28 May 2022

Two New Cookbooks (Weekend Cooking)

book cover of For the Table by Anna StockwellI know summer officially starts on June 21, but here in the States, we consider Memorial Day weekend as the real start of the season. We don't have a lot plans for the holiday, but hamburgers and hotdogs are definitely on the horizon.

Today I want to introduce you to two cookbooks I've been enjoying this spring. Next week, I'll review two new vegan cookbooks.

The first cookbook is perfect for those of us who like to host friends and family for casual dinners but need to figure out how to accommodate a variety of eating styles, allergies, and so on. Anna Stockwell's new cookbook For the Table is full of advice and menus to help you make all your guests feel well fed and cared for, no matter their diet. Thanks to Abrams for providing me with a review copy as part of the Abrams Dinner Party.

Besides recipes, Stockwell offers advice on how to prepare for dinner guests, gives us ideas for conversation starters and games, and provides timeline and prep advice for each menu. Note, too, that every recipe in For the Table is clearly marked as gluten-free, vegan, meat-free, dairy-free, and/or pescatarian. As an added bonus for those of you who are gluten sensitive, every recipe in this book is safe for you to eat because Stockwell herself must avoid gluten.

Photo of chicken on platter and bowls of saucesTo be honest, I'm not generally a fan of menu cookbooks, but For the Table is an exception for a couple of reasons. First, her menus are based on two principal dishes, either of which could stand as the main, though one is generally more protein heavy than the other. Stockwell suggests options for sauces and side dishes and provides a quick recipe or two to accommodate what she calls "other dietary restrictions." Of course, you need not follow the menus to a tee, and I swapped dishes to suit our tastes and needs. Finally, Stockwell tells us when a recipe can be halved or quartered to serve fewer people, so the recipes can be adapted for everyday use.

Here are a couple examples of menus: For winter, serve red wine-braised short ribs with Gorgonzola baked polenta. Round out the menu with a salad and a gremolata. Stockwell offers quick pantry and freezer alternatives for vegetarian or pescatarian guests. One of the summer menus stars za'atar grilled eggplant and zucchini served with a blue cheese and tomato salad. Add-ons include sauces for the veggies and chickpea scocca. Serve a different salad if you have dairy-free and vegan guests.

I made Crunchy Winter Salad (see recipe below), Spring Greens with Fried Dates, Grilled Paprika Chicken with Garlic Vinegar (see my photo), and the grilled zucchini and eggplant mentioned above. I have plenty more dishes marked to try, especially for later in the season when the farmer's markets are in full swing.

Recommended for pretty much everyone. I think gluten-free cooks will especially like For the Table by Anna Stockwell, but really it's a cookbook that most of us will find useful. The subtitle says it all: "Easy, adaptable, crowd-pleasing recipes."

The second cookbook is for all you carb lovers. That Noodle Life by Mike Le and Stephanie Le (of the blog I am a Food Blog) is your guide to all things pasta, from Asian-inspired noodle bowls to lasagna, to mac and cheese. Thanks to Workman for providing me with a copy of this cookbook as part of their Workman Ambassador program.

Stepping beyond just noodle recipes, the Les provide a guide to all the different kinds of available noodles, instructions on properly preparing noodles, and how to top and serve your finished dish. I especially like the features, which are riffs on a type of noodle or noodle dish. For example, the authors give us ten ideas for using various kinds of instant noodles in soups, a section all about laksa, and a fun feature on using lasagna noodles.

The recipes themselves are easy to follow and are fairly inventive. That Noodle Life tells us how to make Oven-Roasted Yakiudon Al Pastor (taco-inspired noodles), Philly Cheesesteak Noodles, Spicy Sesame Chili Oil Noodles (really easy, really good), Garlic-Butter Bucatini with Oyster Sauce, Pumpkin Sage Mac and Cheese, and Wonton Noodle Soup Like They Do in Hong Kong.

photo of a bowl of pasta, a wine bottle, and glassI've made several noodle dishes from That Noodle Life. I admit I was drawn to the quickest, easiest dishes, but ambitious cooks will find plenty of recipes to keep them occupied. Those who are able to get fresh seafood or have a local well-stocked Asian market will find new ideas for serving their favorite ingredients.

