Christmas Eve…..

….is a very lonely time for some people. I had to have this explained to me because Christmas Eve to me is the longest, busiest day in the calendar year.  But, I was told, in the world  there are those who are so organised that they have nothing left to do, and those who have nothing to do. That’s why our friend Gordon, who lives by himself, has Open House for his village on Christmas Eve.  “Many single people are invited out on Christmas Day, “ he says, “but Christmas Eve can turn out to be quite empty”.  So Gordon stokes up the fire in the ancient stone fireplace in his ancient house, brews up his secret recipe for mulled wine,   opens the door, and lets the party happen.

camembert-4

That’s the thing about parties. You can plan meticulously.  You can be so prepared that you even have time to apply lipstick before party time (it happened to me once).  But when the first foot of the first guest crosses the threshold, the party is no longer yours.  It doesn’t matter if the sink is piled high with dirty dishes, and half made fruit salad adorns the juice-stuck counters in the kitchen,  newspapers, dead socks, and strangely-placed cushions bedeck the front room.  Relax, smile, hug, offer a drink, and think, “The party has begun, hooray!”  Aside from the lipstick thing, Gordon’s hospitality is known world-wide (he travels a lot).  His village loves to come at this special time of year.

And like the three kings, they come bearing gifts! He told me about a baked camembert dip that was a hearty success.  So I’ve tried to Christmas-ify it a bit.  It’s an easy one, too.

gooey when hot...lovely!

gooey when hot…lovely!

 

keep the wooden frame on for ooze control, if you siwh.

keep the wooden frame on for ooze control, if you wish.

 

 

Christmas Baked Camembert.

Remove the wrappings of a whole camembert cheese, perforate the top in a few places, to help it puff up, place the cheese back in its wooden frame and place on a baking sheet.  Pre-heat oven to 220C or about 475F.  Place in hot oven for 12 minutes.  Remove from box and place in the centre of an attractive plate.  Garland with watercress, cover the top with cranberry sauce (see recipe below), and serve immediately.  The watercress initially was only to give the green for Christmas, but our tasters found the combination of cheese, cranberry and watercress very refreshing.  Serve with garlic bread, sturdy crackers, and,  for the carbo-phobes, sliced apple.  Nice!

Cranberry-Ginger Sauce. Empty one bag of whole cranberries into a slow cooker or heavy-bottom pan. Add a cup and a bit of sugar (yes I know, but it is Christmas), three finely chopped stem gingers, and 2 tablespoons cherry brandy.  In a slow cooker, this can be left alone until you feel like looking at it.  In a pan on very low heat give it a stir now and then,  but be careful of explosions.  Cranberries pop when they cook.  Optional:  when done,  add a couple of tablespoons of Grand Marnier.  It’s nicer if made the day before so that the flavours get a chance to “hold hands”, as the Persians say.

apples for the carbo-phobes

apples for the carbo-phobes

 

May all your Christmases be bright.

Judy Robinson

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Cookies for Hallowe’en

There are occasions when I want to go back to the age of innocence. Hallowe’en is one of them.  When I was growing up, Hallowe’en was a beautiful time to be someone different – to dress up in any costume I felt like, to be anyone I wanted to be. Goblin or princess or cowgirl, I was it.    And still today in parts of America, everyone dresses up, even the staff in the doctors’ offices.  And there are Hallowe’en parades, and people visit the neighbours and show off their costumes in the murkily cold October evenings, and the neighbours pretend to be terrified or astounded at beauty and give them home baked cookies warm from the oven, or teeth-rotting candy that eventually gets chucked into the bin.

halloween-pumpkin-joy

And jack o’ lanterns of all sizes, still smelling of pumpkin seeds adorn the porches and smile leeringly at the passing merry makers.

Here in England, they are trying to incorporate Hallowe’en into a very, very different culture. OK. The shops are packed with gaudy orange-and-black must-haves.  There is the occasional severed hand in the gingerale section of the supermarket. They open the sale of Guy Fawkes Day fireworks early, in case someone wants to set off a firecracker or two for Hallowe’en. We get a few carved pumpkins on our streets –  the next door neighbours are creative geniuses.

