Does it Taste Good Because it Looks Good ?

 

 

Disclaimer: Ok, per my last post, I visited the Emilia Romagna region in Italy (among other cities), just to eat. So you’re going to hear a lot about it, until you can’t stand it anymore, and you’ll have to go for yourself. And it will totally be worth it, especially if you value food as much as I do.

During my time there, I was happy to find some unexpected, yet delicious desserts, particularly when it came to the presentation. Of course, the flavors of the desserts were familiar, but I was often surprised by the presentation. It’s the little things that get me going. Let’s talk about fun plated desserts in Italy, and whether it’s all in the perception (presentation) or reality (taste).

On our first evening, we ordered tiramisu, a very traditional dessert, at Savini in Milan. What wasn’t traditional however, was the the flower bouquet we received.

For starters, the contrast of a brown dessert on a matte black plate was not only atypical but also so exciting. I was expecting the generic hotel white plate. But the plating made the dessert feel exotic, before even tasting it. Next, the cream was applied via pipping, rather than layered, or should I say splattered, as I am accustomed to. The style really highlighted each ingredient so that I could visually appreciate each one, but once I stuck a spoon in it, all of the ingredients married well to the taste.

I particularly liked the thin chocolate topping, shaped like cheese with perfectly round holes punched in. But the cherry on top were the gold flakes at the center, for a true contrast on the dark dessert, and the even darker background. Very chic and appropriate for Milan.

The dessert in of itself would be a 6/10 believe it or not, nothing to write home about (though I am writing), but the visual effects gave it an 8. I think there was too much cocoa powder, which made me feel like I was choking, and I kept reaching for the water. Also, the cream was carefully applied, but it wasn’t so flavorful. Sorry.

But overall, it tasted good because it looked good. Perception is reality.

 

Speaking of flowers, how about gelato flowers? Not only in Milan, but also in Florence and Bologna, I was happy to get gelato, more so for how cute it looked than how good it was.

My most memorable scoop was also, just ok, but the fact that each flavor resembled a petal, made me want to save the ice cream, rather than eat it. Well, only for a quick second. Of course, this was Italy, so it was still delicious, but again, the presentation curved the taste grade from a 5 to a 7.

A good presentation can sometimes sway  my judgement; however,  an overly simple presentation can make me underestimate a good dish. One of my favorite desserts of the trip was in the heart of Emilia Romagna, Bologna to be exact. It was at Osteria Bottega, which was off the beaten path, but the place was packed!

We opted for a wine and cream flavored pear. Sounded totally weird, but that’s exactly what it was: a whole pear, cooked in a wine reduction, with spices, then plated over a generous bed of Italian pastry cream. Overly simple. The cream of the area is full of sugar and egg yolk, so it was of strong yellow tone, to bring out the red of the whole pear, chilling on top. The dish looked rather rustic, yet bold, but it smelled so good, that it was also inviting.

Very simple, but maybe one of the best things I ate on this trip. It was rich, sweet, and spicy, while also playing with a mix of temperatures, as the pear was warm. This time, the fun plating was maybe a 7, but the dessert was a whopping 9. Yet, it was the simplicity of the presentation which also blew me away. So unexpectedly good. I was pleasantly surprised.

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Credit: The Guardian- Tanya Gold

I saved the best for last, with one of our desserts at Osteria Francescana in Modena. It was Bottura’s famous “Oops, I dropped the lemon tart”. That dish is famous because allegedly, the Chef had dropped a tart, and found a creative way to plate a broken dessert.

The plating in this case absolutely blew me away because the plate in of itself looked broken, yet it wasn’t. the bumps were visible and clear to the touch, yet were matte and safe of course. It was so much more than a gastronomic experience.

The lemon in the tart was more yellow in color than I was accustomed to, but it made it fun, especially as the sauce was splattered across the plate. The crust was broken and reassembled carefully, with crumbs sprinkled around the plate.

