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Spreenkle #7

Keeping our herbs fresh longer.

It’s been a long time since we had a little trivia from in and around spree’s kitchen. So here’s one for you (and there’s a stack of others in the wings.)

Basil hates the cold. There’s no softening the truth of it. Turns all black and soon slimy if put in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. If it can’t be in the sun, basil likes being out on your counter, in the warmth of your kitchen. Give the stems a fresh cut, put them in a glass of tepid water, cover them with a plastic bag or cloche and they’ll last for days and days. They may be so happy they’ll put down roots.

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If you won’t be able to use your basil up before it starts to wither, you can puree it with olive oil, spoon into ice-cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, spill them into a zipping freezer bag where they’ll be happy for ages.

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On the other hand, Cilantro (aka fresh coriander) doesn’t seem to mind the cold of the fridge. But it does still prefer its stems in water. Give the stems a fresh trim, place them in a glass of water, cover them loosely with a plastic bag and place on a shelf in your fridge. They’ll be happy for a good week. (Possibly more.) Parsley (when asked) prefers the same treatment as cilantro.  If you can’t decide what to do with all that parsley within the week – try turning it into salsa verde! So easy to make, and it’ll freshen up just about anything you drizzle it on. Sage will be happy in a refrigerated & covered glass of water too. Best to change their water every couple days.

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the guinea pig speaks

Recently it seems that Spree’s Grateful Guinea Pig has gone silent on us.  So for those of you who’ve noticed his absence and missed this endearing little rodent, I thought I’d share a recent page from his travelog –

a letter sent home to family from the Guinea Pig in Provence… 

I’ll keep my own remarks to a minimum, but certain things he says bear correction explanation. (You’ll see them in red.)

____________

Dear Family –

Time marches on and we find ourselves at the end of September. As previously reported, we’ve migrated to the north and east of the lovely St. Remy. We’re finishing up three days here in the Vaucluse/Cotes du Rhone region of Provence.

As you know, the faire Spree is partial to markets. Here in France they refer to them as marché. The uppity folks here insist on making up their own words for everything, anoyyyyying! (I assume you’re not to be fooled…Guinea loves the French!) You might recall we went to Arles to visit their marché, and though we liked Arles very much,  the marché wasn’t quite so inviting; we did manage to break multiple vehicular (!!!) and social morés in the process though so the day was not a total bust. (Among other things, SGGP got to practice his cursing, which, when the mood strikes, he so enjoys.)

On our way to Vaison la Romaine, we consulted the Oracle of Rick Steve’s to see what marchés we might intrude upon along the way. Carpentras drew the short stick. Aided by our trusted disembodied friend, Charlotte, the GPS lady, we navigated to the middle of Carpentras – a large village or small city. We stumbled right into the marché but were late for the party which means that you can stay but your vehicle is unwelcome. I could tell that Sister Marie Antoinette had her mouth soap at the ready, but she went unprovoked on this day. Mind you, there were plenty of sighs, nose noises, Guinea grunts and gee willikers to be heard but the Sister’s personal Maginot line ( look it up ) was not transgressed. Mobile vespers were avoided this day. (It’s probably obvious to all and unnecessary to mention…the Guinea Pig grew up Catholic.)

We drove round and round looking for a small flat wth a view for our vehicle but none was to be found. Ultimately we landed in the parking lot of a supermarché, how ironic.  So we packed up all our gear and took to the friendly and inviting aisles of the street market.

Now, my idea of a marché was that there would be row upon row of locally grown, plump, luscious and colorful produce and flowers. The growers would lovingly dress the displays of bounty and invite all to engage with them. There was some of that to be sure, but there were also stacks of shoes on display, jeans, trinkets, bric-a-brac, and small appliances.  I was underwhelmed but Spree was fascinated and so eager to take everything in through her eyes, her open heart, her nose and mostly her ginormous camera lens.

