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Archive for the ‘Drinks’ Category

We’re deep into our CSA season with Red Root Farm, in Banks, Alabama, and we’re knee deep in big leafy greens: kale, collards, mustard, cabbage.  The first three I’ve cooked many times before, and know that with some pancetta, garlic, or walnuts tossed into the saute pan, you can’t go wrong.  But I’m not big on cabbage.  Cole slaw stayed behind in my childhood.  Braised cabbage has appeared infrequently on my table.  What to do with a beauty like this?

(Cinnamon bear is looking on dumbstruck, as you can see.)

So, since the red ones are my lentils of choice lately, I was pleased to find this yummy recipe on Smitten Kitchen, under the heading “recipes from a cumin junkie.” Love it.

Another veggie that I’ve… um… rediscovered is the humble turnip.  The other night I made a hot pan of braised and glazed turnips and carrots to go along with the chicken I’d roasted while my family was visiting.

But I’m also a sinner when it comes to foodie pleasures.  Total locavore, I am not.  As you know, I take great pleasure in my Bialetti, and am even a bit fanatical about it.  The new one I have, the Brikka, makes an actual crema through the use of a pressure valve.  Check it out:

The best accompaniment to an espresso?  The thinnest, spiciest little gingersnaps on earth, from Sweden, and purchased at World Market.

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It’s what I miss most about Rome.  How could that be?  Something so mundane, minor, lowly.  What about the art, the architecture, the people, the food?

I’ll explain. Cafes in Italy encapsulate so much of the culture at large.  During these weirdly liminal weeks of re-entry into American culture—when I’ve felt like I’m two places at once, or nowhere—I’ve been going through a process not unlike grief.  Surprising surges of emotion come over me at inconvenient moments, and I wonder if I could still be weak from jet-lag. No, I’m just sad that that wonderful, brief year is all over.  I’ve had trouble expressing this grief because I don’t want to sound like a complete snob or ungrateful spoiled brat while, on the beaches of New England, I weep for the lost vistas or Rome or when, confronted with the plethora of choices at a coffee shop, I tear up thinking about the perfect crema on a Roman caffe.  I’ll admit, I’m sad but life is good. Buonissimo, even.

After that brief apologia, let us return to Roman cafes.  On my last full day in Rome, I didn’t go to view the dome of San Pietro or to gaze up at the oculus of the Pantheon once more.  After leaving Jack at Scuola Arcobaleno for the last time, I stopped in the cafe on Via Fonteiana where we stopped almost every day for a little treat.  I stood at the bar and didn’t even have to say anything, because the friendly guy who makes the coffee drinks remembers what everyone likes.  What an honor for me to be included in his encyclopedic memory of drink orders in this cafe where people come and go constantly all day long! All the other parents from the school stop here before or after dropping off the ragazzini.  In cafes in Rome, people come in and stand at the bar.  There are no lane-ropes marking off where you’re supposed to stand in line. How barbaric! Everyone is relaxed. They seem to have all the time in the world. The parents and the bankers and pharmacists and grocery cashiers and hardware shop owner from across the street stand around, sip a caffe or cappuccino, maybe eat a nutella-filled pastry wrapped in a napkin, chit-chat, drop a few coins, and amble out.  Everything is done with a sense of ease.  There are no paper cups.  No rushing and bumping shoulders at the “condiment station.”

American coffee shops cater to the all-American values of independence and convenience.  But in our rush to make things easier for ourselves (plastic lids to prevent spilling as we speed-walk or drive on to the next important thing/place/event) or more “custom-made” (add-your-own-milk, choose-your-own-ingredients, metastasizing menus) are we sacrificing what is of real value in custom, culture, and civil-i-zation?  Do condiment stations make us more civilized?

After that, I still didn’t go to see the one more piece of great art or architecture that I’d yet failed to see.  I wanted to enjoy my last day of being immersed in the mundane beauty of everyday life in Rome.  I walked down the steps to Trastevere and looked at the laundry hanging from windows, the succulents and bougainvillea spilling from balconies.  Before going to get one last haircut from the mild and nonchalantly good-looking Fabio Serafini, I stopped in to Cafe Paris. (Not the one of Dolce Vita fame on Via Veneto, but a scruffier version in a medieval piazza of Trastevere where the hipsters and homeless people mingle.)  I savored the atmosphere as much as the coffee: the ancient brown wood of the interior, with decades-old ads on the wall, the gruff carelessness and skill of the young man behind the bar.  No excessive friendliness or list of questions about how you’d like that.

