On Collecting and Buckwheat Cakes…

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For the past several years, my mom has been taking me to an antique store in a little town called Summerland. It’s a great shop and an even better town, but I’ll save that story for another day. For the longest time, I haven’t had much of an interest in antiques. But somewhere in the midst of working on this blog, I decided I needed to add some items to my kitchen. New pans, old dishes – at this point, I’ve added a little of both. There is a satisfaction in heading into a kitchen store and coming out with just what I need. But I’ve learned the thrill of the unexpected treasure found while rummaging in some antique collection.

Back in the little antique shop in Summerland, I found a worn muffin pan tucked away on a dark shelf of baking odds and ends. How exciting can a muffin tin be, right? But this little pan looked like it would turn out cakes, not just standard issue muffins and that has to be worth something. It hasn’t been the most well used of some of my finds, but things are turning around for my little pan.

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See, back when I was in Seattle a few months ago, I spent a little time tasting treats around town. I don’t think I can go downtown without stopping at Dahlia Bakery, part of the Tom Douglas megablock of dining establishments. This time around, I tasted a buckwheat cake with a whiskey glaze – a satisfying treat that feels wholesome and dessert-like at the same time. The cake was flecked with thick bits of oatmeal and drizzled with just enough of a sweet whiskey glaze. It was so good, I went back for a second one another day and this time I took notes.

I don’t really develop recipes – there is something about that process that sounds daunting. Probably because it is so precise and there is all this pressure to come up with a recipe that actually works for you. So when I came home, I had no plans to recreate it. I figured there would be a recipe out there for buckwheat cakes. As it turns out, that’s not really a thing and I couldn’t turn up a single recipe that looked right. So before that flavor memory faded in my mind, I decided I’d get baking on my own. Happily, these little cakes came together quite easily and we’ve been enjoying them most every weekend since.

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Tom’s version was labelled “flourless” so it made me think that these cakes had the potential of being gluten free. The final version I’m sharing here is just that, but if you’re not worried about a little wheat flour, feel free to sub out the gluten-free flour for a regular all-purpose blend. But the buckwheat is what makes this recipe unique, so don’t be afraid to try that out.

I’ve made this recipe two ways – frosted with a whiskey glaze or sprinkled with a light dusting of powdered sugar. The original cakes I tasted included the whiskey glaze, but I wanted a kid-friendly option! Try them both and pick your favorite. They both seem fitting in this winter season!

Buckwheat Oatmeal Cakes with Whiskey Glaze

Inspired by Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Bakery in Seattle
Makes about 10 muffins

¾ cup (110g) buckwheat flour
¼ cup (35g) all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (255g) applesauce
½ cup (50g) thick oatmeal
⅓ cup (60g) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
¾ cup (165g) sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Glaze, optional
½ cup (75g) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whiskey

Heat oven to 350 and prepare muffin pan.

In a small bowl, combine the buckwheat and all-purpose flours, and the baking powder.

In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce, oatmeal, oil, eggs, spice, sugar, soda and salt. Add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Divide the batter amongst the tins so they are about ¾ full. Bake until puffed and starting to darken, about 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle just comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their tins for a minute or two, then remove and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

If using, whisk the powdered sugar and whiskey together until smooth and just pourable. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cakes and allow to set. Or sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar once the cakes have cooled. Any leftover cakes will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.

 

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One last weekend of summer

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One last weekend of summer. That has been the running joke this fall whenever we have a beautiful sunny day here in Vancouver. Although summer and basically fall have come and gone, we did have one last spell of summer this past weekend.

Our joke is more of a reminder to seize the moments and enjoy ever bit of sun that we see, rather than some delusion that pants are optional and maybe we can fit in a sunset swim later.

This last weekend of summer was perfect. It came directly following a day of torrential down pour where streets flooded and spirits were seriously dampened. In the morning, when the clouds parted and the sun shone through, we donned our puffy jackets, toques, scarfs and sunglasses and headed for the nearest patio.

