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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Do you know where YOUR fish came from?

Probably not, but there are interesting exceptions.

In some cases, like live shellfish, the provenance – exactly where caught, by whom and when – is noted on a tag. Copps Island Oysters purchased at the Greenwich CT Farm market come with such a little tag, even if you’re only buying a dozen. (Great oysters, by the way http://www.coppsislandoysters.com ).

On a recent voyage to Halifax, Nova Scotia, myMEGusta went on a foodie walking tour, which included a stop at Goldwater Seafoods, a modest dockside store, backed up by a worldwide seafood shipping business, and with many stories to tell.http://www.goldwaterseafoods.com/

Nova Scotia Lobsterman

The proprietor explained how the lobster industry works: very entrepreneurial, potentially dangerous, and most definitely not for the faint of heart, including when rubber banding those claws.

Goldwater Seafoods

Who knew, for example, that the pots have to be tended daily, rain or shine, snow or squall, to harvest the creatures and bring them to the pound. There they are kept healthy, and live out their lives until being shipped out in the leaner months when fishing is either not possible or productive enough to keep up supply to stores and restaurants.

Or, that lobstermen (and they are mostly men) keep mum on exactly where they have found where the crustaceans like to congregate (and go into traps), or their exact catch. It’s almost like the white truffle hunters in Italy, except that no dogs are involved.

Bahia Solano, Colombia

On a very different cruise last spring, myMEGusta visited Bahia Solano, Colombia, a sleepy fishing village on the Pacific Coast, extremely rustic, but with a claim to fame as a tourist resort: not exactly like Puerta Vallarta with luxury hotels and great wine lists, but simple inns catering to serious sport fishermen (one website calls them “adventurists”) and scuba divers, mostly from Europe.

Colombia Fishing Districts

The other economic mainstay of the village is fishing within the legally designated artisanal fishing district, several miles off the coast where larger commercial vessels are forbidden to operate. The artisanal fishermen comply with regulations on the size of their boats, and their fishing methodology is limited to more traditional means than the industrial ships.

Bahia Solano Fish Ready to Fly

While they catch plenty of average fish, which is all consumed locally, their big win is the finer fish, red snapper, tuna, and such, which are sent to the coop, iced down, and then flown to markets all over South America and the world.

When you see/hear how hard all of these folks work to capture the sea’s bounty for us, particularly in cold, Northern waters or the choppy Pacific, never mind the logistics involved in getting the catch to us, the cost of top quality seafood makes very good sense!

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Fifty Shades of Rose

Shades of Rose

Roses are red, and. never mind about the blue violets, we are talking about rose wine.

Most rose wines start as grapes with red pigment in their skins – Grenache, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir to name a few.

The winemaker takes an extra step (literally, more on that later) to gently crush them, so that the skin pigment begins to seep into the juice. The timing is precise and closely monitored, and when the correct tint has been achieved, off go the grapes to the press, squeezing that pink must (unfermented grape juice destined to become wine) away from the skins before it takes on too much color.

A little known fact is that all red wine is made from grapes with red skins and white interiors. The skin’s pigment colors the juice once the skins are broken, and red wine is then pressed after fermentation is over.

Four Grapes, Four Hues

The exact hue of each rose, which means “pink” in French, is determined by the red grape variety and how long the skins   sustained contact with the juices.

If red grapes are pressed immediately after harvest, the juice is separated from the skins very quickly before it has time to absorb color. The best known white wine made this way is Champagne, with each house using its own blend of Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red) and Pinot Meunier (red) grapes.

Pinot Meunier                  Chardonnay                     Pinot Noir Grapes for Champagne

Occasionally a rose is made from grapes that are not boldly red, but have some color in their skins. One of these, which myMEGusta tasted recently, was Rose of Gewurtztraminer, more of a novelty than a treat, truth be told.

On a recent visit to the David Hill Winery (https://www.davidhillwinery.com/) in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, myMEGusta stumbled upon an interesting crate of red Gamay grapes, before and after they were “galosh stomped”, the winemaker’s process for breaking the skins of red grapes destined to be rose. Note the difference in the volume before and after, when the juices were starting to run and the grapes starting to settle into the bin. Their destination soon after this photo was taken was to have that pink juice squeezed off into a fermentation tank.