Recommendation: If you like noodles, you should give That Noodle Life by Mike and Stephanie Le a try. Vegetarians will find a number of appropriate recipes; vegans and gluten-free eaters will want to look through the cookbook before buying. Visit I am a Food Blog to learn more about the Les and to try some of their recipes.

The following recipe is from For the Table. As one of my fellow Abrams Dinner Party participants said, "It may be called a winter salad, but it's good all year round." I used both daikon and watermelon radishes because the little bit of pink was pretty.

Crunchy Winter Salad
Serves 6; can be halved

  • 1 large or 2 small daikon radishes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 4 ribs celery, thinly sliced on a bias
  • 2 green apples, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup (40 g) loosely packed fresh basil leaves
Place the radish, fennel, celery, and apples in a large bowl of ice water and let sit until ready to serve, up to 3 hours. This keeps everything safe from oxygen exposure, which would cause browning, but the ice also makes everything extra-crispy, so don't skip this step even if you're serving in 30 minutes. When ready to serve, drain and spin dry in a salad spinner if you have one, or spread out on a clean dish towel and pat dry. Transfer to a large salad or mixing bowl. Season with salt, and toss to combine. Then drizzle with the vinegar, and toss to combine again. Transfer to a serving platter and top with the basil to serve.

Note: The recipe and scan are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photo is my own.

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21 May 2022

Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food by Colu Henry (Weekend Cooking)

cover of Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food by Colu HenryToday’s cookbook made me excited for summer and the prospect of having friends and family over for dining on the deck. Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food, by Colu Henry (which I received from Abrams Books) isn’t just for entertaining, though. I found most dishes will work just fine for the two of us on a weeknight.

The style and feel of Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food is simple elegance. In fact, Henry notes in her introduction that she was inspired by the classic years of Gourmet Magazine. I’m not surprised, since she’s no stranger to food writing. You can find her work in the likes of the New York Times and Food & Wine.

As the title suggests, many of the finished dishes in this cookbook are indeed fancy sounding and plate up beautifully. Still, at the same time, the recipes themselves are true to author's promise: almost all of them are fairly easy to throw together.

It’s interesting that Henry admits she’s no baker, so for the sweets chapter, she called on her friends to “bring a dessert” to the party. I love that she’s confident enough to know her weaknesses as well as her strengths.

overhead shot of cake topped with an orange sliceSome of the recipe and chapter names reflect Henry’s personality: Pretending I’m Vacationing in Italy Salad (cucumbers, mozzarella, prosciutto, fresh herbs, olive oil); Seven Fish, No Feast (the fish chapter); and More Shrimp Than You Think Pasta (shrimp, fennel, chile peppers, herbs, mezzi rigatoni). Others, of course, are straight to the point: Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Asparagus and Charred Scallion-Sesame Salsa, Steak Sandwiches on Buttered Toast with Aioli and Spicy Greens, and Broiled Mussels with Panko and Pecorino.

I’ve made several recipes from Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food, and all were successful and simple to make. For example, we make beans quite often, but found her Pot of Beans, with its fresh herbs and garlic, a welcome change from our usual Tex-Mex versions. We also liked her Sausage, Pepper, and Onions with Melty Caprese, which is a kind of sheet pan dish. Alexandra Stafford’s Orange, Olive Oil, and Almond Torte, which had the perfect balance of tart and sweet, was delicious for afternoon tea and for dessert (see my photo).