We sat outside, wrapped in blankets, sipping hot coffee and eating breakfast; just a group of friends enjoying that one last weekend of summer. According to environment Canada we might have one last weekend of summer again this weekend before the snow comes. You can bet that I’ll be the first one out the door if the sun is shining.

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Cornbread skillet goodness

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Last week, snow fell. It was a skiff, really, but with the dip in temperatures that accompanied it, that little dusting has managed to stay around all week. When the weather is cold and it is dark before I head home in the evenings, I feel like an extra measure of comfort is needed. I know I must have told you that when autumn comes around, my plans for cooking seem to make a turn all on their own. Suddenly, soup sounds like a good idea and I make at least one pot per weekend. One giant pot that simmers for hours on the weekend, then is doled out into quart jars in preparation for the week ahead. And as this ritual repeats itself over the first weeks of fall, my freezer fills up with lunch options. Corn chowder, red lentil and cream of cauliflower, portioned out and ready for a quick meal.

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If I am going to have soup for dinner, I like to pair it with a salad or some bread. Hot buttered slices of toast work well, as do savory little muffins. But really, what I want most with my soup is a skillet of cornbread. For one thing, once the oven is turned on in the evening, the kitchen just feels that much more cozy. And this recipe is quick enough that by the time the soup is warmed up and the table set, there is cornbread ready to come out of the oven. Around here, we top it with some butter and perhaps a slice of cheese. We’re a divided house when it comes to a sweet topping though, but a drizzle of maple syrup always wins out for me.

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This recipe came to me a few years ago when Tina shared it as an idea for a gluten-free quick bread. I’ve been making it several times a week already this season. In fact, it’s so good that I may have made it several nights in a row when my parents visited us. The three of us don’t eat the whole pan, but I like to toast the leftovers the next morning with a hard boiled egg, or make open-face sandwiches with more soup at lunch. And with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I couldn’t help but think that leftovers would make a tasty stuffing come next week.

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Recipe note: In my opinion, the main ingredient to watch is the cornmeal. Don’t be lulled into thinking any old grind will work. Stone-ground cornmeal gives a much better texture and bite to the cornbread. And meal that’s labelled for grits works really well, in my experience.

Skillet Cornbread

Recipe from Gourmet

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)
1/2 stick unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle. Heat a well-seasoned 10-inch skillet in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile stir together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Whisk together eggs together in a small bowl and measure buttermilk in a large measuring cup.

Remove the now hot skillet from oven, taking care as the handle will be very hot. Add butter and return to the oven for about five minutes to melt. When the butter is melted, remove the skillet from the oven, swirling to coat bottom and sides (butter may brown and it’s delicious). Whisk hot butter into the buttermilk mixture and return skillet to oven. Stir cornmeal mixture into buttermilk mixture just until evenly moistened but still lumpy.

 

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Lunch time treats

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASandwiches are a bit of a lunch time treat for me. My usual lunches are made up of salads in the summer and soups in the fall and bread doesn’t have much of a place in my kitchen. When I am lucky enough to get a sandwich, a local place called Finches makes some of my favourites.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne such favourite includes pear slices, blue cheese and walnuts. I have been craving one of these sandwiches for a while, so I decided to attempt a re-creation of sorts at home.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my version of the sandwich I switched out the blue cheese for a nice double cream brie, added a few slices of prosciutto, some sliced grapes, walnuts and topped it off with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Perhaps these simple and delicious sandwiches don’t have to be treats after all.

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Weekend workshop

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A week or so back, I attended a workshop on multidisciplinary storytelling in Seattle. I have been anticipating these sessions for awhile – a group of inspiring women, a city I love and time to focus on some creative skills. I could tell you about the amazing places to eat or exciting spice selections or even wandering the Pike Place market early in the morning. But honestly, the inspiration I left these sessions with was enough to fill two blog posts, so I’ll start there. The classes were held in Aran Goyoaga’s studio. You probably know her from her blog Canelle et Vanille.