After Stomping

Before Galosh Stomping

 

Rose has always been a favorite of wine lovers, the traditional fine ones having been made by this painstaking process, and most of them quite dry, or fruity at best, never sweet.

Then came the Swingin’ Sixties and our friends from Portugal came out with Mateus and Lancers, happy little roses that had a touch of sweetness and zero complexity, perfect for neophyte young adults as starter wines (and, if our parents were not wine drinkers, them, too).

The White Zinfandel boom came a few years later, and rose became known as the wine for people who don’t like wine. All the rest of the roses, which had never changed from their original elegance, went swiftly out of fashion.

It has only been a few years since people have started realizing that a well-made rose is a delicious wine, particularly in the summer time, although the good ones stand beautifully alone as aperitifs and accompany good food all year round.

Tuna Time

When I was a girl, all tuna came from cans, and most of it ended up in swathed (too much) mayonnaise.  Sorry, Charlie.

Trimming for Sashimi

We now live in the age of sashimi (some wasabi and soy?), crudo (extra virgin olive oil and sea salt?), and seared tuna steaks, with sushi quality yellowfin available in all fish markets and most grocery stores.

Toro at Sushi Oto in San Diego

Wildly popular around the world, tuna thrive in all the major oceans, and are prized by fishermen for the top dollar they deliver.  We don’t think of tuna as flying fish, but a large proportion of them end up in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, frozen and ready for auction before they get on the next flight to another destination.

Tuna Ready To Cut

Tonnara

One of the oldest tuna fishing techniques, “tonnara”, is still practiced in the Mediterranean Sea and myMEGusta had the huge treat of seeing a 400 pound Bluefin who had been caught in this manner broken down by a professional tuna cutter (and the filets then made into yummy sashimi by top sushi chefs). *

Fatty Tuna

Tonnara is a means of netting the animals as they migrate after spawning; like salmon, the tuna are emaciated at that point, so they are kept alive in giant tuna ranches, and fed generously so that they plump back up.  Note the pink color where this fish was first cut for evaluation; the fattier the fish, the higher a price it commands, and the more “toro”, super fatty tuna, makes its way to sushi and sashimi lovers.

In addition to ranching, which is also done to fatten up tuna taken live by other means, there are also Bluefun tuna farms, similar to salmon farms, where the tuna are bred and raised to adulthood.  This technology, known as closed-cycle, is in its infancy, but could promise a solution to preserving the species.

Bonito in a Lima Peru Market

The major types of tuna are the prized, very fatty (by nature) Bluefin (Atlantic and Pacific species), Yellowfin (the most common type we find in American restaurants and markets), Albacore (most of which is canned), and the close relative, the skipjack (warm water, relatively small in size, also known as bonito).

Once myMEGusta got past the canned tuna/mayo phase, she never met a tuna she didn’t like.

For a related article about Poke, a popular Hawaiian tuna preparation, and other raw fish tales, go to https://mymegusta.com/2012/04/24/no-pig-in-this-poke/  .

And, there’s more about tuna in various guises, Salade Nicoise in particular at: https://mymegusta.com/2016/09/08/whats-so-nice-about-salade-nicoise/

*The Bluefin Cutting Show was part of an expo sponsored by True World Foods, a global seafood distributor, and it is an annual event.  http://www.trueworldfoods.com/tsukiji-express.php

Boning the Tuna

September Means Oktoberfest

Tapping the First Keg

Munich’s annual celebration begins with the tapping of the first beer keg, this year on Saturday, September 22, 2018, at noon. The cannons will sound, The Festival Queen will be seated, appropriately, atop a giant keg, the Mayor will strike the fateful blow, pour a mugful, and hand it to the governor of Bavaria.

From then until October 7, revelers from around the world will consume oceans of wonderful German beer, sausages, ducks, chickens, whatever you can imagine in a giant park with tents constructed just for this party.

Music and Festivity

There are big tents and small tents. Locals have their favorite beers, where they will reserve with their friends year after year; these are, no surprise, big ones, and they have food as well as their stellar brews. The smaller ones tend to specialize in a particular food, seafood or duck or wurst or pastry and, of course, also offer beverages. It’s not only a beer festival, it is also a chance to indulge in fantastic rotisserie chicken, those wonderful German sausages, really a massive eating opportunity, and a time to enjoy live Bavarian music.