The winning dish was the Gingery Lamb Meatballs with Tomato Confit Broth and Seeded Yogurt (though I didn’t make the yogurt; see the scan). I’ll make these meatballs again and again. I used the called-for ground lamb, but I’m sure they’d be just as good with beef or chicken. The Cherry Tomato Confit (see recipe below) was so easy to make, and, according to Henry, it can be popped into the freezer. I plan to make a big batch this summer when the cherry tomatoes are abundant at the farmer’s markets.

overhead shot of meatballs in a tomato brothSome of the recipes I hope to try are the Roasted Squash Soup, Indian-Spiced Yogurt Chicken, Citrus-Braised Short Ribs, Summer Corn Salad with Shrimp, Blistered Green Beans and Tomatoes with Harissa Butter, and Rice Salad for a Screened-In Porch Dinner.

Recommendation: Colu Henry’s Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food is recommended for cooks looking to spark up their dinner table with not too much effort. This cookbook is also great for those of us who like to use recipes as inspiration, tweaking main ingredients or herbs and spices to use what we already have on hand. While the book includes a number of meat-free recipes, I suggest vegetarians and vegans look before buying. Gluten-free eaters will find many recipes to suit their needs.

The following recipe for tomato confit can be frozen for up to 6 months. The author suggests using it as a base for pasta sauce, to enhance soups and stews, to add to beans, to spoon over cheese on toasted bread, and to turn into a broth by adding stock. Note that I cut the recipe in half and used both thyme and rosemary.

Cherry Tomato Confit
Makes about 6 cups (900 ml)
Time: 50 minutes

  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) heirloom cherry tomatoes, in a variety of shapes and colors
  • 1 cup (240 ml) virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • kosher salt
  • 8 sprigs thyme or rosemary, or a combination of both
Preheat the oven to 300F (150C). Place the tomatoes in two 9 by 13-inch (23 by 33 cm) baking dishes in one layer. Add the oil, red pepper flakes, and garlic and season well with salt. Stir to make sure the tomatoes are well coated in the oil. Nestle in the herbs.

Roast, stirring a couple of times, until the tomatoes begin to burst and the skins begin to look pleasantly wrinkled, 40 to 50 minutes.

Allow to come to room temperature, remove the herb sprigs, and then store in an airtight container, pouring any residual liquid over the top. They will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks or freeze for up to 6 months.

Note: The recipe and scan are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photo is my own.

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14 May 2022

A Kitchen Miscellany (Weekend Cooking)

Happy Saturday! In today's Weekend Cooking post, I talk about two books and a some delicious bread. Let's start with the bread.

Photo of a box of baked goodsLast month, the company Wildgrain reached out to me to see if I wanted a review box of their artisan sourdough breads and pasta. I did a little research, and saw nothing but positive reviews about Wildgrain's products and services. Now that I've worked with the company and baked their breads, I couldn't agree more.

Here's how their delivery subscription works. For $89 a month (which includes shipping), you receive a box of frozen goodies. A typical box includes three loaves of sourdough bread, two packages of hand-cut pasta, a bag of sourdough rolls, and a bag of croissants. Everything arrives frozen, ready for the freezer. The products are non-GMO and vegetarian, use unbleached flour, and contain no artificial colors.

photo of a sourdough bread loafMy box contained a plain sourdough loaf, a sourdough sesame seed loaf, a sourdough cranberry pecan loaf, fresh fettuccine, fresh tonnarelli, chocolate croissants, and sourdough rolls. One of the really great things about the Wildgrain products is that you bake directly from the freezer. No thawing required. You simply preheat the oven as directed, place the bread directly on the oven rack (croissants go on sheet pan) and wait about 25 minutes for the magic to happen. The hardest part of baking Wildgrain bread is letting it sit for 10-15 minutes so it can cool a bit and finish baking. The bread smells sooooo good, you want to eat it immediately. Okay, so I confess, we did eat the rolls pretty much right away.

photo of chocolate croissantsThe breads and rolls are everything you want from a sourdough: crusty crust with a tangy soft interior (see my photo). The chocolate croissants (see my photo) were to die for. Seriously good and not overly sweet. Both pastas cooked quickly and were every bit as delicious as any fresh pasta I've had.