I was a ways ahead of her, gliding along with my compact Sony digicam, starting to notice some sneers, snarls and snootieness.  (I have to insert, this was by no means the norm!) This was business to these marché merchants – if you ain’t buyin, buzz off. The lovely Spree was giddy, smiling and enthralled at being one with the indigenous peoples and desperately wanting to share their story (and the entire experience), through her pictures and words.

I strolled past a stall that had little bundles of dried lavender in sachets, some clusters of lavender flowers tied with string, and  plump, ripe purple and green figs in cartons. I raised my camera just as a woman glared at me from behind the stall and finger-waved, saying, “no photo!” Doing my best Dale Carnegie impression I put my hand on my chest and said pardonnez  moi, bowed slightly and retreated.

Unaware of the dangers,  Spree sauntered innocently and smilingly behind and raised her Canon howitzer and snapped one quick shot of the (irrresistible) figs. Apparently this was all it took for the Miss Congeniality of Carpentras to go all postal on the unsuspecting Spree. The woman reached down below the table, rummaging urgently through a knapsack to pull out and point directly at Spree, a … Wait for it……………….CAMERA! She waved it violently back and forth,  threatening the innocent Spree, Madonna of Shannon, with unholy imaging. Spree’s eyes were like saucers! The woman aimed her point-and-shoot, only centimeters from Spree’s face, and snapped the trigger several times. It was clear the Taliban had finally made it to France. (Guinea, that’s a little harsh!) Spree was shaken, (that’s no overstatement) her humanity had been insulted and her Canon had been nullified, NON!

So much for the romance of marché.

. . .

Luckily we reversed that event today with a visit to L’Isle sur la Sorgue’s Marché de Dimanche. This village is in the Luberon area of Provence, east of St Remy and Avignon. It’s a more rural, hilly and even mountainous area. L’Isle sur la Sorgue has several canals and streams running right through the center of town, making it feel a bit like a small-scale Venice.

This marché was everything we imagined.

It had street after street lined with produce, olives, breads, cookies and pastries, cheeses, mushrooms, fruits, flowers, fish and other seafood, meats, sausages and charcuterie, music (live), handmade crafts,  antiques and OMG, the people. They love their marché and they bring their dogs. (Watch your step there, Guinea!) The sun was out, the music was great, the people were friendly and welcoming, the smells were incredible!

We spent hours tooling around, sampling, ogleing, (buying!) interacting and a lot of people watching, a favorite French pastime.  We were relieved that Dale Carnegie lives on and we had some very warm human moments. (More than we could count!)

In the afternoon we drove deeper into the Luberon and visited a hilltop town called Bonnieux. It’s a very small village carved into a hillside with narrow streets and no parking to speak of. Read more

so what’s in a salad?

Fresh-air markets, booths and stalls stretching for blocks and blocks, wooden tables piled high with newly-picked fruits and vegetables.  Luscious juice-sweet fruits, all round-body shapes and colors. Rustic root or bright green vegetables some with the earth still clinging to them. Farmers in aprons, their hands, soil-worn and calloused, paring off samples for us to taste. And we held out our hands and we tasted, and we bought what we couldn’t resist. But we’d made some kind of cosmic mistake! We had no kitchen to take our booty to, no salad bowl, no wooden tongs. No aprons of our own. So it happened that everywhere we went, my longing for brilliant color tossed in a bowl grew. We had some nice salads while away, but they weren’t the salads of home. And  the salads of home are the foods I miss most of all when we’re away.

So here, for you (and for me) brilliant color in a bowl. (and between us, so delicious it’s startling!)

Once again, as is usually the case with salads around here, a list of ingredients but no amounts. I’ll give some rough guidelines, but you know how you like your salads from home, so no one will be as good a judge as you …

 

Brilliant Winter Green Salad with Pomegranate, Apple & Almonds

Baby Spinach – or Arugula  (which do you prefer, mild and green, or slightly bitter? Or maybe a mix of the two.)