Construction of the “tents”, temporary structures, begins in the summer, this year in July, and they are hardly what one would find in a campground.

Augustiner Beer Tent

Munichers and visitors alike don traditional Bavarian garments – lederhosen and knee socks (some just a woolen band) or, for the ladies, decorated blouses and dirndl skirts – and some will march in the Costume Parade. Dressing the part is not a requirement by any means, and garments at all price levels can be found all year round in specialized Munich boutiques. Some folks will bargain shop (The one timers? The tourists who will reuse once at a dress-up party on October 31?). Others will be sporting beautifully handcrafted garb that can last a lifetime. Really serious Munichers will pull out their outfits for other beer festivals throughout the year, or any occasion that warrants being in old fashioned attire.

Celebrants!

The party stared in 1810 as a celebration of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, and ran a full week. The event was so beloved that it was extended little by little, and later moved to September (but always ending in October) simply because the weather was more cooperative for revelers partying in tents.

Side note: Ludwig I was the grandfather of the notorious Ludwig II (also known as Crazy Ludwig or the Swan King) whose tastes for elaborate castles and the fine art of opera approached bankrupting him. Ironically, attractions like Neuschwanstein (on which the Disney logo was modeled) are now among the most lucrative of all German tourist attractions.

Oktoberfest travels around the world, and is a fabulous excuse for an evening of good company and feasting on Bavarian specialities, as myMEGusta did recently with friends at the Rock Center Café in New York. If you have a chance in your city this year, try it!

For a real time look at the plans for Oktoberfest 2018 (and for a link to the shop to buy some of those socks!) go to: https://www.oktoberfest.de/en

Inside a Tent

Strawberries!!

strawberries scallop ceviche with strawberries and rhubarb Gramercy Tavern

Scallop Ceviche with Strawberries and Rhubarb at Gramercy Tavern New York City

 

It is early July, and peak strawberry season in Connecticut is winding down. Farm markets have been bursting with baskets of fragile red berries, this being the only time of year when it is really worth eating these little delicacies.

Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic spring time combination, and a gorgeous execution of this was found recently on the seasonal tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern http://www.gramercytavern.com , a ceviche of tiny scallops made with rhubarb juice and perfect, sweet red strawberry chunks.

Recently, one farm market had dozens of baskets lined up like a little Red Army, some of them full of shapely berries with a slight orange hue, others a potent maroon, probably from two separate patches planted with two separate varieties. The choice to come to this home was the maroon beauties.

A happy memory of living in New Jersey (The Garden State) was picking strawberries at Stultz Farm http://www.stultsfarm.com , wisely planted with sequentially ripening varieties. Every year, a small, exquisitely sweet berry was among them. Sadly (not so sadly for myMEGusta, who got more of the superior berries), most consumers went for the larger, less fragile, easier to pick type.

It is unclear where strawberries originated, as they have history both in the Western Hemisphere and Europe/Africa before Columbus sailed to the New World. Both natives share the same genome, but manifested very differently over time.

Strawberries Arica Chile covered market 2018

Covered Market in Arica Chile

Cultivated in Europe since Roman times, the strawberry we know and love today was bred in Brittany, France, in the 18th century, a cross between a native European variety grown locally and Chilean beach strawberries.

Of course, strawberries are among the most photogenic of fruits, and therein lies a problem. Their beauty can be part of breeding that turned them from a succulent treat to Styrofoam monsters arriving by air. So, you have to be a little skeptical when they show up on a menu, no matter how wonderful the dish, way, way off season. That’s not to say it is impossible to get a good one flown in; it’s just unlikely, as the tough guys are among the prettiest and least flavorful.

Strawberries Pere Gras strawberries with creme Chantilly Grenobles France 2017

Strawberry Dessert at Pere Gras Grenoble France

 

strawberries view of Grenoble France from Pere Gras Restaurant

View of Grenoble from Pere Gras

But, they make for wonderful photo ops all around the world in markets, whether Canada or South America or Europe or a nearby park on farm market day. A memorable dessert in Grenoble, France, was a simple plate of berries garnished simply with crème Chantilly (lightly sweetened whipped crème fraiche) at Pere Gras, a restaurant at a hilltop fortress, “La Bastille” with a view of the entire valley.

