Mar 4, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Race Against the Clock

A Race Against the Clock

You wouldn’t BELIEVE the cheers from my girlies when they found out we were having artichokes with dinner tonight.  When they actually made it to the table–I kid you not!–my 7YO did a little chant.  “What are we eating?”  Cue the 4YO:  “Artichokes!”  “What do we love?”  “Artichokes!”  I’m pretty sure this isn’t normal–but I love it!

The problem with artichokes, of course, is that I bought them a couple of weeks ago and started cooking them tonight before remembering  that my prime objective this week is to make bedtime a little earlier each night, in order to prepare for the WEEKEND OF DOOM.  Yes, folks, that’s right.  This weekend we spring forward.

The inhumanity.

Before I had kids, I didn’t actually ENJOY springing forward, but I did love falling back, and really, how much did it matter anyway?  No biggie, right?  You get used to it.  Just don’t forget the clocks and be late.

Ah, the good old days.  Now I spend the week before springing forward in a frantic rush to start accustoming my children to their new bedtime, and while it makes for a hectic week, come Sunday morning?  It’s totally worth it.  We never make it the whole hour ahead, of course, but even 25-35 minutes is a really good start.  And honestly, in some ways, springing forward can be easier.  If you’re one of those parents whose kids sleep in naturally, well, that may not make sense, but putting my kids to bed earlier, in a dark and quiet room, is easier than teaching my poor 7YO to sleep in.  (Her siblings don’t really either, but they, unlike the 7YO, conk quickly at night.)

But wait.  You’re wondering how artichokes matter in this scenario.

Have you ever seen a pre-schooler eat an artichoke?  Because they don’t exactly do it quickly.  And then the 20-month-old gets restless, and you find Curious George on Youtube on your kitchen computer (which your awesome, awesome husband installed for you), because if you let him down from the high chair he’ll just climb up on the dining room chairs and dump the butter, or the plate of artichoke leaves, or his sisters’ water cups…you get the idea.  And you know what happens when Curious George comes on?  Both of the girlies start eating in slow motion.  And since Daddy isn’t home from work yet to distract the 20-month-old, and toddlers don’t really get the concept of how to eat artichokes, it becomes the longest dinner ever.  Which makes an early bedtime routine that much more difficult!

We managed, though.  More or less.  Now starts the week of the kids being up a little earlier each day, which is less than ideal, but still the better option.

Did I mention that I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate Daylight Savings Time?  (I do like old movies, though.  Kudos for you if you know the reference!)  There is hope, though.  Someday I’m going to have teenagers, right?  And teenagers like to sleep in, right?  Which means that this whole time change/parental torture thing will get better, right?  RIGHT?

Of course, then I’ll have teenagers.

We’ll just focus on the silver lining right now, shall we?

 

Mar 2, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Just Plain Fun

Just Plain Fun

It’s been kind of a crazy weekend, what with my sister-in-law and her family in town from Alaska, but I did get the chance last night to finish the old Newbery I’ve been reading.  And I have to say, I really enjoyed it!  The Avion My Uncle Flew was written a year or two after WWII ended, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure tale of a boy sent to stay with his uncle in a French village while his–the boy’s–bad leg heals.  While there, of course, he helps his uncle build an ‘avion’–really a glider– and discovers signs of a Nazi spy hiding out in the mountains.  Newberys tend to be coming-of-age stories most of the time, and there was certainly some of that, but it was still very much a historical adventure tale.  I don’t read as many of those, I suppose, which is why it’s always a nice change of pace.  Fun is rarely the FIRST adjective I use in describing a book, and while that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the more poignant tales I so often read, every once in a while it’s nice to be taken on this sort of a ride.  (I felt the same way about Gordon Korman’s Ungifted, which is also totally worth the read.  Not at all the same kind of book, really, except that reading it was, again, just fun.)

Anyway, the boy in the story is 13, but there’s nothing to worry about content-wise, so this is a good read for kids in general.  (Although you may have to fill in some blanks in a young reader’s knowledge of WWII and post-WWII France.  Basic stuff, nothing complicated.)  Go out and get this one–AND Ungifted.  You’ll be glad you did!

