Bryony's Blog

FISHY FRIDAY

(30/09/11)

A trip into the village resulted in bringing home lunch: special offer on some wonderfully fresh, straight-out-of-the-sea at Newhaven lemon sole. Simon filleted the fish whilst we bought some crusty bread next door at the deli and once home, bottle of Sauvignon blanc opened and poured (oh, it's lovely not to have to work in the afternoon...) they were prepared for a delightful lunch. I quickly dipped the fillets in some flour whilst a small amount of rapeseed oil was heating in a frying pan and then carefully laid the fish into the fat, skin-side up. Two minutes of cooking, they were flipped over for a further two minutes whilst I added a good sized knob of butter (for flavour - don't add with the oil at the beginning), the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper.

I served the fillets piping hot with some butter French bread = and more wine!

Pip pip! Siesta time!

LES GIRLS VISIT THE SPA

(30/09/11)

I love letting out our five chickens into the field because they have such obvious fun. You can see it on their faces as they scratch, run after each other when one has found something exciting, and dig and poke about. When we delivered the shepherd's hut to its resting place last Saturday we had no alternative but to drive over the marrow and courgette patch, having first rescued any fruit worth picking.

Well, the girls thought they had died and gone to heaven. The older matriarchs immediately settled into the soft earth and proceeded to give themselves a major beauty treatment, rolling, stretching and fluffing, and ending up filthy! This dust bathing removes all uninvited guests nestling in their feathers and is extremely therapeutic. It was also huge fun to watch!

LES GIRLS VISIT THE SPA

(30/09/11)

I love letting out our five chickens into the field because they have such obvious fun. You can see it on their faces as they scratch, run after each other when one has found something exciting, and dig and poke about. When we delivered the shepherd's hut to its resting place last Saturday we had no alternative but to drive over the marrow and courgette patch, having first rescued any fruit worth picking.

Well, the girls thought they had died and gone to heaven. The older matriarchs immediately settled into the soft earth and proceeded to give themselves a major beauty treatment, rolling, stretching and fluffing, and ending up filthy! This dust bathing removes all uninvited guests nestling in their feathers and is extremely therapeutic. It was also huge fun to watch!

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COMFORTING AND RICH BEEF AND MUSHROOM STEW

(29/09/11)

Why did I decide to take out a piece of stewing steak from the freezer to make a stew when we were about to experience the hottest day of the year??? Anyway, it was worth doing because it made a beautiful, rich casserole.

1 large slice of well marbled stewing steak (about a pound) trimmed of nasty bits and cut into large chunks
1 large onion, peeled and sliced finely
3 large field mushrooms (more flavour than button), peeled and sliced
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
good dessertspoon of concentrated tomato puree
moderately decent red wine – no point in using cheap plonk – drink the remainder with the meal
salt and pepper

Begin by putting a small amount of oil in an oven proof casserole, and when hot (not smoking), gently brown the meat, turning it now and then until it is sealed and taking on a bit of colour. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and keep to one side.

Next, add the onions to the pan, stir and sweat until they are starting to soften – about five minutes.

Return the meat and any juices to the pan and add the mushrooms, garlic and tomato puree. Pour on a large glassful (Ό pint) of red wine, season and stir. There must be enough wine for everything to cook in but it doesn't need to be covered with the liquid.

Bring slowly to the boil, cover and put into a slow oven (bottom oven of an Aga) to simmer for at least 1 ½ hours. Check every now and then to make sure it's not drying out – if so, stir in a little water.

I like to cook this a dy in advance so that when the stew is quite cold I can remove any fat from the surface, also the flavours will develop over night.

Serve with creamy mashed potatoes and something green.

TIP – Instead of eating this as a stew, when it's cooked put to one side. When cool, cover with some ready rolled, all butter puff pastry, brush with beaten egg and bake until the pastry is risen and hot – no need for potatoes in this case.

LUNCH IN THE GARDEN!

(29/09/11)

To celebrate welcoming my youngest neice Daisy back into the fold after living in Spain for six years, we were lucky enough to enjoy the most beautiful sunny weather and have lunch in the garden. I hard-boiled some eggs and put them on a platter with some coldwater-caught prawns, then picked a large lettuce and made a salad with some rocket leaves and chervil. Served with warmed garlic bread and a pot of mayonnaise, it was light, tasty and perfect meal for the exceptional and unseasonal midday heat.

Pudding was even simpler and based on friend Jules's mango pud. All I did was to tip a punnet of raspberries into a glass bowl, then rinse, de-hull and cut in half some strawberries which I added to the dish. In another bowl I mixed 50-50 light creme fraiche with some organic Greek yoghurt which I spooned over the fruit. The topping was a really good sprinkling of dark muscovado sugar. I covered the bowl with cling film and left it in the fridge until needed. We ate the lot.