When I did a price comparison with local artisan bakeries and vendors at our farmer's markets, I found the cost for Wildgrain to be competitive both for the sourdough bread and fresh pasta. The advantage of a Wildgrain subscription is that you have the breads on hand for spontaneous baking.

I noticed on the Wildgrain website that they're currently running a special (free extra croissants for life) for people who subscribe by the end of May. Note that I get no commission if you subscribe. I did get my box for free, but my thoughts are completely honest. We loved our Wildgrain products and also loved the convenience of home delivery and knowing we could have fresh bread, even when I didn't feel like baking myself.

For more information visit the Wildgrain website and read their FAQ. Thanks again to Wildgrain for the opportunity to try their products.

book cover of Good Eats: The Final Years by Alton BrownNext, I want to alert you to Alton Brown's new cookbook: Good Eats: The Final Years. (Thanks to Abrams for sending me the review copy.) I loved Brown's Food Network shows Good Eats and the spin-off shows subtitled "Reloaded" and "The Return." This cookbook is very much an offspring of the television series, with each chapter linked to a specific Reloaded or Return episode.

As you would expect from Alton Brown, the Good Eats cookbook covers practical advice (like how to spatchcock a chicken), food history (all about dates), food science (how milk fat foams), and so much more. The book is amply illustrated with photos from the television set, drawings, step-by-step photos of techniques, and the like.

There is an incredible amount of information in this 400+-page cookbook. I'll turn to Good Eats: The Final Years for answers to my culinary questions and to revisit the special zaniness that Brown brings to his kitchen lessons. I haven't yet cooked from this book, but I want to point out some things of interest. Good Eats includes a recipe for a Gluten-Free Flour Mix (see below), a thorough section on immersion cooking (kind of like, but not really, sous vide), a chapter on sourdough, and a chapter on rediscovered grains (like chia, quinoa, and amaranth).

Alton Brown's Good Eats: The Final Years is recommended for fans of Alton Brown and anyone interested in the nitty-gritty of culinary techniques.

book cover of Home Ec for Everyone by Sharon and David BowersFinally, I've been enjoying Sharon and David Bower's Home Ec for Everyone: Practical Life Skills in 118 Projects, which I received as a member of the Workman Ambassador program. When I was in junior high and high school, girls took home ec and boys took shop. At my school, home ec focused on cooking and sewing and not too much on the other adulting skills. Home Ec for Everyone provides a more well-rounded approach to general life skills.

Each short section of the book explains a specific skill or a useful household bit of knowledge, complete with charming drawings by Sophia Nicolay (see the cover). For example, in the kitchen chapter, you'll find information on equipment and appliances, on basic cooking skills, on how to properly prepare and store food, and even cleaning advice. The laundry chapter includes a chart for deciphering laundry labels in clothing and helps you figure out whether your "dry clean only" shirt can actually be thrown in the washing machine. Besides recipes, activities include simple sewing projects, how to remove stains, how to make a household budget, how to make a household first aid kit, and how to fix a broken zipper.

Whether you're an experienced domestic god or goddess or you're new to taking care of yourself and your living quarters, Home Ec for Everyone deserves a place on your bookshelf. It's a great resource to have on hand next time you have to hem something or need to launder a down comforter or your curtains. I have to note, however, that in the 21st century, much of the information in Sharon and David Bowers's Home Ec for Everyone can be found via a quick internet search. Still, I like the idea of having a basic print resource.

Now for the promised recipe. According to Alton Brown, the following mix is for cookies and "cookie-like baked goods." This is not for bread. This mix will last 6 months in an airtight container. Brown, of course, encourages you to weigh the ingredients instead of using volume measures.