Avion My Uncle Flew


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Feb 27, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on My Family’s Favorite Way to Eat Pork Chops

My Family’s Favorite Way to Eat Pork Chops

The first time I made these, I kid you not, my girls asked for seconds.

Of the meat.

This had never happened before–EVER.  (Ok, unless you count breakfast sausages, but that’s just a different sort of thing.)  And the funny thing is that neither one of them will voluntarily eat mustard.  So yes, these Mustard Glazed Pork Chops do contain 1/3 of a cup of Grey Poupon (it’s a killer deal at Costco!), but you needn’t like mustard to like them.  Or love them, as the case may be.  They’re tangy and delicious, and they’ve become a family staple.  I usually serve them with carrots, since the glaze on the meat complements my usual brown-sugar-and-butter glaze for carrots so nicely.  Tonight I either had an especially good pork loin (so much easier to buy one whole when they’re on sale in the fall and cut it into chops! because really, who doesn’t prefer boneless pork loin chops, no matter what the recipe says) or I cooked it EXACTLY the right amount of time, because it was even juicier and more lovely than usual.  I don’t even bother to baste, by the way.  (Opening the oven multiple times during baking when you have an almost-20-month-old walking around always seems like such a bad idea.)  What I DID do several years ago that I have never, ever regretted is spend $15 on a digital meat thermometer.  No more cooking pork (or chicken) to death because you’re afraid it might not be done enough!  I will warn you that I’ve never gotten the glaze to be completely smooth, and it doesn’t thicken a great deal, but frankly, if you care much about aesthetics in cooking, you probably want to give up on my blog.  I’m not great at making things look pretty, and I’m pretty much all about taste.

To finish off a slightly crazy evening with the kiddos–I’m not gonna lie, there may have been some silly string inside the house (those who know me KNOW that was my hubby’s idea!)–we got to read Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, since my oldest chose it for her bedtime book.  If you have girls and HAVEN’T read this yet–I am appalled.  Put it on hold at your local library IMMEDIATELY so that this great wrong can be rectified as quickly as possible!  And while you’re at it, get the rest of Kevin Henkes’ mouse books.

You won’t regret it.  I promise.

 

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse


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Feb 26, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Muffins and Such

Muffins and Such

Ok, ok, it’s a day later, but here it is.  On Sunday my husband grilled chicken for dinner, leaving the oven free to try these Cinnamon Apple Cider Muffins for our carb.  They looked so good, even if it is spring and not autumn, and yet–I don’t know.  It’s hard to say they weren’t good, because they were fine and it’s totally my fault that they got too done, but I didn’t love them the way I wanted to.  I even used half white and half wheat flour to avoid the heaviness you get if you don’t have soft white wheat.  They still seemed heavy to me–did I overmix as well?–but my biggest problem was the lack of apple flavor.  Sure, you got chunks of apple, and those were nice.  But the applesauce and the apple cider didn’t add much flavor, as far as I could tell.  (To be fully truthful, I used Trader Joe’s Pear Cinnamon Cider, since that’s what I had readily available, but let’s be honest–how much of a difference could that possibly make?  It’s part apple to begin with–everything that’s pear is–and pears have no integrity as fruit.  I once made a caramel pear pie and everyone assumed it was mostly made of apples.  No, the pears weren’t super ripe, because I was younger and kind of clueless then, but still.)

And here’s the thing–should that really be surprising?  Aren’t you supposed to be able to substitute applesauce for oil and not taste a difference?  They weren’t bad muffins, and I suspect the execution was a big part of the problem, but don’t expect the moon in terms of appleiness.  (I think that should be a word, by the way.  Although I’m open to suggestions for different spellings.)