What is it then, about Roman cafes that make them nodes of their culture?  It’s the way they encourage people to take a few minutes to savor a flavor and a scrap of conversation.  Uncluttered service. The cultivation of custom in defiance of the drive for efficiency and convenience Americans value so much.  And everything in the atmosphere of a cafe—from the old decor to the elegant cups—speaks to that sprezzatura in which the Romans live their lives, ignoring the grafitti and humidity, talking non-stop in a musical language, eating well, looking good, driving their Smart cars alongside ancient aqueducts and other imperial ruins with nonchalance and style.

Some might see a cultural malaise, oppressive conservatism. These are there. But so is cultivation, an awareness of beauty, culture, and quality that, perhaps because of the proximity of the Colosseum, the Caravaggios, lives on the shoes on people’s feet and in the crema on a caffe.

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dolci & vini

Sweets and wines.  That seems to be the theme of the weekend, starting yesterday morning when Jack and I made an errand-packed trip to Dolci Desideri to soak up the scene as well as the coffee and treats.  A happy crowd always packs the small space in front of the counter, but the orders flow in and out with amazing rapidity and ease.  If it weren’t for the friendliness of the 3 people on the breakfast crew, you’d think they must be highly tuned robots.  I worked in coffee shops and at restaurants for many years, and remember the way meeting the meal-time rush becomes an experience of purely bodily memory, in which the paces and spaces between the plates and esspresso machine and dishwasher is mapped onto the mind.

Jack’s school friend Tobia was there with his Mama, Papa, and baby sister Anita, who was lapping up cappuccino foam—a passion her Papa finds “worrying.”  Tobia and Jack sat next to each other on the little yellow pleather couch, and giggled at each other’s sugar- and lemon-cream-smeared faces.  They asked what ciambelle were called in English, and when Jack said “doughnut,” they all started laughing.

We picked out some cookies—and early Easter “ovetti” to bring to the dinner party tonight at Jack’s friend Felix’s apartment.

In the evening, Peter and I walked across the street to the Villa Villino where Leonard Barkan and Nick Barberio were hosting a tasting party with a title: Vivat Bacchus.  Best known as an eminent art historian and literary critic famous for such groundbreaking (the pun is hard to resist) works as Unearthing the Past, Leonard is also an oenophile and wine writer for Gambero Rosso.  He and Nick, a photographer with an eye for everyday ironies, are also incredibly generous.  They invited the whole community, and served 20 different wines from 5 of the major Italian wine making regions.  Leonard had prepared a list of all the wines, and set them up on the marble counter according to region and varietal.  (Thank you, friends!)

I’ve learned so much about Italian wines over the past few months, and now feel less bewildered and apt to choose something with a well-known name.  I tasted 5 wines from 3 regions.  I’ve always preferred the crisp mineraliness of Alsatian wines in whites, so I liked the two wines I tried from the Alto Adige: a floral Gewurztraminer (Walch 2008) and a Moscato Giallo/Goldmuskateller (Rottensteiner 2008). The latter was full of apricots and was both light and dense at once.  I also had just a sip of a Tocai, Livio Felluga 2008 that was also like delicious stone fruits but dry and crisp.

There were all kinds of goodies to eat between sips, and I stuck to the marinated olives and two kinds of pecorino—one cream-colored and sharp, and the other deep yellow-orange and dotted with black peppercorns.  That was delicious—and made a nice bridge to the first red I tried, a 2006 Barbera d’Alba called Tre Pile from Aldo Conterno, my favorite wine of the night.  From there (and over the course of two hours) I moved to the most full-bodied red, a Nebbiolo d’Alba: Rocca Albino 2007.  I like wines that can hold their contradictions without neutralizing them—like those whites I mentioned, and like this one, which was both lush and stiff at the same time. I guess wine writers call that “structured.”  And that’s about right.  The Barbera and Nebbiolo I tried had architectural aspects.

This is an appropriate style, in a place where you can’t help but be steeped in the appreciation of architecture, and where buildings are strong and durable, and yet elegant and soaring at the same time.   For example… the Tempietto:

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On a blue moon!

Was there an eclipse, too?  Some thought they saw a shadow on the moon. Or maybe it was just an edge of one of those fast flying clouds.

Romans brought in the new year with a week of crack bang boom, at all hours of the day and night.  Boy, do they love fireworks!

Last night, it rained in gusty downpours, and the fireworks competed not only with fog and water but also with thunder and lightning.