Gluten-Free Flour Mix
Makes about 7 1/2 cups (1000 g)

  • 250 grams (1 3/4 cups plus 1 1/2 teaspoons brown rice flour
  • 250 grams (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) white rice flour
  • 150 grams (1 1/4 cups plus 2 teaspoons) tapioca flour or starch
  • 150 grams (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) cornstarch
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 1/2 teaspoon) potato starch
  • 90 grams (1 cup) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 10 grams (1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon) xanthan gum
Combine all of the ingredients in a large airtight container.

Note: The recipe is used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photos of the breads are my own.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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07 May 2022

Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily Meggett

Book cover of Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily MeggettHappy Saturday, my friends. I've been absent for the past couple of weeks and wanted to let you know we're fine. We were busy, and I didn't have time to do much interesting cooking to share with you.

Today I want to talk about a special cookbook I received from Abrams because I'm a member of their Abrams Dinner Party review group. Emily Meggett's Gullah Geechee Home Cooking cookbook is a collection of the author's everyday recipes. These dishes not only are often found in Meggett's kitchen but also grace the tables of her neighbors on Edisto Island, South Carolina.

What's more, these foods would likely be familiar to Meggett's ancestors who, despite the odds, preserved many aspects of their African heritage, including farming, crafts, music, and cooking. The Gullah Geechee people share an African creole language that allowed enslaved peoples from diverse homelands to communicate with each other.

I'm pleased to say that the editors of Gullah Geechee Home Cooking wisely preserved Meggett's voice. When I was reading the many stories and informative pieces in the book, I could imagine Meggett was in the room talking to me directly. This added so much to the experience of using this cookbook and helped further one of Meggett's goals:

I hope my book, and these recipes, invite you into our culture, our history, and our present. Through my cooking, I hope you enjoy the best of the South and appreciate the Gullah Geechee influences that have made this region what it is today.
Sliced Banana Bread from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily MeggettWhen I first opened Gullah Geechee Home Cooking, I was surprised to find so many common recipes, such as crab cakes, slaw, and fried green tomatoes. But after I read the introductory chapters, read some of Meggett's stories, and learned her approach to cooking and ingredients, I couldn't wait to try her versions of dishes I have made often. Many of her recipes have a unique ingredient or come with advice for how to tweak the consistency or spices. Though I've made countless banana breads in my time, the loaves I made following Meggett's recipe were close to the best I've baked (see photo).

I liked the addition of grated bell pepper in the meaty filling for her Stuffed Bell Peppers and the use of two different Cheddars in her Pimento Cheese. Other recipes I tried were Meggett's Creole Shrimp and her version of cornbread. I have more recipes marked to try, including her no-milk Sour Cream Cake and her version of Macaroni and Cheese, which calls for evaporated milk.

It's true that you may already have recipes for a number of the dishes in Gullah Geechee Home Cooking; however, Meggett's versions are well worth trying. Plus she also shares some of her signature dishes, such as Stuffed Fish with Parsley Rice and Roe. I had amazing success with every recipe I tried, but the real beauty and worth of this cookbook is learning about a strong, interesting woman; a beautiful island; and the Gullah Geechee culture. This is a cookbook that's just as important to read as it is to cook from.

Scan of Chicken Perloo from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily MeggettI recommend Emily Meggett's Gullah Geechee Home Cooking to anyone who wants to help preserve a peoples' heritage and to promote Black cooks and Black American history. This cookbook would make a great gift for new cooks moving into their first apartment or for anyone who would like a reliable source for everyday cooking that will help them nourish the souls of friends and family. Note that vegans and vegetarians may not find a ton of recipes, but I encourage them to check this cookbook out of the library so they can read about Meggett, her family, and her background.

The recipe I'm sharing is for Emily Meggett's Pink Sauce, which is an Edisto Island favorite. The author suggests serving the sauce with "most seafood and fried vegetables," but I also suggest you give it a try on roasted veggies, spooned over hard-boiled eggs, and even with avocados. Enjoy.