Tonight we had the kind of main course where you look at a recipe, use it as a starting point, and make it up as you go along.  I made a recipe of Betty Crocker’s alfredo sauce (as in, followed the recipe in my cookbook), throwing some onion and garlic in to cook in the melted butter, and then added an 8 oz can of tomato sauce and some basil and oregano.  (Maybe 1/4 t oregano and a scant 1/2 t basil.)  I tossed it all with a pound or so of penne and a couple of leftover grilled chicken breasts from Sunday, and my kids loved it.  Even my middle, who has a slight tendency to eat all the pasta and then ask for more pasta to go with her chicken…

Actually, my friend’s kids had some the last time I made it, and they loved it too.  Go for it.  But here’s a tip for free…check your propane levels before you start grilling the chicken, because it just does NOT taste the same when you have to heat up the oven and finish it in there, and the kids don’t necessarily wait patiently.

Not that we know this from personal experience or anything.

Like I said, the kiddos love it.  Enjoy!

Feb 24, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Little About Me

A Little About Me

Since I’m still plugging away at an older Newbery and I didn’t cook dinner tonight (I went out to a pizza buffet with my in-laws–think lots and lots of cousins all eating pizza and playing together), I thought I’d give a little info about me, for any reader out there who might be interested (and not already know).

I’m coming up on 35 this year and my husband and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary a couple of months ago.  He’s from Utah and I’m from Rhode Island (I was born there and everything, although my parents grew up in Utah and my brother was born there before my parents moved to the east coast).  We have three children:  my oldest is 7 1/4, my middle is 4 1/2, and my youngest is almost 20 months.  He’s the only boy and he likes vehicles, books about vehicles, and balls. My two girlies are very, VERY different; my oldest is more of a practical sort–except when she gets past a certain level of upset!–and my middle is passionate and extremely tactile.

Hmmm.

Okay, I give up.  I’m sitting here trying to describe each of them succinctly, and I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about all three.  How DO you describe real, complex, individual beings who bring you love and laughter and a healthy dose of exasperation?  What I can say is that my children (and their father) are the most important people in my life; raising them gives me a sense of eternal purpose I’ve never had in any other pursuit.  I love to read, and I love to make (and eat–especially eat) food, but at the end of the day what matters is whether I’m teaching my children how to be kind, loving, happy, healthy people who leave this earth a slightly better place than they found it.  My faith plays a huge role in this process–I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It’s what keeps me from screaming in terror at 3 o’clock in the morning, every morning, because of the responsibility I have to these little people I helped bring into this world.  Parenthood is scary, parenthood is hard, parenthood is exhausting, and parenthood can be incredibly repetitive.  It is also joyous, fulfilling, and never, ever dull.

Let’s see.  Anything else about me?  I worked at Borders for 10 years–I’m still sad it’s gone–and I taught at Sylvan for 5, but I am currently a stay at home mom.  I also have really awesome in-laws.  We are unlike in many, many ways, but they are fun and loving and nice and not crazy (and believe me, I know people with in-laws who are).  Being unlike means I can learn a lot from them; it also means that my own family (which is awesome in its own right) and my in-laws complement instead of compete with each other.  I am blessed in all of my families, and I am truly grateful for it.

Ok, enough about me.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the new muffin recipe I tried–about which I’m currently undecided–and (possibly) other things.  Tonight it is off to bed for me!

Feb 22, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Falling Back on Some Old Favorites

Falling Back on Some Old Favorites

I hate making dinner on Saturdays.  The rhythm of the day is so different from the rest of the week, and the likelihood of being involved in unusual tasks so much greater, that the necessity of buckling down and, once again, feeding the family is sometimes frustrating.  Don’t get me wrong–I like to feed people–but doing something every single day does tend to dull the attraction once in a while.  On the other hand, dinner must be eaten, and so tonight I turned to a family staple–Mel’s Cowboy Spaghetti.

Does your family love smoky, barbecue-y goodness?  And, you know, spaghetti?  Because we do (or at least, most of us do).  This stuff is amazing. It’s spaghetti with red sauce that my husband is actually happier to eat…he doesn’t love marinara, but he DOES love barbecue sauce, and so this works for him.  Top it with medium or sharp cheddar cheese and chopped olives (for those who prefer them; my husband most definitely doesn’t!) and you’ve got a lovely main course.  I don’t bother topping with more bacon or green onions, to be honest with you–I’m perfectly happy without.  What I DO do is change it up just a bit.  Mel tends to be meaty, rather than saucy, in her tastes, and I like sauce to go a little further, so I use the listed amount of bacon and ground beef and one-and-a-half all of the other ingredients.  (Except for the tomato sauce, because really, who wants to use half a can of tomato sauce?  The missing four ounces make no difference whatsoever.)  The kids all inhaled theirs.  To be scrupulously accurate, I used rotini today, but that’s only because my 19-month-old doesn’t do so well with thin noodles.  Spaghetti is better.