Neighbours' pumpkins...see what I mean

Neighbours’ pumpkins…see what I mean?

But for a country that does not celebrate Mardi Gras, you’d think citizens would crave the chance to dress up ridiculously at least once a year.  They don’t.

 

What I miss the most are the visits from children, strangers and known….well, with masks and makeup I don’t even recognise the children I know. And there are very few visits. People (usually grownups) warn them off.  They say it’s begging.   They say you shouldn’t go to a stranger’s house.  They say there is something bad connected with it.  Funny, that in six weeks’ time it will be all right to go carol singing and collect money. That, however, is for charity, so it seems to be allowed.

Every year I hope. I put out our ceramic jack o’ lantern, and long for someone, even ONE ghost, goblin, skeleton, fairy princess, or Darth Vader, to visit.  Sometimes we’re lucky, and our hearts are lifted.

our ceramic pumpkin, waiting in hope

our ceramic pumpkin, waiting in hope

 

 

I feel like Linus in the Peanuts cartoon who waits yearly for the visit of the Great Pumpkin. And like Linus, this year I too will be waiting

with

Hallowe’en Chocolate Cookies

ready for freezing and baking

ready for freezing and baking

In a large mixing bowl mix 10 oz (1 ¼ cups) margarine or butter  with 1 lb (2 cups,  420 gms) sugar, until well incorporated.  Add 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla essence,  and 8 ozs (2 cups 240 gms) self-raising flour [or  2 cups flour with 1 tsp soda bicarb – baking soda].  Mix in  ¾  cup unsweetened cocoa powder (3 ozs,  110 gms) and ½ tsp salt.  When thoroughly combined,   add 3 pkts  or 12 ozs chocolate chips.  Mix well.  Roll into walnut-sized balls, or if sloppy, drop by dessertspoonfuls onto baking paper, about two inches apart.  Bake in moderate oven, 350 degrees for 8 – 9 minutes, no more than 10.   Let cool slightly before removing.  Cookies will puff up when baking and sink down to wrinkly chewiness when cooler.

halloween-cookies

Notes:

  • These bake well on baking parchment. No need to grease the pans.
  • You can freeze them at the raw stage. When an unexpected loved one arrives, whap them from the freezer, put them on paper in a cold oven, turn on the heat, and 10 minutes later you have fresh cookies. By that time you’ve boiled the kettle for an accompanying beverage and gone through one or two chat items.
  • Also works well with gluten-free flour.
  • Good with chopped walnuts, too, if you are sure that none of your fairy princesses or blood-dripping ghouls has a nut allergy.

halloween-ceramic-distant

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Yorkshire Pudding — Celebrating British Food Fortnight

check out my blog on lovebritishfood.co.uk.  It’s called: Brussels Sprout Tops, the Buried Treasure.

Yorkshire puddings

Yorkshire puddings

“Now I will teach you how to make Yorkshire Pudding,” said Dora Robinson, my soon-to-be mother-in-law. “And you can be sure it’s right, because you have been taught by a real Yorkshire lass.”  My American heart sank.  “This will be a real test of my love for her son,” I thought.    Floating into my head came visions of a quagmire of custardy creamy pudding globbing and glooping  around  a perfectly decent slab of roast beef , mixing with the gravy.  Suffocating  the roast potatoes .  “How in the world could anyone want to put PUDDING with such a dish?  Let’s hope it’s not chocolate pudding!”  And then the revelation!  A glorious mouth watering miracle of  hot light crispy cups begging for warm gravy, nestling close to the beef … or chicken….or pork….or whatever roast she managed to produce!.  All this and Heaven too!

yorkshires-2

Needless to say, the Brits have a different definition of pudding, for it can mean pudding as I know it, or pudding meaning dessert.  And Yorkshire pudding, says my husband, could be used for dessert, too, if served with jam, OR as a starting course, served with gravy, so that people would eat less of the very expensive meat when it later arrived at the table.