Thunder sounds different here than it does anywhere else I’ve lived—as if it’s banging around in a bowl, as if its rumbles bounce off of the Apennines and then bounce hollowly off of the rooftops of Rome with deflected force.  It sounds more like fireworks than like the sky breaking.

The other booms last night were the prosecco corks popping!  Buon anno!

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Just when you think you can’t eat or drink anything else, someone has a party.  That’s just how the holidays are.  Yesterday, we invited a few friends who are leaving Rome today to have a low-key dinner with us.  I planned to make those cabbage-wrapped pork meatballs I wrote about recently.  Then, we got Nick’s invitation to join him and Rena and 15 others for a party the aim of which was to finish off the wild boar stew he’d made for Christmas dinner.  We decided to move the meal to our apartment, right next door, for reasons having to do with sleeping children and baby monitors. And then, we ran into Jason, who said he’d bring down his leftover rabbit stew.  Meat fest!

Sensing, perhaps, that this would be a meal of small restraint, our guests showed up with cookies, cheese, and panetone, and copious bottles of wine, Cointreau, limoncello, and scotch.

And I had decided that the dry little biscotti in the cupboard, however tasty on an abstemious day, would not stand up next to such a feast, and so I made chocolate mousse.

This is all that remains of a large bowl of the fluffy, dark, silky, luxuriant dessert:

To top it off, along with some light-as-air amaretti that Lisa and Philip brought, I whipped some Cointreau into the cream.  Oh, my!

The recipe I used was a doubling of this one from Bon Appetit, May 2001.  The sugar, eggs and milk were organic, and the chocolate 70% cacao.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse

Start this recipe six hours to one day ahead.

Yield: Makes 6 servings

1/2 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt

Whipped cream

Whisk milk, egg yolks, and 2 tablespoons sugar in heavy small suacepan to blend. Place over medium-low heat and stir until mixture thickens enough to coat spoon, about 7 minutes (do not boil). Remove from heat. Immediately add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla. Transfer mixture to medium bowl; cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Beat egg whites and salt in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into cooled chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Divide mousse among 6 goblets or transfer to serving bowl. Refrigerate until cold and set, at least 6 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

(Actually, I’d recommend making it a day ahead. The texture is better the second day.)

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The day after Christmas: rain, cleaning up all done, children melting down, boredom, no hot water for a cathartic shower (again! really! what’s up with that?)….

For the fifth time today, Jack whined, “Mommy, I’m hungry.”  I looked around the kitchen—not much there.  Then I remembered the orange trees.  Let’s go pick an orange to eat!  Jack was ready for any kind of outing, so we put on our rain boots and rain coats and hoods, and walked out to the tree, which, from a distance, seemed to have no more fruit.  But when we got up close, and I crouched down to Jack’s height, I saw the clusters of ripening, reddening Tarocco oranges—the common Italian variety of what we call “blood orange.”  The pulp is not as red as that of its Spanish cousin, Sanguinello, and the fruit not as large as the most common variety in the U.S., Navel.  Threads of read are shot through the center of the deep orange fruit, and the juice is deliciously sweet.

Because of the structure, with little mini-sections in the center, I decided to juice it instead of peeling it and parting it and wasting the juice in the process.  Jack guzzled a cupful in seconds.  And then, within seconds, he was gone, having just received an invitation shouted up through the open window from the driveway below to come down to Lulu’s for hot cocoa.

I juiced the other orange we’d picked, poured it into wine glasses, and topped it off with the prosecco left in the fridge.  Wow!

You may remember my post on fruit/sparkling wine cocktails.  Now there’s a new one to add, and I’ll have to say, it definitely wins out over the Puccini and the Mimosa.

(Note to others in the AAR community: I only took a few. Really!  If you go too, leave some hanging to ripen, so the RSFP staff can make us the traditional Sicilian salad of Tarocco orange, sliced fennel, olive oil, and parsley… or so that Alessandro can mix up some perfected epitome of sparkling citrus cocktail, as he’s been known to do.)

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This is a seasonal pleasure. Clementines daily. Jack using his baby-Italian to exclaim “mandarino piccolo!”  The way the fresh scent stays on your fingertips—zest from the peel.

As an early afternoon, pre-Thanksgiving dinner drink, they served “Puccinis”—prosecco with freshly squeezed mandarin (clementine) juice.  This is free association at the service of the endless plethora of unnamed drinks.  Taxonomies of tipsiness.  Puccini’s Turandot is a Mandarin princess.

