130ml (1/2 cup) water

80g (3/4 cup) plain flour, sifted

3 large free range eggs

For the filling and topping:

1 pint (2 cups) whipping cream

1-2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or to taste)

Some chopped pistachios (or other nuts) optional

For the chocolate icing:

100g (3.5 oz) good quality dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate)

50ml (4 tablespoons) cream

50g (4 tablespoons) butter

 

Chocolateeclairs

 

METHOD

Preheat the oven 220˚C (430˚F) and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat (I love my Silpat).

To make the choux pastry, place the butter and water in a saucepan and bring to a steady boil until the butter is completely melted.

Remove from the heat and add the flour a little at a time, beating with a wooden spoon until it all comes together in a ball. Place back over the heat and continue beating the dough in the saucepan for about 40 seconds to cook the flour.

Remove from the heat and set aside for a few minutes otherwise the eggs will cook when you add them. Beat one of the eggs in a small bowl.

Add the two unbeaten eggs to the warm dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly until completely incorporated. The dough will look like it’s curdling.  Keep beating, eventually it will come together into a smooth paste.

Add the remaining beaten egg a little at a time until you have a smooth, shiny paste that will drop easily from your spoon. (I added all of my beaten egg).

Using a spatula, scoop the dough into a large piping bag fitted with a large round piping nozzle and pipe 10cm (3 inch) lines on to the lined baking sheets, leaving a good sized space between each one to allow for spreading. Brush each one with any leftover beaten egg. (I didn’t bother since I had no left over egg).

Place in the oven, reduce the heat to 190˚C (375˚ F), and use a wooden spoon to crack the door open an inch to let the steam escape (Chef Jean Marc taught us this trick at patisserie camp), Bake for approximately 25 minutes until the eclairs are puffed up, and are golden and crisp. If they’re not completely dry bake them for an additional few minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before filling.

 

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For the filling, whip the cream with a little vanilla sugar (or sugar + a couple of drops of vanilla extract) and then either make three holes in the bottom of each éclair and pipe in the cream, using a small round nozzle, or, as I did, just cut them in half lengthways and fill with whipped cream using a teaspoon.

To make the chocolate glaze, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of hot water. When the chocolate has melted remove the bowl from the heat and gently stir in the cream. Fold in the butter until you have a shiny, spreadable chocolate glaze.

Dip the filled eclairs into the glaze and sprinkle with chopped nuts if liked.  Chill in the fridge until serving. They will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, though I bet they don’t get the chance.

I used Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate for the glaze.

When I first arrived in rainy Novemberish Seattle nearly seven years ago, it was only the discovery of Green & Black’s Almond Chocolate in our local supermarket which stopped me getting the next flight home. Since then I’ve discovered many delicious artisan chocolate bars (the Pacific North West appears to be the artisan chocolate hub of the US) but still no commercial chocolate bar that comes anywhere close in quality and is also organic and Fair Trade, for such a reasonable price as Green & Blacks.

Here’s the link to some brownies I made a while back using the fabulous Green & Black’s chocolate cookbook, which I also highly recommend.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Green & Black’s sent me some free samples recently, but they didn’t really need to bother. I’ve been a fan ever since the first nibble I took back in the UK, years ago now.

   
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Adventures in Knitting: Garden Party Socks

 

Or why I *heart* Air Canada (and yes, Canadian readers, I have been told this is a controversial opinion).

 

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Our flight back from the UK to Vancouver this summer was an eventful one, as we were returning on Air Canada flight chock-full of Canadian medal winners.  I spent most the flight working on a pair of socks. I had started these socks back in Del Mar for Spring Break and had knitted the whole of the first sock and and was about three-quarters of the way through the second, representing hours and hours and HOURS of work. Towards the end of the flight, exhausted, I packed my knitting into its Ziploc bag and tucked into the seatback pocket in front of me (you can see where this is going can’t you?).  AT the end of the flight we headed off into the maelstrom of an airport waiting to greet its returning Olympians and I didn’t give my socks another thought.