Pink Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (360 ml)

  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup (75 ml) ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients together.

Note: The recipe and scans are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photo is my own.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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16 April 2022

Weekend Cooking: The Forest Feast Road Trip by Erin Gleeson

Book cover for The Forest Feast Road Trip by Erin GleesonA few years ago, I discovered Erin Gleeson and her Forest Feast cookbooks and website when I received her Mediterranean cookbook via the Abrams Dinner Party. This year, Gleeson has a new cookbook: The Forest Feast Road Trip, which was, as the subtitle says, inspired by her travels through her home state of California. Thank you to Abrams for the review copy.

Of course, The Forest Feast Road Trip is full of fantastic, easy-to-make recipes for vegetarians and vegans, but it also features gorgeous photos of California, such as poppy fields, vineyards, the beach, holiday houses, and farmer's markets. The book closes with resources for easy road trips and places to visit.

While I've marked some future vacation destinations, my current interest is on the recipes. As you know, we eat meat in the BFR household. But because close to half our dinners are vegetarian, I was excited to find fresh ideas in The Forest Feast Road Trip. One of things I really love about Gleeson's books is the way she marries art, photography, and recipes. See the following scan (click to enlarge, if needed) for a good example of how beautiful this cookbook is.

Recipe and photo of corn salad from The Forest Feast Road Trip by Erin Gleeson

Most of the recipes in The Forest Feast Road Trip are based on fresh vegetables with clean, bright flavors. That said, it's important to note that Gleeson also incorporates pre-prepped ingredients when it makes sense, such as canned beans and jarred sauces. Another thing I appreciate about her recipes is that she often gives variations on a theme or makes recommendations for substitutions. For example, one recipe calls for a local goat cheese, but the recipe introduction tells us we can substitute blue cheese or feta in her lovely beet and greens salad.

A pan of vegetarian enchiladasI've made quite a few dishes from this book. One of the most surprising was the mushroom, black bean, and walnut enchiladas (see the photo to the right). The enchiladas were outstanding, and I think I'm going to have to add walnuts to my enchiladas--vegetarian or meat--in the future.

I also really liked her pita tostados, which uses pita bread as the base for a variation on the traditional Mexican dish. Her recipe calls for canned refried black beans as the first layer with a variety of familiar ingredients on top (avocado, Mexican crema, cilantro, etc.). This recipe also comes with a Mediterranean variation: pita toppings include babaganoush, hummus, feta, and chickpeas. Such a great idea and so easy to put together.

Other recipes we tried (and liked) were a chickpea curry stew, veggie calzones, and sweet potato and black bean salad. We had the stew and calzones for dinner and ate the salad for our lunches.

Muffins on a decorative plate; one muffin cut openI also baked her quick blender muffins (see the photo to the left). The main batter consists of eggs, bananas, and oats. You can then put in fruits and/or vegetables to your liking or you can try one of Gleeson's three variations. I made the carrot raisin muffins  per her suggestion. The texture was perfect and, despite the maple syrup and golden raisin, they were not too sweet.

Finally, I made her shortbread, which also had three variations. I couldn't resist trying the brown butter version. We loved the flavor, though the texture (due to the melted butter) wasn't quite what we were used to.

Recommendation: If you can't tell, I love Erin Gleeson's The Forest Feast Road Trip. The recipes are easy, pretty, and tasty. This book is perfect for anyone who enjoys vegetarian and vegan dinners and is looking for new ideas.

For a sample recipe from The Forest Feast Road Trip, either click through to the Forest Feast website or enlarge the scan above for a vegan salad. If you want to make the corn salad, you'll need the recipe for the tahini dressing:
Whisk together 1/4 cup (60 ml) tahini, 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon), 2 teaspoons agave, 1 grated garlic clove, water to thin (add 1 teaspoon at a time for desired consistency).
Note: The scan and recipe are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photos are mine.

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2020. All rights reserved.

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