 

strawberries fraises de bois and regular in a market

Fraises de Bois

 

In Europe, you’ll sometimes also find the old fashioned ‘fraises de bois’, woodland strawberries, achingly sweet and the size of your pinkie.

A few years ago, myMEGusta encountered perfect, fresh peas and strawberries in street markets all over Helsinki, Finland. Her freshly purchased strawberries drew envious glances from other diners at the otherwise pedestrian hotel breakfast buffet. The berries were within their grasp, a block away…

strawberries stand near hotel Helsinki Finland 2017

Helsinki Finland in July

Baloney!

Bologna Market

As a kid, I was always confused as to why some baloney was spelled bologna. Were they the same thing? Did you have to say bah-log-nah if that’s what the package said?

Bologna, Italy, of course, is the home of this sausage. This old city even has the nickname, La Grassa “The Fat One” honoring its rich, meat based gastronomy.

Located in Emilia-Romagna, the region is also the home of Lambrusco, that fizzy wine that was popular among college kids in the 1970’s, and rarely seen any more on any self-respecting table (or picnic, for that matter). As a side note, the Lambrusco that you get on the spot in Italy is a world apart, more complex and tastier, a perfect counterpoint to the sausages and other delicacies you get in the area.

Fresh pasta with Bolognese sauce

“Bolognese”, the rich, meat based pasta sauce we all adore, also originated here. A real “Bolognese” is not just a tomato sauce with some ground beef. Rather, it will have a slowly simmered blend of different ground meats (depending on whose absolutely authentic grandmother’s recipe you follow), possibly including veal and pork, and lots of finely chopped vegetables (carrots, celery, onion, garlic) and herbs, sometimes even a dash of milk, with tomatoes as minor players, not the overwhelming star.

And, to be really traditional, you’ll serve that Bolognese with fresh egg-based pasta, perhaps fettuccine or in a lasagna, and, of course, include cheese in or on the dish. That said, nothing pleases myMEGusta more than a bowl of good quality spaghetti (the hard wheat kind, no eggs) with a dollop of this fabulous sauce. And, it’s not bad on spaghetti squash, either.

Mortadella

The ubiquitous baloney we enjoy in the United States is a descendent of Mortadella, recognizable by the fat cubes and pistachios dotting it. There are some very, very good versions of both of these, particularly if you shop for a good brand, some of which are of Germanic descent, or in a deli. Perhaps the old adage, “You get what you pay for” is really apropos here.

I have fond memories of that most pedestrian of lunches, a baloney sandwich with neon yellow mustard on wonder bread. Baloney was such an early favorite of myMEGusta’s, that a favorite doll was named Joanie Baloney. Alas, JB was kidnapped one day by a big, mean dog that Daddy chased for blocks to no avail.

Fried baloney

A Saturday lunch treat for my late father was a fried baloney sandwich, and, for a kid in the 1950’s, it was a tasty twist on an everyday meat. That said, a slice of really good baloney style sausage on excellent bread with tasty mustard is a really good sandwich, as exemplified by leberkase I cannot wait to have on my next trip to Munich.

Leberkase!

This morning’s passing of Anthony Bourdain reminded me of a recent “Parts Unknown” episode during which he enjoyed a local favorite, a fried baloney cube, in Newfoundland. And, I’ll bet it was delicious.

Potatoes: Everyone Loves ‘Em

Ancient Potato Breed

Despite monikers like Irish Potatoes and French Fries, most people are aware that the humble potato is a native of South America, and one of the treasures brought back to Spain by the conquistadors, along with the tons of gold that now grace churches and palaces in Seville, the Vatican and all over Europe.

Main Altar, Seville Cathedral, Spain

On the other side of the pond, potatoes became wildly popular, although the tubers were once believed to be as poisonous as the plant that springs from them. But cultivation spread far and wide once people realized how healthful, versatile and easy to grow the potato is. Italy embraced them in their gnocchi, Indian food features them in wonderful vegetarian dishes, the Scandinavians love them with fish dishes and stews; you name it. Then we have Swedish potato pancakes (with lingonberries!), and innumerable other Northern European delights: potato sausage, potato salad, pierogis and vodka!