 

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Of course, when we got home and I started to unpack, my knitting was nowhere to be found.  I called Air Canada in a panic and spoke to a very friendly person in India who took all my details, but didn’t seem to have access to any lost and found information. I was told that lost items would be cleared from the plane and then sent to a central lost property facility and I would be informed if they turned up.

I have to admit to feeling disproportionately grumpy about the whole thing.  It’s at times like this that you realise how much handmade things really mean; how very fond I had grown of my hippy clown barf socks made from one of a kind yarn; how certain I was that I could never be bothered to re-knit them; and how much of my time and myself I had invested in them.

 

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Three weeks went by with no info, so I called again, spoke to another friendly person in India who had no access to specific details and was told that it was still possible the socks were making their way through the system.  But by this stage I had sort of given up.

And then, about three weeks after that, a small package was left on my porch, with small Air Canada label on it.  Could it really be?  With my heart thumping I opened the package and there were my socks, returned to me courtesy Air Canada’s Central Baggage Office in Montreal.  I tell you the Prodigal Son’s father wasn’t half as pleased to see him as I was to see them.

Here are my cuties in all their finished glory. 

The yarn, Mansfield Garden Party by Madeline Tosh, is extraordinary. It changes colour every few centimetres through moss greens, sky blues, pastel pinks and lilacs and mustardy yellows and browns – yes, just like a garden in full bloom- and doesn’t pool excessively into huge splodges of colour. I used Cookie A’s BFF pattern which I thought worked fabulously with the yarn.  It was interesting to knit , mixed up the yarn even more and was not overpowered by the variegated colour.

Goodness I love these guys. And how I LOVE Air Canada.

A friend was saying that a similar thing happened to her and now she always tucks a business card into her knitting bag.  Why didn’t I think of that?

As a special bonus here are some pics the Canadian Olympians returning home.  That was crazy fun.

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Monthly Trend Report : Animal Print

 

Hi chaps, here’s Tina again with her monthly report on interiors trends.  Seems we’re going a bit wild this month.

Hello again! It’s Tina here, back with your Monthly Trend Report. Fall is officially here and it’s quite chilly in New York. When it comes to fall design many like to use materials that are warm and soft to the touch. Which is exactly why I think that animal print is here to stay! (At least for the next few months.) Animal print has been making an appearance over the last year, in rugs, upholstery and accent fabrics.

 

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Via Lonny // Lonny // New York Social Diary // Martyn Lawrence Bullard // Lonny // Beck Design // Tell Your Interior Designer

Zebra print is the most popular, and it may be because black and white are classic colors that can be placed into any space easily. If you are looking for more of a pop you may want to think about leopard and cheetah print, which is huge in fashion right now. If it’s fashionable for your clothes, it’ll be great for the home as well.

 

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Via Robin Bell Interiors

Using actual animal hides can get expensive, and real hides may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you love the look but want to keep it simple, there are many printed fabrics you can choose from to help you get the look.

What do you think of animal print? Love the trend or hate it? Do you think it’s here for the long run?

Please visit Tina’s blog Life in Sketch. I’m loving these monthly trend reports and want to make sure it’s worthwhile for her to stick around.

   
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My Mamma’s Tomato Sauce and a Foodportunity

 

I wanted to give a little shout out today to an amazing lady and an amazing idea.

I arrived in Seattle six years ago with approximately two hundred cookbooks, several boxes of kitchen paraphernalia, knowing not a soul and no idea that I was about to encounter one of the most vibrant and inspiring food communities on the planet.

 

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I caught glimpses of the scene through various blogs and then through Facebook, but it was always as an outsider wistfully gazing in, with my nose pressed firmly against the window pane, while the assembled throng feasted inside. Twitter was a help; finally I could follow the restaurants, farmers, bloggers and assorted foodies I’d been admiring, but the conversation always seemed to be swirling around me rather than including me.

And then I heard about Foodportunity. And it was revelation.

Seattle food blogger, super mum, and networking genius, Keren Brown, of the blog Frantic Foodie, started the Foodportunity meet ups back in 2009 as a way of bringing together the disparate elements of the Seattle foodie scene.  Food enthusiasts of every stripe – chefs and  restaurateurs, writers and bloggers, photographers and PR people, farmers and winemakers, bakers and makers and anyone who is enthusiastic and passionate about food is invited to attend, sample delectable fare from a variety of restaurants and producers, and talk about food, until the cows (all organic and locally reared of course) come home.