Apple, cored and sliced

Pomegranate seeds (see a previous post for the most ingenious way to remove these wonderfully tart & crunchy little seeds)

Basil – leaves laid out on top of one another, rolled tight like a cigar and sliced thinly

Slivered Almonds, toasted brown

Shallot, sliced thinly and sauteed to a toasty brown in a bit of oil

Soft, mild goat cheese – Optional

Vinaigrette (see below)

__________

Thinly slice the shallot and drop it into a small medium-hot skillet to which you’ve added a small amount of oil. Stir occasionally until browned. Remove to a paper towel.

Toast the almonds – in a 350° oven for perhaps 15 minutes. Check frequently. (The last bit of browning goes very quickly.) About the last 5 minutes you might (might!) want to place the shallots in the oven along with the almonds to dry and crisp them a bit more. 

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate. (See previous post link above. You’ll also find another delicious salad there.)

Toss all ingredients into a bowl (reserving a little of the seeds, nuts and shallots for sprinkling on top.) Toss with a little vinaigrette. Taste to see if amply dressed. Drizzle more as desired. Sprinkle bits of brilliance on top.

Would you like me to taste it for you and tell you why it’s so good?

Even this time of year, most markets will still have fresh crisp baby spinach leaves. These leaves taste mild and green and like Health itself. (Arugula, a little or a lot, but only for those who like the mildly bitter. I do!) Crisp sweet-tart apple, toasted almonds tasting of the hearth, threads of fresh basil winding throughout (these you nearly taste in your nose), crunchy smoky bittersweet bits of shallot, bursting tart seeds full of juice…and then…if you like this sort of thing…mild and creamy, exquisite white cheese of goat.

I . love .  this .  salad !

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a trip in ruins

One short kilometer from the town of Saint-Remy where we were staying, on our way to visit a famous Roman ruin, we passed this.

Guinea Pig did a swift and highly illegal maneuver with our rental car and came to a skidding gravel-spraying stop. We climbed out to explore. As it turns out, what we’d come across was the Mausoleum to the Julii – erected around 40 B.C.E. – one of the best-preserved mausoleums of the Roman world. We’d heard about the ancient ruins of Glanum and figured we must have arrived. We expected there to be more to the fabled site than this, but we didn’t see it, so we took our time examining closely what we could see. It was still early morning, hardly a soul up or out.

My camera was still pressed to my cheek when Guinea (whose attention span can be a bit short at times – more truthfully, mine a bit long) wandered across the street, wag-jerked his head, lifted his paw and waved. He’d found something.

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the dream…Saint-Remy de Provence

The Guinea Pig and I took a fast train south, from Paris to Provence. It was our first time in southern France and we  weren’t sure that we’d made the right choice on where to land…that is, until we arrived. Then we knew.  Saint-Rémy was just our speed.

Situated in the heart of the Alpilles,  Saint-Rémy is built on one of the oldest archeological sites in all of Europe. (The next travel post – I’ll share some amazing ruins virtually “next door” – inhabited by the Romans between the 6th century BCE and 3rd century AD.) The current town of St. Rémy is encircled by remnants of its original 14th century walls. Some of the buildings’ facades date to the Renaissance.

This town was the birthplace of the famous astrologer and physician Nostradamus.

(More recently, Van Gogh spent years here…but more about that in a moment.)

Nostradamus

Saint-Rémy is filled with Renaissance facades, residences, convents and chapels. Its winding streets are cobbled and water drains down the center.

The sun shines hard here and the mistral winds blow fiercely when they do.

Pick a color, and then pastel it…or silk it…these are the colors Saint-Rémy wears.

Windows bear shutters

and frequently wear flowers.

~ ~ ~

Because the Guinea and I tend to eat our three squares no matter where we are, we’ve developed a nose for the aromas of good food rising from the stove and wafting out the windows. We found some of our favorite here…

‘Twas so good in fact, we found it twice…

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We experienced a couple highlights during our stay in Saint-Rémy, apart from the food. One, the Roman ruins of Glanum I’ll share next time;

the other, so moving, was the Cloître Saint-Paul, and with it, the Asylum where Vincent Van Gogh was confined for a time. (1889-90)

Some of his most famous paintings were done during his stay here. (Among the many,  Starry Night and Self-Portrait.) When you walk the beautiful hushed grounds here, you’ll see where he set his easel and pulled out his brushes to paint. And you’ll see the magic that was Vincent’s mind.