(And by the way, when I say inhaled, I mean it.  The girlies played outside for several hours today, and even their brother got in a bit of time out there before his nap.  I love to see them enjoying warmer weather–it was in the fifties today–and enjoy it they did!  They devoured their cowboy rotini and broccoli and CONKED once their reading time was done.  Wahoo!)

Once the kiddos were all in bed, I finished up the last few pages of Mara’s Stories:  Glimmers in the Darkness.  It’s a folkloric tale of a girl who tells stories to her fellow concentration camp inmates in the barracks at night.  The Holocaust as a topic has always fascinated me, but I put it on hold mostly because it was Gary Schmidt.  (I would read anything that man wrote.  Seriously.)  He never disappoints; it’s a poignant but hopeful collection of Jewish stories and legends, adapted to fit a particular time and place.  It reads incredibly quickly and it’s very worthwhile. Enjoy!

Mara’s Stories: Glimmers in the Darkness


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Feb 21, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Soup and a REALLY Good Book

Soup and a REALLY Good Book

For dinner tonight I made Mel’s Roasted Cauliflower and White Cheddar Soup, partly because a small block of white cheddar reached out and attacked me at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago, and partly because my husband was going to be working late (he really, really doesn’t like cauliflower).  And I’m torn.  I LOVED the flavor–loved it–and I’d like to make it again, but none of my kids was super enthusiastic about it, and since I know my husband wouldn’t like it either…what do you do, right?  For those interested, I used a scant half teaspoon of marjoram instead of the thyme–we’re just not a thyme household–and I used evaporated milk instead of regular, but those are easy changes to make.  What I wish I HADN’T changed was the blending method.  I used a hand blender, figuring it was easier, and the texture wasn’t quite to my liking.  I would have preferred blending some until truly smooth (if that’s possible without a $500 blender) and leaving the rest, which is more what she suggests.  Try it if you will.

What I ALSO did tonight was finish an absolutely beautiful book called All the Broken Pieces.  It’s a first novel, which is awesome, and a verse novel, which I do really enjoy, and it tells the story of a boy whose mother convinced the American soldiers to take him when our helicopters left Saigon.  He was adopted by good people and is loved and well cared for, but he’s never shared his memories of the life he left behind with anyone.  He’s also never forgotten.  As he starts to widen the circle of people he interacts with, however, he sees the different ways in which Vietnam has affected those around him.  I cried more than once, but the ending was hopeful and satisfying.  The whole thing was beautiful, and a bit less painful to read than Inside Out & Back Again, although that is also beautiful.  Go read it.  You’ll be glad you did!

All the Broken Pieces


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Feb 20, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on The Dinner That Almost Wasn’t

The Dinner That Almost Wasn’t

I was totally going to post yesterday, and then we lost power from 4:20 to about 7:15, which threw off my entire evening in a BIG way.  Do you know what happens to mixed white and brown rice when it stops mid-rice-cooker-cycle, sits for a bit (because so often our power comes right back on in a few minutes), and then gets finished on your awesome neighbor’s gas stove?  It isn’t pretty, friends.  It isn’t pretty.  Luckily, the Slow Cooker Orange Chicken didn’t seem to be terribly hurt by getting thrown in a pot and finished on that same gas stove, but there was supposed to be roasted asparagus, and that just wasn’t going to happen.  It was pretty sad, too…it would have gone so nicely with the orange chicken and rice, and cut-up apples were really not at all an adequate substitute.  Ah, well.  The chicken went over well with a majority of the family–the girl majority–even if the mushy mess that was the rice made it a little harder to get through.  It’s got orange juice concentrate in it, so it’s a strong orange saucy flavor, not an Asian glazed orange chicken, but it’s tasty.  Browning it before putting it in the crockpot is essential for flavor, though.  I sympathize with the camp that says ‘if I have to brown it on the stove, it defeats the purpose of the crockpot,’ but for me the taste is worth it.  In this case, that is.  (Not necessarily in all cases.)  Look at it this way–it might not be a ‘one easy step’ crockpot meal, but you can still do the work ahead of time (in this case, during my 19-month-old’s nap).