I have also seen it served at buffets, with a patch of cheese melted into the cup, right after baking. Toad in the Hole is Yorkshire pudding baked with sausages in it….a very special favourite of our Bulgarian students who visited a few summers ago.  If your oven is hot, you could use a pudding or two as your starch for the meal, as it isn’t as heavy as potatoes.  (see below)

It only took one meal to turn me into a Yorkshire Pudding Convert. And here are Dora’s instructions:

The recipe uses the simplest of ingredients:

flour                                              milk

Plain Flour, 75 gms. 3 ozs, ¾ cup.                                  Milk 75 ml. 3 ozs, scant 1/2  cup

 

 

 

1 egg

1 egg

Water, to create the uplifting steam, 50 ml, 2 ozs. 1/3 cup

Water, to create the uplifting steam, 50 ml, 2 ozs. 1/3 cup

 

 

 Seasoning: pinch of salt and a dash of pepper.

Prepare a 12 cup muffin tin: put 1 teaspoon of oil in the bottom of each cup.  Place the pan in the oven.  Turn the oven to 425F or 220 C – very hot.

Meanwhile, beat the above ingredients well.  An electric beater or food processor can zip it up in no time.

When the oil is smoking hot (says Dora) remove the pan from the oven.  Quickly fill the 12 muffin cups with a tablespoon or so of the batter.   There should be a healthy sizzle every time you add the batter.  Quickly (yes, I do mean to use “quickly” twice)  put it in the top shelf of the oven and bake.  Check after 20 minutes to see if it is crispy and finished.  If not, cook it some more.  Ovens vary.  Eat as soon as you can with yumscious gravy and perfectly roasted meat.

toasted upside down

Left over puddings? Dora always turns her puddings over to crisp up both sides.  We turned ours upside down and baked them in a very slow oven the next supper meal,  until they were crisp again (they had turned soggy overnight.)  We ate them with Kheema Matar, an Indian curried ground beef dish with peas.  Lovely.   See what I mean?  You can serve them with anything!

Happy eating!

Kheema matar

Kheema matar

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A Community of Bravery

Admiring Life’s Strong Ones

I am sitting in a roof restaurant in Kensington on a warm August night. The balcony is framed in flower boxes.  Between them I see the tops of red double decker buses flick by in the street below.  Whiffs of specialty pizza, gnocchi, and polpetto di meinzo caress my nose as they thread their way to other customers’ tables, while I await my Paccheri a Core e Mamma, and continue gazing on these beautiful people.

And they are. Their beautiful flawless hands are manicured.  Their cut-and-blow-dried hair (@ £265 per session – I checked!) is flawless.  Their clothes are designer.  Their laughter is effervescent.  Their conversation tinkles with the chilled champagne glasses and cutlery.  All perfect for a summer’s night.

But as I watch them, I am remembering another conversation taking place around the corner on the surgical ward in the hospital, where, in the heat, two bare-chested men sit on their bed edges. One is my husband John, his bruised black-purple-red chest is cut, stapled and sewn as doctors seek to renovate his heart.  The other is Next-Bed Mike, a huge gentle giant of a man with surgical gashes across his back and side, his magnificent torso already housing crushed arthritic vertebrae and now-suspected of lung cancer.  Mike’s pain the night before caused him to scream in excruciating agony.  But there is no self-pity in either of them now.  They aren’t even talking about themselves.  They are marvelling at the astounding mystery of the universe and how we are created from the same elements that make the stars. They are delighting in the amazing discoveries of science that bring the farthest of space down to the centre of being human. They are gasping in surprise at the miracle of it all.

I remember these two as I sit in my perfect London setting. And others who are forced to be unexpectedly brave in Life’s events, and who go on discovering its riches anyway. And to them I raise my glass of Monte Pulciano and wish them well.

Paccheri a Core e Mamma my version

Italian shop, small and hidden

Italian shop, small and hidden

walls of biscuits and pasta!

walls of biscuits and pasta!

 

Some of you scan these recipes as Read Only. Some of you live in a place where Italian ingredients are easily accessible.  But for others like me you need research, a 27.2 mile drive to an obscure shop with an inconsequential name that opens into a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of Italian goodies.

sausage moustache

sausage moustache

Despite the effort, I have been eager to explore this recipe, because it fit so completely into that summer night.   The pasta is almost as big as lasagne pieces, and the meaning is “slap in the face”.  I’ll probably serve this at our next Learning Celebration supper.  It’s simple.  It’s a make-ahead.  It keeps hot in a slow cooker.  It’s a no-brainer. My overnight visitors inspected the purchases.