When I finally built the courage to taste it, I realized that the portion was way too small. It was the right balance of sweet, sour, and crunch. I was scrapping the plate, and had to quickly compose myself due the loud noise my spoon created, against the bumpy plate. But again, the plating was the star at a 10, and the dessert at an 8, for a average score of a 9.

So a fun plated dessert definitely sets the stage in a positive way, but appearances can be deceiving, like in the case of the tiramisu. Perception can also be deceiving when the plating isn’t so special, but don’t be fooled by the flavors hiding behind them. Bottom line, it can taste better because it looks better, but take it with a grain of salt.

 

My Love Affair with Cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano

You already know that I love cheese, but as of April, it got a little bit more serious.

My cousin and I took a trip to the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, which is the land of Lambrusco wine, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, mortadella, bolognese sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to name a few.

As the geek that I am, I made sure to include a tour of a Parmigiano cheese factory. And no, they did not pay me to share the link, but that’s how good it was. It was so cool! So much so, that I’m still nibbling on the cheese I brought home with me, as I type this up. Don’t worry I stocked up.

First and foremost, it’s not called parmesan, and only cheese produced from the makers within the region approved by the consortium, can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are all made under strict guidelines, inspected and stamped. It must be DOP approved, which means protected designation of origin.

Now enough with the lesson.

We got to see the milk boil, thicken, cut, shaped and packed into rolls. So geeky yet so fun to watch! Also, I now understand why there is writing on the rind. They use a rubber film, imprinted with the name and the DOP license number to show that it’s authentic.

My favorite was seeing the salting process. They literally put the rolls in a bath of salt water for dayssssssss. I had the chance to taste the water it was bathing in, and it was salty enough to give me high blood pressure on the spot. But that’s ok, that’s what makes it taste so good.

Next, we got to visit the room where the aging takes place, and there was more cheese in the room than people. And you know how I feel about being overwhelmed by food? I was smiling from ear to ear! Maybe that’s how shopaholics feel when they are overwhelmed by clothes at their favorite stores? I wouldn’t know.

The tour got more real when we had the chance to go to the stables, and meet the cows who produced the milk. It doesn’t get more farm to table than that. It also made me happy that the cows and their young were being treated well, fed natural grass, and allowed to go running in the field after.

At the end of the tour, I was able to purchase a few chunks to take home for family and friends. Although, I ran through my 48 month aged piece in 2 weeks, and currently snacking on the 24 month aged cheese I got my grandmother

And the highlight of the trip, was visiting Osteria Francescana by Massimo Bottura in Modena. His restaurant is rated #2 in the world, and I totally understand why. It’s based in a region with amazing ingredients, and they aren’t afraid to use them in a creative way.

My favorite memory was a dish strictly made of Parmigiano called “Five ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano in different textures and temperatures”, where all of my senses were engaged.

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Fives Ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano
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Bio Reggiani Dairy

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The plate began with a creamy sauce of Parmigiano, which I seriously wanted to lick off, as well as two soft textured cheeses similar to a ricotta, one very close to a souffle. It’s wrong of me to use the word ricotta, but I am trying to give you some imagery here, so bare with me. Next there was a foam like texture, and the final piece was a galette or crunchy cracker, as the cherry on top.

Side step- the galette would make for a great snack when I’m crashing at 3pm at work.

Each of these five stages was made of pure cheese, of different ages, and the dish was by far my favorite at Francesca. Totally worth the 4am wake up call, several months in advance, for the reservation alone. It also helped that we had passed Cheese 101 only a day  before, to give a shit about the complexity of the dish.

The entire experience at Francescana was too good to be true, and more to come on that later.

Now that I’m back home, I made cacio e pepe pasta with plain elbow macaroni, with a generous portion of the 48 month aged Parmigiano. It was so good, that I scraped the pan, and licked the leftover cheese on the spoon I cooked it with. We also made mac and cheese, and it was so much better than usual!

I have realized that Parmigiano-Reggiano is officially my magic potion. Though realistically it could also be nostalgia after eating it everyday for a week back in April. I have to check myself sometimes, sorry.

I promise however, that it was very very good.