Who can melt her ice?

But why, then, are Bellinis (prosecco and peach nectar) called Bellinis?  Did he have something to do with peaches?  Not exactly, but this is an associative tipsy taxonomy, so the explanation arrives accordingly.  According to Wikipedia: “Because of its unique pink [?] color, which reminded Cipriani [the Venetian bar owner and namer] of the color of the toga [?] of a saint in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, he named the drink the Bellini.”

This, of course, is not the eponymous saint, but the Madonna, in a triptych we saw in Venice and which now hangs in postcard form in our studio.

http://www.lib-art.com/imgpainting/9/0/6809-frari-triptych-giovanni-bellini.jpg

http://www.wga.hu/art/b/bellini/giovanni/1480-89/2frari/134frax9.jpg

Beautiful illusions of paint.

Then, there was another cocktail, recently.  Lauren asked Alessandro to make a drink he enjoyed making.  We all heard the shaker.  It was frosty and pale orange.  Others ordered the same.  I asked him, “What’s it called?” and he said “Seedecara.” Hmm… that must be some Italian artist I don’t know.  Then, I heard Luca pronounce it, with slightly less inflection: “sydecara.”  Oh!  It’s a sidecar! Brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice. Thank goodness I skipped that one.

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1.  To walk about at large, to roam without restraint; to move about freely in space, wander at will.

2.  To speak or write at some length; to enlarge; to be copious in description or discussion.

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I spent the morning expatiating, in both senses of the word, with my friend Camilla in the Villa Pamphili park.  We wandered through sun and shade, stepped around puddles, paused and gestured for emphasis, and covered all of the topics new friends find themselves covering: life, plans, confusions, kids, other new friends, grandparents, religion, food, tea or coffee, sisters, blogs, books, jobs, husbands, hometowns, the past, cooking, friends, writing, childhood, life in Rome.  She’s come to Rome from Oslo with her husband and two little boys, and will be here for four years while her husband works at the Norwegian Institute.  We walked slowly while the Roman joggers passed us, listening to their i-pods, talking on their mobiles.  Vivi Bistrot had just opened for the day, so we sat in the sun on their patio for a good hour, eating cornetti integrale with bitter honey and sipping tea (Camilla) and cafe latte (me).

New friendship is like getting to know a new place in a particular season.  You think you have a good idea of what a landscape or city looks like, in the fall, say.  The light slants a certain way, the trees and flowers have certain aromas, it’s cool in the shade and warm in the sun.  We met each other two months ago.  We’re both 34 and living temporarily in Rome.  Our lives exist as they do here and now in the particularity of these circumstances.  But as we walk and talk, through the seasons, we’ll get to know each other in different air, light, and seasons.

Thinking about this brings to mind my good friend Liz. When we met, I was pregnant with Jack, just on the cusp of the biggest change I’ve ever gone through.  We know each other well, but she’s always known me as a mother.  I’m the same person, but also very different. I wonder what she’s doing, now.  Still working on that community garden?  I don’t want to say we’ve lost touch, but the lines of communication have stretched thin.  I miss her….

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IMG_2239 Italy’s Parliament voted unanimously this summer to recommend that UNESCO list the Mediterranean diet as endangered, so that it might be protected and preserved as a part of cultural heritage.IMG_2499

I’m interested in this public declaration, in part, for its semantic implications.  Can a diet be treated as an aesthetic or religious object, or as a plant or animal species?  In fact, the Mediterranean diet is all of these things.  Italians are rightly proud of their food, and of their heritage. Diet here is interwoven with cultural practice, with religious ritual, with craft and design, and with plant and animal species that have an intimate connection with both the geography and the history of Italy’s distinct regions.

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Of course, the natives of this boot-shaped land could describe the complex set of cultural practices that is the Mediterranean diet better than I, an outsider, and a barbarian American, could.  But I’ll offer a few arguments, anyway, in favor of designating this diet an endangered piece of cultural heritage.

The Mediterranean diet is interwoven with national and regional identity.  This goes deeper than the kind of identity declared by small towns with billboards at their borders declaring them the pistachio capital of the world.  It’s an identity that has less to do with marketing, and more to do with the deep emotional ties of childhood memories, in which food and family are tightly woven together.  Particular foods and foodways are tied to family traditions, religious rituals, and to regionally specific cooking styles.