 Aran’s studio is a light-filled space, with twinkling lights and white paper globes hanging from the beams. A clean light pours through the windows, even on this rainy morning. Tables are arranged together beneath those windows and a group of women from all over the place begins to gather. We’ve come from near and far to learn and connect. Everyone around the table speaks of their interest in telling food stories, making stronger connections between the imagery and words that inform each of our personal stories. 

egg-curry

Make notes on five things from today – they could be simple words or phrases or much bigger ideas. This idea came from Tara O’Brady, leading our workshop on multidisciplinary storytelling. I’ve been following Tara and her blog, Seven Spoons, for years now and I am very excited to hear her talk about her process. (She also has a cookbook coming out in the spring and you know how I am about cookbooks!) She shares the idea of gathering five takeaways as a challenge for herself, but we all join in.

toppings

So here they are, my five takeaways from this amazing workshop:

Be observant: Notice the details. What stands out to me will inform my work. It brings personality and viewpoint. This is an eye-opener to me because I am all about the details, those are the bits that get me into trouble! So making that connection and realizing that those details can be tapped to tell better stories, both visually and in writing, really makes me feel capable. 

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Gather inspiration: Whatever it is that inspires me, gather it around. My inspiration tends to be very visual. I love Instagram and some favorite blogs for their beautiful imagery and the ideas they spark. Same goes for the cookbooks that make me want to cook and the friends who share ideas and encouragement. The little pinecone that makes me want to draw. These influences will keep my creative juices going. And in those moments where inspiration feels low, having this resources close at hand will help me get back on track.

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Practice intention: Thinking about the intent of my work is something that has stuck with me as I left Seattle and came back to my daily routines. It’s likely because this idea resonates with some of the bigger things I’m pondering in my life. But knowing the end goal that I’m striving for and the message I want to leave others with will help edit and refine my work. 

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Live the details: Watching Aran and Tara plate their own lunch at the workshop reminds me that appreciating beauty in everyday life is part of this practice. When what I do comes from an authentic place, the details that fill my life serve as inspiration. So I’m embracing my fiddly garnishing habits and rearranging my prop dishes that I love to sit out amongst my everyday items!

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Go buy some darn notebooks! I love paper products and I’ve got a stack of lovely sketchbooks to prove it. Tara shared her idea-gathering practice of taking notes in plain spiral bound school notebooks. No fancy notebooks need apply. We’re talking about a basic lined notebook where one can scribble down a taste or a word or the beginnings of blog post without a thought to how it looks. Since I’m the girl who revises recipes on the back of junk mail envelopes, this is a plan worth adopting.

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So there you have it, the five ideas that I’m thinking after my workshop, along with some photos from the weekend. Do you have an tips on how you strive to bring creativity and inspiration into your daily life? I’d love to hear about it.

 

 

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Cake and a hike

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I could tell that summer was fully over and fall was winding to an end when I stopped hearing our friends kid in the morning. Every morning at about 8:00 am Em heads off to daycare. He runs down a nearby flight of stairs hooting and hollering. Then one day about two weeks ago his shenanigans abruptly stopped. The sounds of summer fun were quickly replaced with rain beating against the windows. Alas, winter is here.

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Winter already you might think. Yes, Vancouver winters aren’t your usual winter. Once the rain sets in, that is about all we see until spring. If we are lucky we get one or two snow days. Traditional winter is saved for our surrounding mountains.
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In an effort to not remain indoors for the next 4 or 5 months Scott and I have learned to embrace the wet weather and still head out for our usual weekend adventures no matter what. This is where the chocolate cake comes into play. Who wouldn’t be ok with spending a few hours hiking in the rain if they knew this chocolate coconut pound cake was waiting for them at home.

Don’t judge. You do what you gotta do.