This has been quite a trip for a tuber from south of the Equator!

Irish Colcannon: Potatoes, Cabbage and Butter

Unfortunately, the potato became such a staple that it caused the death of millions of Irish, whose rural poor had become totally reliant on the spuds which were devastated by a mold known as Potato Blight, resulting in a deadly famine in the mid-19th century. Making matters worse, those who subsisted on potatoes were planting only one variety, the Irish Lumper, so when the disease hit, it wiped out a massive proportion of what people depended on to live.

On a happier side, the French embrace of the potato was more varied, and it never was a group’s sole source of nutrition, even in those areas where they became the most popular. And, we still look to France for some of the most delicious recipes, from the myriad kinds of French fries (all of which have distinct French names and classic culinary pairings, such as mussels with French fries), to pommes rissolees (browned in fat, never referred to as frite, or fried), to waxy potatoes steamed/peeled/drizzled in butter, to vichyssoise (cold leek and potato soup). Belgians also love them, always fresh and crisp in sidewalk kiosks (and served with mayonnaise for dipping).

Potato Display

But, the traveling potato aside, the most exciting place in the world to find potatoes is South America, Peru in particular. Over 4,000 varieties of potato grow there and elsewhere in the Andes, related but biologically diverse, and they have been the staple food of indigenous people for generation upon generation.

Potato Festival

On one visit to Cuzco, Peru, myMEGusta stumbled upon a Potato Festival taking place in the halls of the Monasteria, a very fancy hotel converted from a religious institution.

Some of them don’t even look much like potatoes, and certainly require different cooking techniques than tossing into an oven and baking. Potato preservation is different, too. You find giant bags of dried potatoes known as chuno in the marketplaces, preserved for year round use in traditional dishes like soups and stews. Today, they are freeze dried to expedite the process.

Dried Potatoes

For more about a wildly popular modern day potato preparation from Peru, causas – little fresh potato cakes garnished with various goodies- visit myMEGusta’s posting from July 2013: https://mymegusta.com/2013/07/02/mellow-yellow-potato-all-for-a-good-causa/

So Many Names for One Little Legume

Chickpeas

Garbanzos, ceces, chickpeas, chana dal…

They ares all the same delicious legume, whether in Spanish, Italian, English or Hindi.

Their origin is unknown, but based on analysis of wild varieties, chickpeas are believed to have come from Turkey, somewhere near Syria, where they have been cultivated over 7,500 years. Neither pea nor bean, the chickpea is classified as a ‘pulse’ because it grows in a tiny pod containing only two or three seeds. On the vine, they look very much like the lentils we saw in an Udaipur, India, street market rather than like pea or bean plants.

Chickpea Plant

Lentil plant in Udaipur market

This versatile bean is easy to cultivate and high in protein and other nutrients, and is, thus, very important in many vegetarian based diets.

Couscous

Omnivores like myMEGusta love them in favorite dishes like classic Moroccan couscous.

Chickpeas are popular throughout India, the Middle East, and Mediterranean cuisines, and places where those cuisines have immigrated, for example, to Mexico.

Socca

 

In the South of France and in Monaco, people love Socca, a street food pancake made of a chickpea flour batter with a little black pepper (and, if the cook likes, some rosemary) baked to a crisp in olive oil. Of course, it can be made at home, and it can be garnished with a dollop of salad, chopped tomatoes, or other goodies to round it out to be a meal.

One favorite dish, with as many variations as there are Indian cooks, is Chana Masala, chickpeas stewed in a fragrant mélange of spices.

Chana Masala

On a visit to a favorite Barcelona restaurant, Etapes, we tasted bacalao (the reconstituted salted cod so loved in Iberia) served with garbanzos and garbanzo puree. Pure heaven.

Bacalao with Garbanzos and Garbanzo Puree

On a more pedestrian level, you can make homemade hummus in a jiffy for a last minute appetizer if you have a few standard ingredients on hand and a blender/food processor. Go to https://www.goya.com/en/recipes/hummus for the quick recipe. I have successfully substituted peanut butter for the tahini (different result, still very tasty).