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Paris day & night

Who am I to talk and what am I to say of

Paris

that hasn’t already been said (or sung), many times over and many times better?

Honestly, I’m not feigning humility here.

I don’t know Paris well at all.

I only know that a corner of my heart belongs to her.

After leaving Berlin, we were to fly to Paris. We’d been to France once before – sort of a flukey thing – only 3 or 4 days – and all of it in Paris. Though our trip this time would be focused in Provence and Burgundy, how could we possibly fly over the city we first saw (and fell in love with) one lovely April? She had just a bit more color then, and a bit more sparkle (but in all fairness, so did I.)

~

I’ll keep my words to a minimum here. (you doubt!) For this post, there will be mostly photos … with a few words, like herbs, tossed in for flavor…

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Our key to the city…

We arrived to our tiny (teeny!) room in the same hotel we stayed our first visit.We had to shoe-horn ourselves in, but it was so well-situated we couldn’t pass it up. Directly across the street, the lovely little church Sainte Germaine de Auxerrois. Kitty-corner from us, the Louvre, and only a few blocks away, the river Seine.

Out our open window, the church – just to the left, the Louvre

Ste. Germaine de Auxerrois – just after a wedding

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I lost my pants in Berlin.

Though that may sound as though there’s an exciting story to follow (and don’t I wish there were), there isn’t.

I failed to re-pack them and when I called the hotel, they were gone. I’d packed light for this trip. (Lighter than I’ve ever packed before.)  Priorities for me: everything for 3 weeks in one medium bag, with a little empty room to bring a few things back for family, and  (naturally) my camera gear. The pants I brought were pretty new and pretty wonderful. My evening dress-up pants.  I was pretty attached and pretty despondent when someone else decided she liked them too.

My Guinea Pig is a man you can always count on in a crisis. While my eyes were swelling with tears, he was already online, locating what would become my favorite place to shop for clothes, ever. If you ever get a chance, do meet agnes b. 

We’re walkers, my husband and I. When we travel our feet take us just about everywhere we go. And Paris is a wonderful city to see on foot!

walking past a culinary school,

imagining  for a moment, me in that window tenderly sprinkling cinnamon…

past fountains, statues, monuments – everywhere

walking along the river Seine…

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Berlin on foot

Years ago, I visited Germany’s Bavaria and thought when I first set eyes on it that I’d just discovered what was surely meant to be my home all along. Where we were, nestled among the foothills of the Alps, was a charm unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Cows, their hollow bells clacking as they swayed side to side, were led through quiet streets by men in short leather pants, embroidered suspenders, tall socks and loden-green feathered caps. The architecture too seemed out of a fairy tale. Buildings were painted white, freshly every year, some decorated with murals, and it seemed that from every window hung flowers overspilling their wooden planters. Shop windows were filled with eiderdown comforters, traditional Bavarian/Alpine clothing, kitchen wares, and the most elaborate cakes and marzipan confections I’d ever seen. Each late afternoon or evening whole families (all ages) picked up their walking sticks and strolled through the hills. Their voices rose like a murmured chorus through the woods. It was a hum I’ll never forget. The leaves were turning, the air was clean and Autumn-crisp, and the lakes shimmered. It was idyllic. Pretty much

(People actually lived like this!)

But…

Berlin is a large and vibrant city

 (and – I was kindly reminded – Berlin’s no Bavaria – and if you yodel, people will stare.)

We were to launch our vacation from Berlin where my husband was called to business. We arrived a couple days in advance of his meetings to acquaint ourselves with the city by walking it. We were to have four full days there, but weren’t driving so our acquaintance with this bustling modern city would be  limited to what we could get to on foot. By no means could we see it all. The weather was beautiful so we chose outdoors. We walked the streets and parks and bridges. We missed museums and what I hear is a thriving art and music scene. But what we saw and tasted made an indelible impression.