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Good morning granola bars

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We are not the most devoted of campers, we pretty much stick to basic car camping in campsites where there are actual bathrooms. We pick campsites for scenic views and proximity to day hikes or breweries, depending on the situation. There is a little kid in my life and these things make camping easier. We pack coolers of ingredients for full-on fancy camping meals and a set of bocce balls for afternoon entertainment. Once we get out there, camping is a pretty carefree way to spend a weekend. There is little to do besides cook up the food we’ve brought along and relax. In the evening, we build a fire and sit around it. Sometimes we play card games or watch for stars in that dark sky.

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This fall we’ve been doing a lot of camping. Maybe it is an unconscious attempt to draw out the season as the cooler weather and shorter days set it. On every trip, I’ve been returning to the same recipe for granola bars. They are tasty and portable. I’ve packed up these bars for early morning kayak paddles, long rides in the car and hikes into the hills. And on camping trips, they are the perfect snack to tide me over between an early morning wake up and actually being alert enough to start cooking breakfast at the campsite. We tumble out of the tent, start heating up water for coffee, pull out the pan of granola bars and everyone is happy.

bars

I’ve been working to keep these bars from getting too crumbly and the best advice I have is to chop things up – the nuts, the cherries. The smaller pieces seem to stick together that much better. Of course, you can help matters out by storing them carefully. I’ve found returning them to their pan or some other container helps them keep their shape. And since these bars have become a breakfast staple, I’ve been using them to clean out the pantry, substituting different nuts, various chocolates and even some peanut butter chips I found, along with any kind of coconut flakes I can find lurking in the cupboard. Another breakfast note – I don’t like too much sweetness early in the morning, so I’ve been lighthanded with the sugar, even going with a little less than what I have listed here on a batch where I used up the rest of my sweetened coconut.

 

GOOD MORNING GRANOLA BARS

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Orangette

 

1 ½ cups (160 grams) quick-cooking oats

⅓ cup (35 grams) oat flour, or quick-cooking oats pulsed in a food processor

⅓ cup (65 grams) to ½ cup (100 grams) sugar (see above)

1 cup (110 grams) raw walnuts, chopped into rough pieces

½ cup (25 grams) unsweetened coconut flakes

½ cup (85 grams) chocolate chips or chopped chocolate of similar size

¼ cup (40 grams) dried cherries, halved

½ tsp. fine salt

1/3 cup (85 grams) peanut butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

6 Tbsp. (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted

6 Tbsp. (120 grams) honey

1 Tbsp. water

 

Heat oven to 350°F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan with a little butter or baking spray. Line pan with parchment paper so it covers the bottom and two sides of the pan with a little overhang. Lightly grease the parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, oat flour, sugar, nuts, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, dried cherries and salt.

In a medium bowl, stir together the peanut butter, vanilla, melted butter, honey and water. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and give everything a good stir to combine thoroughly. Transfer to a prepared pan and press the mixture into the pan. A spatula works pretty well, but a damp hand or piece of plastic wrap will help as well.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the bars are golden all over with some browning on the edges. Don’t be surprised to find the bars are still a little soft to the touch, they will firm up as they cool.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely or even overnight. When cool, run a knife along the around the edges of the pan and use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Cut into bars.

To store, place bars in an airtight container. Or do like I did and slide the bars and the parchment paper back into the pan for storage. I think it’s the best way to keep them from crumbling.

 

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Wishful thinking…

I can’t say with authority that Paris is at its prime in autumn. But, autumn in Paris is a lovely season. There’s cooling temperatures, the crunch of fallen leaves on the cobblestones and a golden light that all combine to make this a great time of year in Paris. (Is there a not-so-great time of year in Paris? More research may be needed!) Tina and I have had a chance to spend time together in Paris and while we aren’t there now, thought we’d share a little slice of our adventures on the blog.

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For me, travel is less about a must-see list and more about experiencing a different culture. I want to see a little piece of it in detail, instead of the top picks in brief. I’m happy to find a chair in a sunny spot in Luxembourg Gardens and people watch for an hour than wait in a jostling line to stand close to the Mona Lisa for a moment. We do odd things like frequent various metro stations in hopes of a perfectly moody shot for Tina or follow street bands on their way to the evening’s gig.