But the moral of the story is that, we tend to  undervalue Parmigiano and have been seriously missing out. Next time you go to pick up cheese at the store, don’t be afraid to pick up Parmigiano-Reggiano and eat it alone, or with crackers. It doesn’t have to be something to top your pasta with, as long as it’s the real DOP deal.

But also, don’t buy cheese which is just called “parmesan” because that means it’s not as good and that you’re honestly selling yourself short. And we are not in the business of living a partly fulfilling life! Even worst, never buy boxed cheese from the counter, to top your pasta with because let’s face it, it’s not even cheese.

The experience opened up my eyes to the value of cheese, to the importance of proper sourcing, and to the endless possibilities in transforming cheese. It made me fall in love with cheese all over again.

 

I’m Back!

It’s been nearly three years since I have posted anything on here. Three years!

I could start by explaining, complaining, and apologizing, but they would all be fake excuses. Instead, let’s start by fixing it through new writing.

So, a lot has changed since I last wrote on here, and the purpose has slightly shifted. No worries, food will always be the center of it all. To be honest, food seems to be the center of my life. I mean, it IS the center of my life, but I had to say “seems” because I realize how crazy it sounds, and I also wouldn’t want my partner to feel that I’m even more strange than he thinks I am.

So back to the point, the change is that now, we will not be focusing on the Miami area, but rather expanding to a global reach. PS, I have relocated to Haiti, and will be sure to showcase my Caribbean voice, whether it be around here, or across the world

I’ll be talking about all the good food I ate, and all the bad experiences as well. I mean, even great restaurants have dishes that aren’t so good.

To respect the title of this blog, “Tasting it Like it Is”, I will be honest. And feel free to challenge me if I seem over zealous. I will say it’s good, when it is. And I will say it sucks when it needs work. No B.S.

I am not writing what people expect me to write or ask me to write. My writing may include food critiquing, or experiences from a food class, or a visit of a food factory, or just random thoughts like how much I love butter. You know, the usual.

Let’s go!

The Fruit of Life: A Summer of Haitian Mangoes, Culture & Trade

Happiness. That is what a mango means to a Haitian. March to August is the Francis mango season in Haiti, and adults and children alike look forward to it, eating multiple mangoes a day. My number is two per diem.  A mango could be sliced and daintily eaten with a fork, but to enjoy this tropical fruit in its true sense, you must peel it all, grab it with both hands, and take a bite as its sticky, sweet juice runs down.  Full face in!  In fact, my paternal grandmother (who was quite the lady) used to say, I will not get dirty for just one mango, I need at least two or three. Thus, bathing in your mango, if you will, is the only way to do it.

The Haitian mango does not only impact taste buds, but also the economy. The mango business supports over 50,000 Haitian families, with jobs, from the growers, to the exporters, to the street merchants. Mangoes are life around here. Although there are 140 varieties growing around the country, the francis variety is the most exported. Why is the francis mango so special, in addition to supporting Haiti’s recovering economy? Its flavor. The taste is rich and spicy and this variety has consistent flavor, unlike some others. It is also one of the juiciest mangoes there is. This is why these mangoes are so orgasmic. It drips as you eat it and no one is shamed into licking the nectar as it falls.

I have had the pleasure to intern with F&L, a mango exporting firm in the St Marc area in Haiti, approximately two hours from Port-au-Prince. The firm exports its mangoes to the US and is USDA approved. With a rigid selection process and a diverse and talented team, the company truly impacts the local economy. Mangoes are sourced from both F&L farms, and other local farmers. The fruit is naturally grown and only the highest quality mangoes are exported. They are then treated using a hot water treatment, sorted, packed and shipped in refrigerated containers to the States. The process is thoroughly supervised by a local and a USDA inspector, who are both on site, at all hours of operation. All so that you may enjoy the very best Haiti has to offer.