NOT-TOO-MUSHROOMY-MUSHROOM SOUP

(27/09/11)

If mushroom soup is on the menu, rarely do I choose it although I adore most soups. I find mushroom soup is often just too mushroomy - I'm not too keen on the flavour of the forest floor! This is a much lighter version:

For two good appetites

8oz large field mushrooms, peeled and finely sliced
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 small sticks celery, or one large one, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 pint of good, strong chicken stock
milk
salt and pepper

Put a small dessertspoon of oil in a saucepan and throw in the onions, carrots and celery. Sweat the vegetables for about five minutes, stirring every now and again, on a moderate heat.

Add the mushrooms and garlic, stir, and then the stock. You can use a concentrated stock cube or granules diluted in boiling water, but you must taste the soup before adding any extra seasoning.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked through. Remove from the heat and blitz with a hand held blender, leaving it rather on the rough side than extra smooth. Add about 1/4 pint of milk and blitz again. Check on the seasoning and serve sprinkled with some freshly chopped parsley.

You can always stir in a little cream or creme fraiche just before serving if you want to go to the next level.

TIP: Tarragon goes really well with mushrooms and you can add a few leaves (about a dessertspoonful once chopped) towards the end of cooking.

THE EAGLE - OR RATHER THE HUT - HAS LANDED!

(25/09/11)

Yesterday, after enormous care the shepherd's hut was towed by Mike, with Rick in attendance, to its resting place in the field. The first time the iron wheels began to roll on the drive made a fantastic metallic sound, the wooden bones of the hut creaking with eagerness as against (like my joints) with old age.

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Gently the convoy rumbled its way out of the property onto the lane. Mike was concerned that the size of the hut and limited manoeuvrability would cause problems with the narrow entrance to the field, but he succeeded at the first attempt.

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Progress was slow and Rick kept a careful watch over the heavy oak supports and wheels, making sure that nothing came adrift. It was a miracle in action and eventually they made it through the gate into the flower meadow.

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One more brief pause to check things out and then there was no stopping us.

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The hut was going to sit on solid oak sleepers thus preventing the hut from sinking into the earth and tilting. This took a lot of careful planning and heavy duty work, but the end result was perfect. Job done!

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In the excitement we let out the chickens who ran over to inspect what they thought was their new coop! Exhausted, the boys relaxed over a well earned cup of tea.

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FIRST MORNING - A NEW DAWN, A NEW ADVENTURE

(25/09/11)

At first light I went to see if the hut had survived the night. All was well. It was unbelievably peaceful and I can see me spending more time down here than almost anywhere else - apart from the kitchen, that is!

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I am sure I will be witness to all sorts of wildlife crossing the meadow. It was shrouded in mist this morning, with warm, autumnal sunshine filtering through. It restored my soul.

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BYE BYE SUMMER

(21/09/11)

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NEARING THE END!

(21/09/11)

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Mike has been as busy as a bee and has now completed the interior ceiling using the method suggested by Paul-up-the-lane-who-also-has-a-shepherd's hut! It looks fantastic and with any luck he will start painting inside tomorrow. I am going to order some foam for the day bed and start measuring the curtains - Neil has already made shepherd's crook ended curtain rods in the forge.

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CHALKY WHITE

(21/09/11)

To coincide with the colour scheme of the interior of the hut which is going to be a flat, chalky white we now have a new member of the family: an albino pheasant. He/she (sex currently undecided) appeared a week ago. Very thin and shy, her underweight was explained due to the fact that her beak was severely deformed and crossed, preventing her from picking up grain and other food. Mike was able to pick her up and while I held her, he cut the worst part of the beak with some toe nail clippers. It did bleed a bit as the quick was damaged but this had healed by the next morning. She didn't mind us walking towards her and Mike gave her some of the chickens' corn and a bowl of water. These are located just beside the hut and he can keep an eye on her while he works.

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She has become quite tame and after a night spent in relative safety in the greenhouse, now eats happily from his hand with Mikes' best friend, little Peshi in attendance.

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ANOTHER PHILADELPHIA SERVING SUGGESTION!

(21/09/11)

Quick lunch -

Ready rolled all butter puff pastry
Red onion
Philadelphia cream cheese (full fat or light)
Tomatoes
Garlic
Olive oil
Dried Italian herbs
Salt and Pepper

Lay the pastry onto a greased flat baking tray and prick with a fork.
Spray a good thickish layer of Philadelphia on top then having peeled and sliced the onion into thin rounds, scatter these on top. Next, pile on the sliced tomatoes, sprinkle with herbs, add the crushed garlic, season and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Bake in the centre of a fairly hot oven until the pastry is cooked through.