Did I mention, by the way, how grateful I am that our neighbors have a gas stove?  The thought of trying to deal with half-done rice on the grill or digging out the camping stove for the first time made me want to cry.  I had a headache and really, really wanted it to be bedtime.  It was one of those days.

The asparagus happened today, by the way.  Sort of.  I got started too late to roast it, so I made it my oldest daughter’s favorite way instead. You bring a wide pot of water to a boil, stick in the asparagus for 3 minutes (4 if it’s the really fat kind, but NO MORE!  Pull it out!), and then serve it with this Balsamic drizzle:

1 T melted butter

2 T Balsamic vinegar

1 t minced garlic

1/4 t salt

I could drink that drizzle.  Try it, folks!  Enjoy!

Feb 18, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Soup

Soup

I have a confession to make.

I almost never liked soup growing up.

My mother is a big fan of The Broth-y Soup, which I am not.  I remember her saying once, in this ‘can you believe it?’ tone, that “When your Dad makes chicken soup, he puts these big hunks of chicken in it!”  I stared.  And said something like “Uh, Mom, I LIKE it that way.”  She looked at me.  “Oh.”

Clearly we inhabit different soup universes.

The only soup my mom made that I really liked was ham-and-lentil, or (occasionally) split-pea-with-ham.  It was thick instead of thin and had that lovely ham flavor, and it wasn’t spicy, like the other thick soup (read:  chili) my mother made.  (Well, okay, realistically that wasn’t spicy either.  But as a child I was really, REALLY sensitive to heat.  Which, yes, I still kind of am, but I was worse as a child.)  We almost never had milk-based soup, because my sister is lactose-intolerant, so it was broth-y or spicy most of the time, and I was not a fan.

Fast forward twenty years?  I LOVE soup, from a menu point of view.  It’s generally got the veggies in it already, so you make soup, you make some sort of bread, you’ve got a meal.  Easy-peasy.  And I’ve discovered  soup recipes that I really like.  I still don’t make the broth-y kind much, and I haven’t made chili in years (this might have something to do with my oldest throwing up chili–every 15 minutes–at my mother-in-law’s house at a fairly young age.  It was the middle of the night, and there was general unpleasantness everywhere.  It kind of puts you off of the food involved.), but I experiment with a range of soups, and we have several staples at our house.  (Also a few I loved but the kids couldn’t stand; it happens.)  My oldest loves pretty much any soup with ham in it, and she’s generally willing to eat other kinds, unless there’s a speck of some kind of heat somewhere, ANYWHERE in the recipe.  (Gee, I wonder where she got that from?)  My youngest is too young to be anything but a nightmare where soup is concerned, and anyway, he can’t talk well enough to offer an opinion.  My middle, on the other hand…

That’s another story.

She HATES soup.  HATES it.  Corn chowders?  Ham and lentil, or ham and bean?  Any variety of potato?  No, thank you.  This isn’t necessarily surprising, since she’s my pickiest in general, but her feelings about soup are especially strong.  Which is why this recipe for Tuscan Bean Soup is so amazing, because, my friends–she likes it.  LIKES it.  As in, this is the only soup I think I have ever served that I haven’t had to partially FEED HER MYSELF.  (She’s four and a half, by the way.  This is not a capability issue.)   And it’s lovely.  I substitute basil for the thyme–no one in my house loves thyme, including me) and use Great Northern beans (they’re easier to find here); I also double it and just use a whole can of Italian diced tomatoes, because really, isn’t that so much easier?  It also makes enough to freeze that way, which is why it was such an easy dinner to make tonight (minus the annoyance of the floating ice burg you always get when you thaw soup).  I’m also not picky about the kind of ham I use–leftover, deli ham, whatever.  It still tastes great.  You can add a sprinkle of Parmesan to each bowl, but I think I actually prefer it without.  (And ANYONE who knows me knows that pigs everywhere took to the sky after that sentence came out of my mouth–er–off of my keyboard.)  It’s even gluten-free, for those who need it (I know this because I heard about this recipe from my friend with celiac.)  So go, my friends, and make soup.