F&L is an affiliate of Agrotechnique SA, a company dedicated to the agricultural sector in Haiti for over 40 years. The team is local and their desire to help the country is palpable. Haiti does not grow through humanitarian aid, rather it develops through sustainable investment and exportation of local goods. This is what F&L does, and their products, mangoes in particular, are proudly showcased in major US cities like Miami, New York and Boston. Yes, Haiti is often portrayed as a country of despair, but let’s look at Haiti through another lens. Haiti = Good Mangoes.

Let’s discuss my experience. The best part: eating all the mangoes I could ever want, whole or juiced. I have never indulged this much and lost weight. This is a girl’s dream! Thus far, my work involves sales and strategy, where I help the firm improve its processes and increase its clientele. I like to think of it as an internal consultant of sorts. But I am learning so much more from this team, than I believe they are learning from me : from the mango culture, to the exportation business, to the love for Haiti. It is contagious. I have always loved Haiti, having been raised there. But working at a firm with direct impact on growers, families and the economy, has changed my view of the country as well. There is so much to be done here, and the impact of your work will be visible. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to make a difference.

At the Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants, the farm to table approach is vital. And TGHG has taught me the value of careful sourcing and of supporting growers. This is why I value the work of Haitian mango growers, and of firms such as F&L, who create work for these farmers, and distributors, through exportation. I have always loved the Francis mango, but now the fruit means so much more. Mango is now life to me.

A Lunch Hideway

I had some friends in town from New York last Monday.  Having enjoyed a cruise, they were only here for the day and spent the afternoon with me before heading back home. They were seeking an elegant and intimate lunch, and cocktails were in order, of course, to sail them back to the Polar Vortex in good spirits. I suggested The Cypress Room.  My last dinner experience was nothing short of breathtaking. Let’s compare with lunch!

Our party of three arrived at 1 pm.  Jazz vocals recalling a distant past flowed through the room, an escape from the commotion of the city.  The atmosphere inside was quiet, yet warm. It was the perfect meeting place.  We all chose the Prix Fixe Menu. $33 for three courses and the option to add a midcourse. It was by far the best lunch I have had in a very long time. Allow me to tell you why.

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Count Basie, courtesy of Hanging with Harris.

I started with a specialty cocktail, the Count Basie with: Redemption Rye, Cocchi Americano, R&W apricot, grapefruit, lemon, egg white and pistachio. I felt so regal just drinking it, in a tall glass, with the foam from the egg white brushing against my lips. A complex mixture of spirits, sure, but the Count Basie was a smooth operator, multi-dimensional and opened my palate for what was to come.

I chose the Triggerfish Crudo for my first course, with cherry peppers and blood orange. Or maybe the Crudo chose me? The tender fish was so fresh it practically leapt from the plate with just enough heat and a perfect balance of acidity.  It awoke every nerve within me.

MarrowI opted for a midcourse, the marrow bones with preserved lemon, celery, garlic toast and topped with parsley. This dish is a classic on the menu since opening and offered both at lunch and dinner.  The buttery marrow is best enjoyed spread on garlic toasts and kissed with a squeeze of lemon.  I’ll stop at that, but I will not refrain from tasting my friends’ food. I reached over for a bite of gnocchi, prepared with calabaza, wild mushroom and herbs. Bold, yet light enough for lunch thanks to a short ingredient list coming together in harmony on the place.

My second course was the most mesmerizing: the short rib with mushroom conserva and lila onions. I added the thrice cooked fries as a side. The contrast of the rich beef, bathing in flavorful broth, shined with just a touch of the potato. With a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir, I enjoyed the decadence of dinner time without feeling overwhelmed.  You’ll just have to trust me on that! Now onto dessert…

I chose another favorite, the brown butter semifreddo with compressed apple and medjool date leather. Its flavors morph as the dish melts from a tableside pour of spiced cider, each bite surpassing the last.  With French macarons begging not to be forgone, we bid The Cypress Room adieu, bellies full and hearts light.  It’s good to know there’s a reasonably priced lunch prix fixe menu ready to satisfy both the simple- or supplemental-minded at heart.