Pasta fingers show the size of the uncooked pecchari

Pasta fingers show the size of the uncooked pecchari

Amounts of ingredients are sloppily loose:   Saute a sliced Italian sausage – preferably spicy —  in olive oil until crisp then add a couple of chopped onions  with smashed garlic cloves, and cook until tender.  Add sliced mushrooms and cook until nearly done.  Add two cups or so of dry white wine and cook down by half.  Add double cream and cook until it makes a good thick gravy.  Add grated pecorino cheese, two tablespoons at a time as it is powerful stuff.  Stir until melted.  Sprinkle on a teaspoon or more of truffle oil.

Serve on boiled pasta, pecchari if you wish

some "tasters" just stuck with the pasta and cheddar cheese.

some “tasters” just stuck with the pasta and cheddar cheese.

[notes from trial: next time I might try adding dried porcini mushrooms in truffle oil.  The grated pecorino is a lot stronger than I expected.  Add it by tablespoons to your taste.]

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A Community of Communities

What is the tie that binds people together?

BART trains overhead, underneath is peace!

BART trains overhead, underneath is peace!

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), an underground/overground system of transport for San Francisco and surrounding towns, runs smack dab through a whole set of long-established out-skirted communities of Berkeley. Instead of a searing scar of uprooted houses, friends wrenched apart from friends, shops from shoppers and chunks of living divided from each other, the BART sails overground on huge concrete pillars.

junr 26 2016 003     junr 26 2016 001

And underneath? Oh, underneath is magic!  A most wonderful path meanders through many a village.  I love it.  Absolutely love it.  There’s a serenity, a security about it all.  Hedges and fences offer a peek into community eco-gardens, sharing the land and the precious water in this desertous country.  Gloriously painted garage doors depict cartoons or heroes.  Children have designed ceramic tiles that make up some of the seats along the path.  On makeshift notice boards written posters made of unfolded brown paper shopping bags invite people to coffee on the second and fourth Saturdays “to learn what’s possible”.

Children's designs

Children’s designs

message from a community builder

message from a community builder

 There are parks, running paths, cycle routes. Sounds – aside from the sharp sudden roar of an overhead train — are gentle. The chuff-chuff of a runner on the sandy track.  The thump-thwack of an early morning tennis game on the community’s courts. The tinkle of a cycle bell reminding me to move over.  The soft satin rustle of a flock of wild turkeys settling down on the wayside benches.

Early morning walks bring scents of wild grasses lining the paths, mingling with the sudden whiff of after-shave from a commuter on his way to BART station, or the enticing aromas wafting tantalisingly from the Brazilian open air café on the corner, getting ready for the day’s business.

So what makes this different from my cherished English village?

history in Ceramics

history in Ceramics

I think it’s the visible, tangible pride they take in the area’s history, reminding every walker, every cyclist every wild turkey of the many peoples who make up this community.

this mural is HUGE

this mural is HUGE

A massively long tile mural portrays the settling of the area, from10, 000 BC, and pre-human ice-age settlements, the respectful Ohlone Tribes living in peace, singing their songs, telling their stories. The Spanish settlers with ranches, horsemanship and fiestas — “The land is our gold” they said.   “Let the Californians go after the gold rush.” The miners from out east.  The Blacks, the Irish and their contributions.  Victorian agriculture.  The University of Berkeley. Dairy farming. Streetcars. World War II shipyards.

the long mural of history

the long mural of history

 

All of this is visible to anyone walking the path. Everytime someone comes outside, the lesson is there to see.  They are a community of communities.  They are proud of their rich heritage. And show it off well.

 

Santa Fe Reailway sign

Santa Fe Reailway sign

And in this quiet suburb of houses is this sign, marking the end of the Santa Fe Railroad, connected by the Western Pacific Railway. The last spike, linking together the whole width of the United States was driven into the track in 1909.  Nothing remains here of the railway. A railway completed and closed down within my Dad’s lifetime. West Coast recorded history is so young.