When I was at the Bioversity offices yesterday, I met one of the senior scientists there, a man named Stefano, whose work as a scientist and educator about agricultural biodiversity perfectly aligns with his passion for food and food memories.  In our brief conversation, he gave me many examples of the Mediterranean diet as cultural heritage and as endangered.  When he was a child, he said, the whole neighborhood would get together in someone’s garage to peel, cook, and bottle tomatoes for use as sauce.  While he was living in Africa, his homesickness took the form of a craving for the comforts of pasta. His mother and sister write down the recipes and menus of family meals; these recipes are their family scrapbooks and triggers to memory.  One of these recipes is for a stew containing 57 varieties of wild leafy green.  (Surely this recipe and the knowledge of how to find, much less cook, 57 varieties of wild green are endangered!)  Another recipe is for quince jelly.  How many quince orchards have you seen lately?

These foods and practices—this cultural heritage—is endangered for several related reasons: the globalization of simplified diets based on cheap, and less nutritious, commodity crops; the lure, or necessity, of convenience foods for working mothers who don’t have the time or inclination to hunt out 57 varieties of wild green; the encroachment of fast food into the diets of children; the loss of food and cooking knowledge through the generations.  One of the terrible consequences of the loss of food practices is that the actual foods can be lost as well.  Many of the crops that have sustained peoples all over the world for millenia fall under the new designation of “neglected and underutilized species.”   This is how food as a cultural and aesthetic practice shades into an endangered species.

Another, no less important, reason to preserve the Mediterranean diet is that it works.  People have thrived, and not been prone to cardiovascular disease or obesity and its consequences, on this diet for many generations.  This is because of the intrinsic nutritional value of the foods themselves, and it is also because of the set of cultural rules that guide eating.  The people here eat small portions, a variety of vegetables, whole grains, fish, and cheese, meat, and wine in moderation.  No cappuccino after lunch, no hard liquor before dinner or gelato in the morning… the list goes on.  And dessert is often fresh fruit.

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Going to Venice for a long weekend is like being transported to a different realm.  In this immersed city, we immersed ourselves in grand-scale Renaissance art, long winding walks, gelato, spritz (Amaro—a bittersweet red liqueur—and prosecco), and seafood.  What everyone says about the acoustics stands out as a strong sense memory: without the sound of cars, the ear hears the click of heels on stone, voices talking, murmuring, laughing, and the soft splash of water against stone and brick.  True, there are motor boats, but their rumble is nothing after the roar of Roman traffic.

We ate well.  Oh, yes we did.

On the first night, we turned the corner from the little alley where we were renting an apartment (with 5 others from the American Academy), and happened upon Paradiso Perdito, a wonderfully unlost paradise of seafood, pasta, off-beat music, and attractive diners and servers both young and old.  Here’s a sampling of that meal.

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antipasti

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vino di casa pump

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frito misto

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amazingly flavorful garlicky pasta with a never seen before crustacean

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squid ink pasta

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Jack fell asleep on my lap.

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see the rosemary sprig?

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nicely boned

Other highlights: The dolci, which we all agreed were better than any in Rome.

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how many pistachios are in this torta?

This place especially, which Lisa discovered at 7:30 one morning, by following the aroma of buttery baking, had the most amazing almond croissants we’ve ever had.  They weren’t overly sweet and flabby like so many, but were improbably both dense and flaky, and were almost savory in their delicate sweetness.

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bread turtle?

I didn’t actually take any photos of anyone eating gelato, because I always had a drippy cone of my own to control, usually with some combination of fruity and nutty.  My favorite duo: cherry and hazelnut.  Jack’s favorite: strawberry and cherry.  But this is the place to get it:

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We happened upon this graffito, which to me says, “Is this a gelato I see before me?”

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We also saw lots and lots of art.  Jack was inspired to do some painting, and then ran off to chase pigeons.

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We took one gondola ride, but it only went across the Grand Canal, took two minutes, and cost 50 cents.  Still, it seemed to make everyone happy.

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Susanna & Stephen

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Peter

Our last meal was at the Anice Stellato—the Star Anise—and it was a meal to remember.  I wasn’t so good at photographing every plate, but my favorite dish was a lamb tenderloin rolled in crushed pistachios.  Oh, my….  The wine, a local carmenere blend, and an antipasto plate called sarde in saor, with sardines, polenta, and pickled onions, also stood out.

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Jack enjoyed hanging with the grown-ups.  And I think they liked his company too.

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Aurelia, Jack, Richard, me

(For more photos, check out my Flickr page.)

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