Even my middle likes this one.

Feb 17, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Caramel Apple Scones + “Paperboy” = A Lovely Evening

Caramel Apple Scones + “Paperboy” = A Lovely Evening

I’ve always been a ‘breakfast for dinner’ fan–especially since I got married and found that my husband prefers waffles and their ilk at dinnertime, not first thing in the morning–but lately I’ve been branching out a little.  Pancakes, waffles, muffins, cornbread…these are all familiar staples at our house.  I’ve done (and will likely continue to do!) a lot of variations on them, but we definitely have our favorites.  Scones, however, are another thing.  My mother made amazing scones when I was growing up, but they were of the deep-fried variety.  She has a gift with yeast dough, and these were light and lovely and mouthwatering.  I requested them for my birthday dinner for years, until my father came to me and pointed out that deep frying scones in July without air conditioning can be really unpleasant, and could I please pick something else and we’d have scones another time of year instead?  (For the record, that never happened.  I picked something else, yes, but to the best of my knowledge, we never had scones again.  Ever.  As a kid, this bugged me; as an adult with an anniversary in December, I am intimately acquainted with the difficulty of needing to pick an arbitrary day to celebrate something, because when you can pick any day, you just don’t end up picking any day at all.)

But I digress.  I almost never deep fry at my house, but I’ve been experimenting with British scones when I’m desperate for dinner ideas, and that’s been kind of fun.  We had one semi-disaster–they tasted ok, but the dough was like pudding and doing anything with it was ridiculous–but these incredible Apple Cheddar Scones were a huge hit with all of us, and last night’s Caramel Apple Scones were tasty as well.  (Perhaps I should clarify.  The scones themselves were tasty.  The caramel sauce/frosting made me want to sing and dance and compose bad poetry.)  I substituted maybe 2/3 cup of wheat flour and white flour for the rest, and I used evaporated milk instead of regular for the sauce, since I had some hanging out in the fridge from something-or-other, but other than that, I followed the recipe.  (Okay, the apples were kind of dry in the pan and I added another half tablespoon of butter, but that probably has more to do with the dying state of my non-stick skillet than anything else.)  It’s not really for the faint of heart where butter is concerned, but mmmm.

I also got to finish Paperboy last night, and it’s the first of this year’s Newberys to get a full five stars from me.  I loved it!  I even dealt just fine with the ‘no quotation marks at all’ style, which I usually object to, because it worked just fine with the character.  I really liked all the characters involved (except for the one you’re really, really not supposed to like!), I loved the story and the different threads coming together, and I loved the main character’s voice.  Which is the point, because he stutters, so the written word is the only place you get to hear his full voice.  By the end of the book, I found myself horrified that the people around this boy only got to interact with him through speech, because he often chose not to speak, rather than trying and failing.  (According to the author’s note, he stutters and always has, and this book is more autobiographical than not.  Which explains its power, but it also leaves me worried.  I want him to write more novels that are THIS GOOD, and what if the rest don’t resonate quite the same way?  Way to borrow trouble, Self.)  I also rather liked the fact that racism and segregation played a part in the plot, but weren’t the MAIN part.  It needed to be that way for the story the author wanted to tell, and I find that hitting those kinds of issues sideways, instead of head on, can be just as powerful in a different way.  You could argue that Paperboy makes that first novel mistake of too many story threads, but I don’t think so.  Everything that happened was too plausible, too well-connected to the main premise.  There were quite a few different things going on, but that was the point; the narrator takes over his friend’s paper route for the month of July, and it brings him out into the world, connecting with people, in a way his stutter has caused him to avoid thus far.

Anyway.  I loved it.  Go out and read it, folks.  This one’s definitely worth your time.

Paperboy


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