Santa Fe Meatloaf

Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution from America’s test kitchen.  As a veteran meatloaf maker I would never EVER do a meatloaf in a slow cooker, preferring instead the hot circulating oven air for a dark crusty outside, and a juicily mouth-watering innards.  But just take a look at the whopping number of ingredients!  I just had to try it out (and add a few more, of course).  Meatloaf is great for long-stay visitors.  Serve it hot with baked potatoes the first night.  Slice it cold for sandwiches the next day.

In a food processor throw in: 1 quartered peeled onion, 1 quartered de-seeded red bell pepper, 4 peeled garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon tomato puree (paste), 2 teaspoons fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried, 2 teaspoons chilli seasoning* (WARNING: see note below), 1 can drained black beans, 2 slices white bread, 2 lbs lean minced (ground) beef, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, ¾ cup corn kernels (yes really),  2 large eggs, 2 tablespoons coriander leaf (cilantro) or parsley, 1 heaped tablespoon pickled jalepeno peppers and 3 slices of meaty bacon.  Grind until smooth.  If the mixture is dry, whirr in ½ cup of milk.  Shape into a loaf, or several smaller ones.  Stud with pimiento olives and a bay leaf or two.    Bake in slow oven for about 1 ½ hours.  The outside should be dark and crispy looking.

In the last 15 minutes of baking, pour off any fat (if necessary) and spread on ½ cup barbecue sauce, or ½ cup ketchup mixed with 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and a tablespoon of brown sugar. (Chipotle ketchup will add eye-watering zing.)

*WARNING ABOUT Chilli. Please read the ingredients on your bottle of chilli “powder”.  In England there is something called “chilli powder” which is nothing but ground dried chillies.  In America the chilli powder is a mixture of chilli, paprika, garlic and onion powders, dried parsley and basil, etc etc. Thus, you can use 2 teaspoons, even 3.  The difference was one I learned the hard way in my first month of marriage….ooh it was breathtaking.

OK. It's a wonky meatloaf, but it tastes all right.

OK. It’s a wonky meatloaf, but it tastes all right.

 

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A Community of Tasters

Maybe it’s my sheer joy in any aspect of Community that warms my heart and blossoms into a greater humanity than the sum of the individuals taking part. Or maybe it’s sheer under-confidence in my cooking.  Whatever the reason, I do like sharing the things I cook.  So, whenever a new recipe emerges I snuffle out someone to try it on.  They’re still living, so far.

junr 26 2016 003          junr 26 2016 004

Here’s an insignificantly looking cupcake that punches a lemony wallop. Here, too are images of two of the tasters who tried it out. The cake recipe was pencil-scribbled into my Filofax some 20 years ago, in friend Chris’ kitchen.  The rest emerged as a possibility while staring  at the air in the middle of our hallway.

junr 26 2016 001

Lemon Curd Sandwich Cupcakes

The Cake:

Find an individual 150 gm. cup of plain yogurt (or a cup that measures 6 fl ozs., ¾ cup). Use this cup as a measure for the other ingredients.

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  1. Empty the contents, or 6 ozs of yogurt into a bowl or food processor.
  2. Add 1 measure of oil.
  3. Add 2 measures of sugar.
  4. Add 3 measures of self-raising (self rising) flour, and ½ tsp. salt.
  5. Add 2 eggs, beaten.
  6. Add the zest of 2 small or 1 large lemon.

8.. Mix well and bake in paper cupcakes in mod oven, about 15 minutes.

  1. Squeeze the juice from the lemon(s) and mix well with 1 heaped tablespoon icing (confectioners) sugar.
  2. As soon as cakes are baked, poke holes in the top with a cocktail stick (toothpick) and pour ¼ teaspoon of the juice-icing sugar mixture on top of each. Let it soak in as it cools.
  3. Cool completely, and remove papers.
  4. Slice horizontally and spread the middle with lemon curd (see below).
  5. Dust with the faintest whisper of icing sugar. Makes 2 dozen cupcakes. 