Serve warm with a green salad.

AUTUMN DELIGHTS

(18/09/11)

RED ONION AND GOAT'S CHEESE TART

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4 large red onions, peeled and sliced finely
1 long, firm goat's cheese
dessertspoon of chopped parsley and thyme or teaspoon of mixed dried herbs
olive oil
ready rolled all butter puff pastry
salt and pepper
garlic (optional)
good quality black olives (stoned or not – doesn't matter)

1. Heat the oven to medium/hot
2. Grease a baking tray and lay the pastry on top, cutting to fit. Keep any left over pastry for something else.
3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and gently cook the onions until the are very soft but not taking on any colour. This can take some time, maybe 20 minutes or so – stir every now and again to prevent sticking.
4. Prick the pastry with a fork all over, or slash with the tip of a knife before spreading the onions on top.
5. Slice the goat's cheese and break into bits and position on the onions. Dot with the olives and sprinkle with the herbs.
6. Drizzle a little olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
7. Add the crushed garlic if desired.

Place on the middle rung of the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through. Eat at room temperature with a green salad.

BAKED PATTYPAN CUSTARD

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This makes a delicious dish on its own, maybe with a baked potato and/or green salad. It goes very well as a side dish with roast lamb or cutlets, grilled sausages etc.

2 small pattypans
half a tub of light Philadelphia cheese with chives and black pepper
same amount of light crθme fraiche
1 egg
1 dessertspoon of flour
salt and pepper
grated emmental or other cheese for the topping.

Cut the pattypan(s) in half and then cut a 'v' shape to remove the stem and where the flower.
Cut into chunky wedges and place in a gratin dish.

Put the cheese, crθme fraiche, egg and flour in a bowl and mix well together. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the vegetables. Sprinkle the grated emmental/other cheese on top and bake in a moderately hot oven until puffed up and golden brown – about 15 minutes.

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FRESH FISH!!!!!

(18/09/11)

BAKED SEA BASS AND POTATOES

Mike the Gardener spoils us rotten. This morning, when he arrived to work on the hut, he presented us with a fantastic sea bass. Already gutted, beheaded and descaled it was ready for the oven. As luck would have it, there was a recipe in yesterday's Telegraph for roasted bass and potatoes. If you buy your fish, ask the fishmonger to scale it for you – I have my own scaler since Mike often brings us some of his catch. I have, as usual, adapted the recipe to what we have in the fridge and cupboards.

The fish would easily feed Jimmy, my brother Neil (who was working in the forge on the hand rail for the hut) and Jimmy. I peeled enough firm potatoes to make a good layer on the bottom of an oven dish big enough to take the fish.

In a bowl I mixed the potatoes with one whole lemon cut into quarters and then finely sliced, discarding the pips, then added salt, pepper, a couple of cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped, and a good slug of olive oil. The recipe asked for fennel seeds, fresh thyme and marjoram. Although I did have some dried fennel seeds, I picked some baby fennel in the garden, washed it well, and sliced it finely, keep the fronds for decoration and to put around the fish before it went into the oven. I did have fresh thyme, the leaves of which I stripped from the stalks, but only dried marjoram.


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Once the potatoes, fennel etc. were well mixed they went into the oven dish which I covered with foil and baked for about 30-40 minutes until the potatoes were soft.

Next, on went the fish with another drizzle of olive oil, a splash of dry white wine and a bit more seasoning of salt and pepper.

I baked it (uncovered) for ten minutes after which I threw in a handful of tiny cherry tomatoes, cooking it for a further six to eight minutes until the fish was done – I tested it by gently parting the flesh near the fattest end. If it was still pink it went back into the oven for a further five minutes. One word of advice, don't overcook it! It was a huge success and every last mouthful was eaten. Definitely to do again, provided Mike can come up with the goods!

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SUMMER AINT A COMIN' IN, SUMMER BE A GOIN' OUT

(16/09/11)

Misty mornings, cobwebs bejewelled with dew drops, bed socks and hot water bottles at night...

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Sadness prevails as I watch the swallows gather and settle on the tv aerial, their bags packed and ready to leave for South Africa. It seems a long time before April when they will surely return.