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I appreciate the familiarity I find returning to the same wine shop or market vendor. Those snippets of conversation over my wine selection for the evening or multiple questions about when and how I plan to eat the little box of late season fraises des bois (Non, non, don’t leave them for tomorrow!) stand out in my memory.

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We search out boulangeries where ever we go, looking for favorite treats. Tina always has her eye out for a slice of flan and I am happy to sample pain aux raisins at any hour. At midday, we pick out a baguette sandwich and head outside to eat it. As the afternoon winds down, we look for the long line of Parisians, queueing up for their evening baguette and join in the fun.

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We climb most any structure with stairs. Our apartment is on the fifth floor of a building with a tiny spiraling staircase. (Don’t bring a big suitcase!) The Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the stairs of Montmartre, Sacré Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe, we climb them all. We stop counting stairs.

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We wander in the markets that stretch out on the street and find mushrooms and pumpkins, cider and artichokes. The olive harvest is happening in the south of France and we search out our favorite varieties. We stand in line for piping hot potato galettes that warm our hands in the chilly morning air.

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On Sunday, there is a little gathering on one end of the market by the church. A square where the stalls end and the tables and chairs begin. There is accordion music and dancing. And on a sunny afternoon in Paris, this is all we need.

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Water two ways

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We are going to try something a little different this week. Nothing fancy, just a couple of photos we took recently. One taken by Ginger and the other by Tina. This week’s theme was water, which we’ve both had a chance to enjoy lately. Happy weekend, everyone.

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Green bean and fresh corn stir-fry

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It’s not everyday that I find a recipe that inspires me to make it immediately. Just like everyone else, I’ve got stacks and bookmarks and torn out magazine pages, waiting for their moment to shine. Unless that recipe is the salted Texas chocolate sheet cake from Bon Appetit, that demands immediate attention. (True story!) Anyway, there is often something keeping me from making them, some missing key ingredient or prep step that seems better suited to a weekend cooking foray. Maybe I am a collector or recipes, a hoarder even? That might be a topic for another day, but in this case, I had the perfect combination of enough of the right ingredients and some time, so I started cooking.

Without even knowing it, I started prepping for this recipe by heading out to my favorite fresh veggie place earlier in the day. Their late season corn is such a treat, and they had it sitting around by the bucket. By now, I have a pretty good idea of just how much corn I can fit in the produce drawer in my fridge, so I loaded up, knowing I would be eating fresh corn for the next few days. I don’t know how the corn and the recipe found me on the same day, but I’m not asking any questions!

I made this for a solo dinner by splitting the recipe, but whether you’re cooking for yourself or a few people, this stir-fry comes together pretty quickly and has great late summer flavors. And while I know the sambal oelek and fresh lime juice I squeezed on top of my plate might not have been exactly in keeping with the originally intended flavors of this recipe, I thought they were pretty darn good additions!

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Stir-Fried Tofu with Green Beans and Corn

 Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe on The New York Times

1 14 oz. package of firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground pepper, preferable white pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
Kernels from 2 ears of corn
1 finely sliced scallion
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro

 Cut the tofu into ¼ inch slices, then cut slices into ¼ inch matchsticks. Place on a clean towel or paper towel and allow to drain while you prep the rest of the stirfry.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, and the sesame oil. Combine the salt, pepper and sugar in another small bowl. Keep these handy for when you begin cooking.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the green beans, blanching for about one minute. Remove from heat, rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.

Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates immediately. Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and tilt to distribute. Add the tofu and stir-fry for a minute or two, until it just begins to color. Drop in the ginger and jalapeno and stir-fry for a few seconds.

Pour in the remaining oil, then add the green beans, corn and scallions. Stir-fry for about one minute, then add the salt, pepper and sugar mixture and toss for good measure. Pour in the soy mixture, top with a lid and cook for about 30 seconds. Uncover, throw in the cilantro and stir-fry for another 30 seconds or so. The green beans should be crisp tender by now. Remove from heat and serve.

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