Three Rounds

“Chaque pain a son fromage”, meaning:  every bread has its cheese. I often used this French saying in a romantic context, to motivate my friends when a relationship went sour. Your cheese will come, I would say. My best friend usually followed with : “I love cheese! Where is my cheese already?!” Well, New York Grilled Cheese has it, at least in the literal sense.

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Hidden in Wilton Manors, New York Grilled Cheese (NYGC) is dedicated to grilled cheese sandwiches, evident through its name, with a casual and playful setting. The locale was once a frozen yogurt shop, therefore the restaurant maintained the open floor layout, as well as the bright colors. The room was consequently very inviting and appropriate for a variety of age groups. We even made friends at the circular bar, while we waited. The wait built anticipation and certified that this was NOT fast food.

My guest and I were bold enough to order three sandwiches for the two of us, which was a bit overwhelming to be frank. But being overwhelmed by food is just the type of overwhelming I like. Like my friend, I too adore cheese, but NYGC dares to add untraditional ingredients like sriracha, fries, egg and brisket to name a few. What a pleasant surprise! All sandwiches are waffle shaped, and served with a creamy tomato bisque. I could have enjoyed the soup solo, as it did not compare to the canned tomato soup served at your high school cafeteria. If it were plated in a porcelain bowl, it would have been suitable for fine dining.

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Grindr & tomato bisque

To return to the three sandwiches, we started with the Wall Street Grindr Award with cheddar, French fries, bacon, caramelized onions, garlic butter, fried egg, and dill pickles, served on a country loaf.  It was the perfect balance of crunchy and oozy. Despite the numerous ingredients, it was enjoyable until the last bite and was my favorite of the bunch sampled. I was astonished by the fries peaking out and by the fact that each ingredient fit perfectly. However, what brought the dish together was the soup. Dipping the sandwich in, almost led to hums from the heavens. I am not sure why I took so long to submerge my sandwich, but that bisque put mayos, aiolis, and sandwich spreads everywhere, to shame.

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The MPD

The MPD melt followed. Short for Meat Packing District. These words stress the sandwich’s hardiness with contents of American cheese, cheddar, beef brisket and caramelized onions. It was thick enough, yet refined enough to be a grilled cheese. Although the beef was a bit bland for my taste, it was a manly and packed melt. I was impressed by the view but not as much by the performance.

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The Yelp

The Yelp certainly put on show, however. I imagine it was named after the website and the filling lived up to Yelp’s popularity: fried chicken, sriracha, bacon, cheddar, muenster, and a pepper jam sauce. That sandwich led to a Kung Foo match in my mouth due to the flavor explosion. The crunch, the spice, and the salt woke me up immediately and led to a second bite, then a third. In fact, it may have been one of the most impressive sandwiches I have tasted, due to its complexity. Unfortunately, all great things come to an end, thus the martial arts session came to a halt. Perhaps my taste buds were exhausted. Midway through the Yelp, I felt the need to end the games early as the flavors became, excessive. I am shocked at my own words, as I am one who can never get enough. The Yelp was certainly delicious, but best enjoyed in smaller portions maybe.

I used a Belgian ale as an appropriate referee to these three rounds, from a choice of other craft beers and wines. Not to shabby for a grilled cheese joint. Thank you to my “cool” friend- you know who you are- for leading me to this hidden treasure, with gems all below $10. To all my sandwich lovers, a visit is a must!

I would like to introduce a scoring system to the blog, to help readers better understand my position. After each article, I will assign a score of 1-10 (ten being highest), with the possibility of half points when merited. This is not to be crude, but rather to summarize my opinion. Managing a restaurant takes hard work, and I would like to thank every establishment mentioned in Tasting It Like It Is, for its services during my visit.

 

Score- 7

Kristina

A Sweet Escape in the Heart of Miami

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When I eat well, my pallet and my heart are so joyful that they liberate me from the everyday and allow me to savor the magical moment- the meal in question.  However, great food entails more than taste; it must also be soulful, and earlier this week at The Cypress Room, I was permitted to cherish the pleasures of food well beyond my pallet. The experience was more than just gastronomic, it was emotional.