At my first Foodportunity I met bloggers I’d been following for years, chefs I had admired from afar and a whole bunch of knowledgeable, witty and friendly fellow food enthusiasts, who were only too keen to share their insights and expertise. Finally, after three years of being in Seattle, I had found my ‘family’. People I met at that and subsequent Foodportunities now number among my dearest friends and I’ve been invited to some amazing events as a consequence.  It has quite literally transformed my life in Seattle and I can never thank Keren (who has also since become a friend) enough.  Every city needs a Keren and a Foodportunity.

If you’re pressing your nose against the glass of the Seattle food scene and want to be welcomed inside with open arms then get yourself a ticket to the next Foodportunity on October 22nd.  I am girlishly excited because fabulously inspirational food blogger and food stylist extraordinaire Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille is going to be there, talking about her new book. Do let me know if you’re thinking of attending.  I’d love to meet up.

Anyway, I’m throwing in a quick recipe for my mum’s tomato sauce as for me this is the ground zero, the sine qua non of my own foodie journey.  Even as a tiny kid I could tell that my Italian mother’s homemade tomato sauce was in a different league from all other canned and jarred sauces I’d ever tasted and now I see the Minx having the same thoughts when I make this for her.  I used to adore this not just on pasta, but on breaded shallow-fried veal or chicken fillets.

 

Ingredients

A generous slug of good olive oil

1 small carrot, finely chopped

One medium or half a large onion, finely chopped.

1-3 cloves of garlic, crushed, to taste

A couple of pounds of ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and filleted or a bottle of good passata or a couple of cans of good quality tomatoes

Half a good quality stock cube (optional)

A couple of glasses of white wine

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Herbs to taste (see ‘Variations’ below)

 

Method

Heat a generous slug of oil in saucepan and gently sizzle the carrot, onion and garlic until softened and very slightly golden. This is your soffritto. You could add finely chopped celery, but cooked celery is the work of devil, so I do without.

Squeeze your tomatoes through a mouli-legumes (foodmill?) if necessary and add to the soffritto.  Make sure you scrape and add all the flavourful stuff from the bottom of the mouli. Cook the sauce on a medium heat until it has reduced and thickened (about 30-45 minutes depending on your tomatoes) again making sure that you scrape in all the flavourful stuff that clings to the side of the saucepan.

A dirty little family secret is that my mother and aunt would crumble in half a good quality stock cube (they call them ‘dadi’ or dice in Italian) and this does add an extra layer of flavour.  I bought some good stock cubes when I was in France this year for exactly this purpose but you can use whatever you have to hand or nothing at all.

When the sauce is pretty much ready, throw in a couple of glasses of white wine and then simmer the sauce for an extra ten minutes. Season to taste.

You could probably can this, making sure to add either citric acid or lemon juice. I am scared of canning, so freeze my sauce in a stack of Ziploc bags.

Variations

You could add some finely diced pancetta or dried herbs such as oregano to the initial soffritto, some bayleaves during cooking or some fresh basil, thyme or fresh oregano to the sauce with the wine at the end.  You could also experiment with substituting red wine, vermouth or white port for the white wine.

If you want other ideas for what to do with a glut of  tomatoes – you could dry them and preserve them in oil, make gazpacho, or bake tomato focaccia.

I think it’s about time I made a cake, don’t you?

   
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Adventures in Baking: Focaccia

 

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So in an effort to work on my food photography I’m doing this thing called Souvenir Foto School – Food+Foto.  Each week for four weeks, we’re given different courses of a virtual dinner party to make and photograph. Recipes are provided but we can also use our own recipes or buy in our own food. I’m feeling particularly inspired as the menu given is an Italian one, so it gives me a chance to go back to my Italian roots.

This week the first course of the dinner party was ‘ flatbreads and infused oils’, which gave me a great excuse to bake my favourite focaccia recipe, which comes from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy. As an aside I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s packed full of comparatively simple but very traditional Italian recipes, the sort of thing my Italian family cooks all the time – plus lots of little anecdotes and stories from Roden’s travels. 