Making Hummus

When is Chilean Sea Bass not Chilean Sea Bass?

Patagonian Toothfish

When you are in Chile!

 

What we know as Chilean Sea Bass blew into the American market in the 1990s. Delicious and rich, almost impossible to overcook, this delight from cold waters in the Southern Hemisphere became wildly popular. Before it was called Chilean Sea Bass, it was called Patagonian Toothfish, and was, essentially, a junk fish that no one wanted.

Change the name, and watch the people buy it.

Chilean Sea Bass

The success of this marketing effort, and the fisheries that sprang up to meet the demand, was so potent that the species became endangered. Truth be told, there are some fishing organizations who harvest it totally responsibly; others, not so much. It is virtually impossible to know where that fillet you see at the fish market, or on the menu, came from. In any case, the situation has improved vastly since the initial crisis, so it is reasonable to purchase and enjoy it now.

Vina Del Mar, Chile

On a recent visit to Chile, myMEGusta visited beautiful Vina Del Mar, a seacoast city established where vineyards once grew, and not far from Santiago, the Casablanca Valley (known for fine wines, especially Chardonnay), and the UNESCO World Heritage City, Valparaiso.

Vina Del Mar, Chile

So, always looking to try the local food, we spotted Chilean Sea Bass on the menu! In discussing this with the waiter, he went on in detail about the wonderful local fish that comes in fresh every morning, no surprise when the fishing docks are about a mile away.

What arrived was one of the best pieces of bass myMEGusta has ever had: thick, juicy, perfectly cooked and impeccably fresh.

Sea Bass at La Terrazza, Vina Del Mar, Chile

But, it was not Patagonian Toothfish. It was simply a piece of the most perfect fish one could imagine, with a zesty salsa on the side.

And, it did not disappoint! I don’t think the locals, unless they are in the fish business, have any concept that their delicious Chilean bass is an entirely different animal in the US!

Happy Chinese New Year! With a Taste of Portugal

Some foods have bizarre histories.

Take the little custard tarts they offer in Chinese restaurants. What’s so Chinese about them, and why are they there?

Custard Tarts in Macau

It all goes back to the Portuguese explorers laying claim the island Macau, near Hong Kong and now part of China, many, many years ago. As is normal, they brought food traditions with them, including Pasteis de Nata, delicious custard tarts, for which the city of Belem, near Lisbon, is internationally famous.

Pasteis de Nata in Belem Portugal

The memory of smelling those tarts coming out of the oven on a day trip to Macau several years ago, still lingers. And the taste: Not too eggy, not too sweet, super flaky heaven, as delish as they look in this photo at the bakery.

Jean Anderson, the author of the definitive The Food of Portugal (myMEGusta’s go-to for Portuguese recipes), created a recipe for Pasteis de Nata for Gourmet Magazine several years ago, and you can find it now at https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/portuguese-cream-tarts-108194

But, there’s more to the story.

Sweet, eggy pastries have an interesting past, with a surprising, and huge, role in convents.

Now, these were not convents educating the sweet young daughters of the rich (remember Sophie in Der Rosenkavelier?). Nor were they nunneries, filled with the fasting religious.

Pousada Vila Vicosa

These were the places where single women were sent by the male relatives who wanted them out of the way. If one was poor, she went to a poor-ish convent, perhaps living among the devout or among the little students. If one was rich, she went to a gorgeous edifice, perhaps with rooms for her retainers as well as having her own suite.

And, the rich ones got bored. What to do? Have some dessert. These convents, many of which have now been transformed to deluxe hotels, also known as Pousadas, were full of women, some having taken religious vows, some not, but all enjoying these little custard pies and other eggy pastries as part of their daily entertainment.

Basque Lemon Custard Tart at Ortzi

Custard pastries are, of course, also popular throughout the Iberian Peninsula and Europe. A fine example was recently enjoyed by myMEGusta at a new Basque restaurant, called Ortzi, in Manhattan.

For more on international flakiness (and the first myMEGusta mention of the custard tarts of Macau) go to: https://mymegusta.com/2011/12/12/flaky-times-in-a-flaky-world/

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