Berlin – I hadn’t known – got its name from the German words for bear and little. And as we moved through the city, we found little bears everywhere. There’s quite a fondness here for their little mascot.

Bear statues, each with the same basic form but painted uniquely, were seen all over the city. The one outside our hotel was “wearing” Marlene Dietrich. (For those of you too young to know – as am I too of course –  Marlene was a famously sultry, satin & silk, smoky-voiced German actress and singer – of the 40’s I think.) Here she is outside our hotel at the entrance to the bar that bears her name –  (though only a quick shot with my phone, I couldn’t resist) –

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Most of us probably think of vacation as a bit of an “escape”. But the escape that this trip offered wasn’t to begin for me here. You visit Berlin, and first it strikes –  and then it settles on you, hard – Berlin’s is not a feint history – it’s one of such enormity that I struggle still to put into words the effect it had on me.  Some of the most brilliant heights ~ and the most depraved depths ~ of humankind’s time on earth were lived in and around here. And everywhere you walk in this city, its history is evident. Berlin’s gravitas does not – cannot – escape you.

The Brandenburg Gate was completed in the 1700’s as a triumphal arch and was the gateway through which people would enter the city. Though a great number of buildings were destroyed during the war, many that still stand speak loudly (as this does) of Germany’s once-imperial greatness.

One imperial address was that of the summer palace of Sophie Charlotte (Queen of Prussia & grandmother of Germany’s beloved Frederich the Great.)  The palace was finished in 1705. Though not readily apparent, every attempt was made to be mindful of avoiding “excesses” during the construction of this summer home. Sophie had learned by way of Marie Antoinette’s unfortunate example that “the people” don’t take kindly to royal over-indulgences. (Keep this attempt at  “understated elegance” in mind as you stroll through the next photos of the Sophie Charlottenburg Palace.) Though the palace was hit by airstrikes during World War II and completely destroyed by fire, it was meticulously rebuilt (from photographs) after the war.

The vast grounds behind the palace are some that Berliners feel are their “own”park now and have become a favorite spot for family picnics, frisbee-throwing and – we were told – even (shudder-gasp!) pot-smoking.

Sophie did love her Blue & White porcelain! All walls in this room were covered with it. (Notice too the 3-D borders that extend past the painted parts of this large and elaborate ceiling mural.)

The host of angels carrying the crown was meant to denote that Sophie’s royal status was divinely conferred.

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the road traveled

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For 3½ weeks I haven’t driven, chopped herbs, sifted, stirred or baked.

For nearly a month now, not a load of laundry, a trip to the mailbox or a bill paid.

No garden tended, no floor swept, no counters wiped clean.

No phone ringing, door-knocking, no dogs wagging. (I did ache for the wagging!)

Familiar comforts, left behind. Rhythms and patterns, well-established,  set aside.

In exchange, there was to be newness in every step.  “Knowing” suspended. Curiosity indulged.

No apron. But a heavy camera around my neck. And from my shoulders, a weighty loaded pack.

Miles upon many miles of footfalls, blistered and tired (but ever-willing) feet.

Ears perked. Eyes wide.  Body stooping, reaching, climbing.

And a bursting happy heart!

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plum crazy ~ part deux

I’ve been wanting to tell you and haven’t found the time. Tomorrow, laundry’s done, beds made, bills paid, bags packed, our pups are in the tenderest of hands, we’re sliding ourselves into plane seats to head across the country, across the sea, to Europe for three weeks. One week in Berlin, two in France. (Business gets us there, pleasure keeps us.) This will be our longest (most ♥ glorious!) vacation ever.

but first…

Plums on the tree, plums on the ground, plums in the fruit bin in the fridge. We couldn’t leave town  (well, he could)  without treating them right. And so this morning, on the day before we fly this coop, with dozens of things yet to do, here i am, making jam. Honestly! if that isn’t the height of

plum crazy

it’s got to be close!

This is my second batch of this particular jam, and it’s, well, sort of out of this world and into the next!