 

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Ingredients

1kg (2lbs) plain or all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

25g/1oz dried yeast (1 sachet is perfect)

About 500 ml (2 1/4 cups) warm water

4 tbps good olive oil

Additional oil for oiling the baking sheet and brushing the bread

Coarse sel gris, rosemary, sage, thinly sliced red onions or cherry tomatoes for the toppings

 

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Method

Put the flour in a big bowl and make a well in the centre.  Activate the yeast according to the packet instructions and add it to the flour (either hydrate it in some of water or just stir it into the flour). Add the salt and olive oil.

Then add enough warm water to make a workable but slightly sticky dough.  I ended up adding a little more water this time round.

Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is soft and elastic.  You need to get to about medium gluten development on the window pane test, but I don’t normally get that technical.

When it’s ready, cover the dough with oil and leave it in a clean bowl in a warm place until it has at least doubled in bulk. You could leave it in the fridge overnight if necessary.

After the initial rise, punch the dough down and divide into two. Shape each portion into a rectangle and place on an oiled baking sheet (I find 13’ by 9’ pans perfect for this).

Use your fingers to press and push the dough out until it fits the pans.  It should end up being about 1 inch thick and you should be able to see the indentations from your fingers in the dough. They are what catches the oil and flavourings, so push firmly.

Brush with oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs, or add thinly sliced red onions, or halved cherry tomatoes. Let the dough rise again until it’s puffy all over and about two inches thick.

 

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Whack your oven up to the highest setting and set a cast iron pan or similar in the bottom.  Put the bread in the oven, and simultaneously add a cup or two of water to the hot pan in the bottom to create steam. Shut the oven door quickly and don’t open it for about 15 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown and ready after about 20 minutes.  When ready, tip it from the pans, brush it again with oil and serve warm.

I also made a couple of simple infused oils..  I just added some springs of rosemary to one batch, and some small whole dried chilies, slivers of garlic and strips of lemon zest to the other.

   

 

 

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Pinterest Take 5: Orange Front Door

 

After breaking my addiction for a little while, I am suddenly back on Pinterest with a vengeance – thereby using up all the time I could be spending sprucing up my home, cooking good food, or doing cool craft projects by pinning up pretty pictures of said activities instead.

But I digress. It must be the season, but suddenly a plethora of orange doors – in vibrant, juicy, mouthwatering, knock ‘em dead mandarin orange – have been popping up all over my stream. 

It would be impossible to be depressed in a house with an orange door, wouldn’t it?

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1. From That Kind of Woman via Mrs French *

2. From Dwellers without Decorators via KMinNYC

3. From Planete-Deco via Maria Kunkel

4. From The Designer Pad via Carrie Hampton

5. From Justina Blakeney via Happy Mundane

   
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Fancy Hotel of the Week: Fairmont Empress Hotel

 

I’ve just realised that although I blogged the awesome afternoon tea we had at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria on Vancouver Island, I never got round to blogging about the actual hotel, which is a shame, as the Minx and I had the most fabulous stay there and can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

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To put it in context, the hundred-year old Empress is probably the closest thing this corner of the world gets to Downton Abbey and yet the hotel manages to pull off an amazing juggling act.  It is supremely comfortable, laid-back and not remotely stuffy, full of 21st century amenities and luxuries, whilst beautifully and wittily preserving all the over-the-top Edwardian splendour and graciousness.

Stay here and you can believe that the sun really never set on the British Empire, though there is no Lady Violet raising a disapproving eyebrow over the teapot.

After all, where else could you find tigers, lions and killer whales?  (There are elephants too, but my photos were blurred).

 

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Perfectly preserved post boxes adorn the walls together with steely-eyed wives of Governors-General (clearly Maggie Smith’s close relations).

 

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The carpets are swirly and the vistas are imposing.

 

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Yet our room was cosy and comfortable, with a beautiful view, and we were given access to the gorgeously pretty Gold Lounge and its neverending supply of elegant pastries (I highly recommend paying for this upgrade if you can).