Children’s cake recipe

You can use this cake recipe for little hands, because there is no weighing. They can practice cracking the eggs in a separate dish before adding to the batter.  Simply follow steps 1 – 6, adding 1 teaspoon vanilla instead of the lemon zest and juice, and pouring in as many chocolate chips that escape eating before they are mixed into the batter.  Bake as in step 8.

Lemon Curd

curd

For those of you who can’t dash down to your local supermarket for a jar of lemon curd, you are in LUCK, because homemade is easy (as daughter aged 12 showed me) and far tastier. Here is Delia Smith’s recipe:

Put 3 ozs/80 grams/scant ½ cup caster sugar (superfine) in the top of a bain marie (double boiler), or saucepan, with the zest of a large juicy lemon or 2 small ones.

  1. In another dish whisk 2 eggs and the juice of the above.
  2. Decant the egg mixture onto the sugar.
  3. Add 2 ozs/2 tablespoons/50 grams butter, preferably unsalted.
  4. Mix well.
  5. Put saucepan over, not in, a pan of barely simmering water.
  6. Stir frequently until thickened, about 20 minutes.
  7. Make sure the curd is completely cold before sandwiching it into the cupcakes.

 

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God Save Their Gracious Queen

Delighting in a monarch is no bad thing. 

The Queen of England turned 90 recently. At the age of 21 she promised her people that, no matter how short or how long she lived, she would serve them until the end of her life.

She has kept her promise. On her 90th birthday she walked along the streets of Windsor, through thickly packed cheering, smiling, flag-waving people. Hundreds of spring flower bouquets pronged out from the crowds into her hands, amid laughter and gratitude.    The community’s apparel was amazing to behold.  I don’t know how many bolts of Union Jack material were used to attire their dogs and themselves in suits, dresses, skirts, shorts, hats and crowns but it certainly indicated where their loyalty lay.  “There is a thread that draws us together,” said one of her subjects.  “She is the spirit of that thread.”

Now, the longest reigning British monarch still spends three hours a day reading reports and keeping up to date with the country. During almost 60 years of her reign the country has welcomed people of all cultures and nationalities, turning Britain into a worldwide community.

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty, with love from one of your immigrants.

Coronation Chicken Waldorf Salad

cor chk 2

Coronation Chicken was created in 1953 by Constance Spry, to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation. It’s got a hint of the Commonwealth in it (check out the curry paste).  I’ve added a Waldorfian flair with apples and pears, just to stretch the international contribution even wider.  (Well, okay, let’s face it – it’s to stretch the chicken too.)

Poach 1 lb of chicken in water just under the boil until it loses its pinkness (the chicken, not the water). Cut up into salad-size bites when cool enough to handle. Save poaching water for soup or casseroles.

 

cor chk 1Fry one chopped onion in oil, until soft. Add 6 – 8 chopped dried apricots and cook until they plumpen (a couple of minutes).  Add 1 tablespoon curry paste (your choice of fiery-ness) and 1 tablespoon tomato puree (paste), 4 ozs (1/2 cup) red wine, and a bayleaf.  Cook until the sauce is well reduced (a spoon drawn over the bottom of the pan makes a clean pathway).  Whizz the sauce in a food processor until smooth. Cool.

 

Build the salad:

Chicken

Your prepared sauce mixed with 1 cup (8 ozs) mayonnaise and 1 cup Greek yogurt or crème fraiche, or, if you are skinny, sour cream.  (Constance used whipping cream.)

3 apples,  peeled and chopped

1 – 2 pears peeled and chopped.

5 finely chopped spring onions (scallions)

½ bunch of chopped coriander leaves (cilantro) or parsley,*

1 – 2 stalks finely chopped celery

Alternatives/additions:

Sliced Chinese water chestnuts

Roasted sliced almonds

*If not using coriander or parsley, serve salad on a bed of watercress.

Vegetarian option:  leave out the chicken and bump up the other ingredients.

 

tai chi 2I tried it out on fellow Tai Chi learners, during her birthday week. Unfortunately, there is no picture of anyone actually eating the salad.  However, going home with a near-empty container proved that someone – or someones — did.

 

 

tai chi 4

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