There will be but one photo

(because I’m only just so crazy)

and because I’ve already shared with you the basics of plum jam in a recent post.

This jam though is made without the ginger and warming spices of the last one (which was delicious), and in their place steps

Lavender, lovely lovely Lavender!

~ ~ ~

The very thought of lavender is quieting,

Calming.

You can sleep on it, bathe in it, and ought to if you (like moi!) are a bit wigged out!

And who among us hasn’t been pacified by a piece of toast smeared with seductively sweet jam?

This jam may even do it one better.

~ ~ ~

But before the recipe, a NOTE  to you before we fly  –

I’ll be uploading photos while we’re away. At this point I can’t predict whether I’ll actually post to this blog, or simply do a continuing photo story on Facebook. If you’re interested in seeing parts of our trip (Berlin, Paris, Provence, Burgundy) you can Like me on Facebook.

In any event, I will miss this connection with you and will be eager to share when we get back home!

My fellow-blogger friends, I’ll likely be able to read your posts but not offer much comment. If you see me liking you, know that I truly do! 🙂 

~ ~ ~

Lavender Plum Jam 

fills approximately 2 pint jars – possibly 2½ – or 5 half-pint jars

  • a total of 4 pounds ripe plums (or plums & plucots mixed)– pitted and diced
  • 1  cup lavender sugar (to make your own, see note at bottom of post)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons strained fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon slightly crushed culinary lavender

NOTE: If you prefer to make a freezer jam, you can ignore the canning steps and simply fill your jars with cooked jam, allow to cool, and then place in the freezer.

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on the farm

Growing up, our grandfather (Big Papa) had a farm. Quite a large farm. It nearly encompassed the entire world for me as a kid…that and the woods behind our own house back in town. Most of the time Big Papa had a caretaker who looked after the farm property which was acres and acres of horse pasture, huge barns with hay lofts, tall silos filled with the sweet smell of fermenting hay, leather-scented tack rooms where saddles and horse blankets were hung, a milking barn that smelled like cottage cheese and cream, all kinds of old farm equipment, an old-time fire engine, a gas pump. You get the picture. There were woods there too, and sand banks where we’d play for hours on end. There were Shetland ponies and two big beautiful Pintos. A milking herd of sweet-faced Jerseys. A Brahma bull, just because he was fiercely fantastic. There were pea-brained guinea hens forever running from us, though they had no reason to. There were attics filled with beds and bunks, chenille bedspreads, old dressers and vanities with dusty mirrors. Old women’s clothes, men’s work boots. Old baby buggies. Indian blankets. The farm was a child’s paradise.

I was blessed to grow up free to roam. I explored for endless hours the woods out back, built forts with the guys. I believed there was a gang who roamed those woods. “The Dick and John Gang.” Mean as all get-out we were told, but we never met up with them. (I’m not sure anyone ever did.) I climbed water towers. I’d frequently ride my bike down to an old abandoned saw mill and investigate. I rode my horse, alone, and  fast  along sandy trails! (I was taught that I’d gone a step too far when I woke in the middle of the night with the express purpose of  driving my dad’s car down onto the beach nearby. The lights were on in the farm house when I returned. There was to be no sneaking back to bed. I think I was 12.)

~ ~ ~

Seems to me that we’re each formed in good part by the experiences we had as children, the games we played,  the woods or yards or streets we roamed. There’s no question, the farm runs in my veins.

About three miles down the road from we live now is an old family farm. The city next to ours bought it from the Luscher family and it’s been turned into acres and acres of gardens for the community to share. This time of year the gardens are populated by brooms wearing clothes. You’ll see. I went there yesterday to breathe and wander. I thought I’d share a few photos of my time there.

Click on any one of the photos below to enlarge it, or by using the arrows you can flip through them all if you like.(Click on the little x in the left-hand corner to return to the post.) I hope you’ll enjoy a few minutes of peace in the gardens where the bees buzz and people quietly turn over the dirt and tend their tomatoes.

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