 

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The Minx had an absolute ball.  I think she thought she as a princess in a fairytale palace and we had enormous fun running round the hotel doing the scavenger hunt she found in her kid gift pack and finding out more about the hotel’s history.

 

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She also really appreciated her kid-sized bathrobe

 

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and the truly phenomenal indoor swimming pool.

 

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The staff were kindness personified to the Minx and were a key part of the enormously relaxing and unintimidating atmosphere, despite the grand surroundings.

We even had fun playing ‘Silent Ninja’ on the gracious lawns outside.

 

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That night after popcorn and a movie in bed I snuck the Minx out in her pyjamas to see the beautiful harbour views.

 

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Before my fr iend and I repaired to the Bengal Lounge for some truly excellent cocktails.

 

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This wasn’t just a hotel stay,  it was an experience we won’t easily forget. Everyone deserves to live like a Dowager Duchess at least once.

 

If you can’t stretch to a stay at the Empress, the Afternoon Tea is fabulous way of joining in the fun and seeing the hotel’s most beautiful public rooms..

Full Disclosure: The Minx and I were the guests of the Fairmont Empress for one night and for afternoon tea. I promise that they have had no influence on the content of this blog post and all opinions are my own.

   
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Adventures in Cooking : Gazpacho

 

gazpacho

 

I know, I know, yesterday was the first day of October .

But it’s been a crazy warm here in Seattle this September and the farmers’ markets have been overflowing with delicious tomatoes.  I’ve been skinning and deseeding tons of tomatoes to make stacks of tomato sauce for the freezer and have discovered that if you rub the leftover skins and seed pulp through a sieve you get lots of the most delicious pulpy tomato juice.

Which is perfect for gazpacho.

The recipe below is one I cobbled up myself from various books and online sources. I’ve been fiddling with it for years now and can’t remember what my sources were, sorry. Spanish people have tried it though and it’s apparently pretty authentic.

 

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This chilled soup, which is nothing more than a whizzed up salad, is gorgeous when (if) the weather is warm and the tomatoes are juicy. I quite often make a big pot just for us to eat at home, but it also makes a great starter for a summer dinner party, in which case you may want to add the optional garnishes. Don’t bother making this if you can’t get hold of really delicious, juicy ripe tomatoes – in the US I use heirlooms and in the UK cherries.

You will need to whizz every thing together with a handheld blender. If you don’t have one you’re going to have to do messy things with a food processor or goblet blender. If you don’t have one of those, I really wouldn’t bother making this.

Ingredients

A big jugful of thick, pulpy tomato juice, or passata or a bunch of fresh, skinned and de-pipped tomatoes

½ large cucumber, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 small onion, red for preference

½ green pepper (optional, but Anaheims are nice)

2 slices white bread or 8 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or substitute red or white wine vinegar)

1 big handful parsley sprig

1 large sprig mint

few drops Tabasco (optional)

1 teaspoon tomato ketchup (optional, I prefer to use the Heinz stuff without HFCS, called ‘Simply Heinz in the US)

salt and pepper

FOR OPTIONAL GARNISH:

1 red pepper, chopped into tiny dice

1 green pepper, chopped into tiny dice

1 small red onion, chopped into tiny dice

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped into tiny dice

Tiny croutons

   

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Method

Place the tomato juice/tomatoes into a big jug. Roughly chop the cucumber, onion (and pepper if using) and add to the tomatoes together with the garlic, mint and parsley. Tear up the slices of bread or add the breadcrumbs. I always have a bag of fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer and add them frozen to the soup.

Whizz every thing together with your handheld blender. Add the oil, vinegar, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste and a teaspoon of tomato ketchup if you think that your tomatoes need it (apparently they do this in Spain, so that’s OK). Stir together and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Add a few ice cubes if you want to chill it faster.

   
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Art Yulia

 

Here’s a bit of lovely to start your week. Yulia Brodskaya is a Russian paper artist and graphic designer who now lives and works in London.

Her amazingly intricate and stunningly beautiful artwork made from coiled strips of coloured paper has been commissioned by a number of big brands.  I’m intrigued to see where it will end up next.

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See Yulia’s entire portfolio here.  All images by Yulia Brodskaya.

   
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