From the moment I entered the room, the warm lighting and the pink wallpaper welcomed me home, yet took me back in time. I would have loved to experience the roaring ’20s and the chandeliers and intimate environment just about offered that opportunity, while my short hair and my red lipstick fit the scene. Simultaneously, the wall mounts and the pecky cypress panels dare to combine a rustic look with the chic décor. This is what Miami is all about, being daring and escaping; which The Cypress Room embodies through portraits commemorating Florida landmarks and people savoring the indulgences that Miami represents. The Cypress Room found a way to achieve that sort of audacity while remaining composed.

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The evening started off on a romantic note with an aperitif at the bar. I went with the “Go Lightly”, a mix of : cocchi americano, st. germain, sparkling wine and topped with a lemon peel. The beverage was as simple as it was complex. It emitted just the right balance of sweetness with a touch of bitterness, as the flavors developed further and further. Needless to say that I was saddened at the last sip, but my pallet was well prepared for what was to come.

We were welcomed by an amuse-bouche, a creamy celery and potato soup, which both refreshed and set the stage. As the meal had officially begun, I seized the chance to be adventurous by trying the marrow bones as an appetizer. They were topped with parsley, with flavors of preserved lemon and served with garlic toast. I squeezed on some additional lemon and was pleasantly surprised by the dish’s decadence. The filling was rich, yet perfectly acidic, while the garlic toast melted in my mouth. Oooh the parsley…it made me feel as if its true power had been kept secret from me, until that very moment. I shared a topped toast with a friend, but I must admit that I did so reluctantly. I enjoyed the bones with some Jarancon Sec, and knew that this would be no ordinary meal.

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I followed with the duck, served two ways. The succulent breast is presented in chunks, which were so tender; however the roulade took my breath away. Formed using the leg meat, it was shaped as a small cup, with every bite dissolving on my tongue more quickly than I would wish.  At the suggestion of our Maître D’hôtel, I paired it with a glass of Nebbiolo, which perfectly complimented the dark meat. The French techniques were evident, while keeping true to the freshness and authenticity of the ingredients. The sides merely consisted of brussels sprouts and a beet-date purée, but saying merely is blasphemy. I am not ashamed to say that I cleared every ounce of the purée using the duck breast as my weapon, although it may have been a bit rude, now that I remember my table manners. Meanwhile, each layer of the sprouts was peeled which retained its crispiness, offering balance to the dish’s many textures and flavors.

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Although I attempted to focus only on my orders, I could not help myself at the sight of the côte de boeuf. Once prepared, it is presented at the table whole, then taken to the kitchen for carving before serving. I enjoyed the show, but had to taste it for myself. I thus stole a slice, with a touch of béarnaise sauce and was speechless. With just the right amount of fat on the meat and the ideal level of creaminess and acidity, it was perhaps one of most heavenly pieces of beef I have ever enjoyed. That was when I lost touch with reality.

I took part in the conversation of course, but was swept away to another world.  To continue, I chose the maple semifreddo for dessert, with hot bourbon cider and medjool leather. The bourbon cider was poured over the semifreddo, at the table, adding to the anticipation. The beauty in this dish, is its evolution as it melts. The taste develops and the dates at the bottom emerge more and more, crowning the meal overall as the adventure that it was.  However, my gourmand character did not stop there. I ventured into the bay leaf ice cream. Who would have thunk it? It was so delicate, yet creamy and sweet and maybe savory. Each of these characteristics shines through every spoonful, which evidently leaves you to keep digging.

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Just when I thought that my vacation was coming to an end, we were treated with mini espresso macaroons, which were as pleasing to the sight as they were to my lips. I thus skipped out of The Cypress Room, but retained my high spirits, like a girl in love, which I was. With the food. And the drinks. I had gained an incomparable sentiment, one that food alone was not responsible for. The Cypress Room had given me more than a meal, but an escape, in the heart of Miami.

-Kris

Kristina is an employee of The Genuine Hospitality Group and a food blogger at Tasting It Like It is. Follow her on instagram @tastingitlikeitis

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