NEWS FROM THE PICKLE FACTORY

(13/09/11)

The gales have brought down so many apples which were hardly bruised due to the softness of the ground that I couldn't avoid making chutney any longer. Also, until now, the tomato crop has been abysmal but once I started picking I soon filled my apron with ripe fruit. Into the kitchen to make:

TOMATO AND APPLE CHUTNEY

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You will need (approximately):

Equal quantities of apples and onions (1 lb is of each is a manageable amount)
Same quantity of cider vinegar, ie. 1 lb onions/tomatoes to 1 pint (plus a little extra) of vinegar
Double the amount of tomatoes to apples and onions
Not quite a pound of sugar to a pound of apples/onions – I used a mixture of demerara and muscovado sugar, approximately 2:1 ratio
1 tsp salt to 1 lb of apples
collect some mixed spices and secure them in a square of muslin. I used one stick cinnamon (broken into pieces), ½ teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon of whole allspice, 1 teaspoon ground ginger or inch of freshly grated ginger, as much dried chillies as you dare – I'm a coward and only added about 1/3 teaspoon.
1 cup of sultanas to 1 lb apples

1. Peel, core and roughly chop the apples and keep to one side. Peel and slice the onions finely and put into a large saucepan with the vinegar and bag of spices. Bring gently to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until nearly soft.
2. Add tomatoes and apples and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then.
3. Next, add the sugar and salt stirring until dissolved, then add the sultanas.
4. Put clean jars into a low oven to heat and sterilise.
5. Allow the chutney to cook on a gentle bubble, stirring every now and again to prevent it from sticking or burning, until it is thick enough to draw the wooden spoon across making a channel.
6. Take off the heat and pour into the hot jars. Seal at once and store in a cool cupboard for at least three months allowing it to mature. If you do it now, it will be ready for Christmas. What a depressing thought!

I am always looking for economical but tasty ways to cook a main meal and having enjoyed this particular dish many a time in Spain when on holiday in Catalunya, I was delighted to see the star of the show on offer in Waitrose: pigs' cheeks. Don't wrinkle up your nose in horror! Think belly of pork, lamb neck chops or breast – pigs' cheeks are only meat, not offal and are absolutely delicious. Until now, most have ended up in sausages but Waitrose has pioneered the cause of this lovely cut of meat. It is virtually fat free and if cooked the following way will give you the tenderest, sweetest mouthfuls you could imagine. I did stage 1 the day before and then stage 2 the next day when we were going to eat the dish. The flavours will improve overnight.

The following will easily feed three to four people:

1 lb of fresh pigs' cheeks (from the meat counter in Waitrose)
1 carrot, peeled and very finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and very finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
½ teaspoon dried mixed herbs
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
Splash of good red wine – Rioja is ideal – about a wine glassful

STAGE 1

1. Begin by rinsing the pigs' cheeks under cold water and then pat dry.
2. Heat a smidgen of olive oil in a cast iron casserole and carefully add the pigs' cheeks. Fry for a couple of minutes on each side to seal, remove from the pan and keep to one side.
3. Put the onions, celery and carrots into the same pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring all the while.
4. Add the meat and any juices, then the herbs and crushed garlic. Stir and add the wine and season well with salt and pepper.
5. Bring gently to the boil, cover and put into a slow oven to simmer for approximately 1 ½ hours.
6. Remove from the heat and prod the meat. It should be very soft and tender. Leave to cool and then put in the fridge until the next day.

STAGE 2 – the next day

About an hour before you are going to eat this dish, transfer the meat and juices into a shallow oven dish and place on the middle rung of a moderately hot oven. After about 15 minutes have a look and baste the meat, which is turning into an unctuous gravy.

Serve ideally with chips and no extra vegetables, Spanish style. I am a cheat and use frozen oven cook French fries. Of course, a green vegetable or two is better for you and I cooked thinnish slices of a fat courgette in a frying pan with a little olive oil. Give it a try!

AUTUMN ARRIVES WITH A VENGEANCE

(12/09/11)

Where did the 'summer' go? The beautiful weather in April and May heralded, or so we thought, a year to remember but we were fooled. The winds over the last two days have brought down apples, branches and leaves and the lawn is littered with debris. How sad it is to see the major part of 2011 well behind us and the prospect of a harsh winter (judging by the berries in the hedgerows) to come. However, there are delights in store: the smell of bonfires, logs burning in an open hearth in a country pub, the crackle of leaves under foot and sun on frosted seed heads.

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In spite of things, Mike has progressed further with the hut. All the external woodwork is now complete and some of the internal panelling is in place. With the soft green undercoat it is looking like the real thing. Even if all the work is done I doubt we shall be able to move it into the field for a week or two because the ground will be too wet and since it is extremely heavy, it risks getting stuck. I can't wait to be able to decorate it!

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I did go and see Paul and Jane's hut down the lane from us. They have done a fine job. Although different from ours in several respects it has the real feel. Paul has a steam engine which he takes to fairs and this will pull the hut so that he has somewhere to sleep with a solid roof. He has installed a small shower cubicle, comfortable bunk beds and an original cast iron stove to cook on and provide warmth. Their hut is almost as high off the ground as ours, and in the afternoon they called in to inspect ours. Paul spent a time chatting to Mike and concluded that ours had always been for accommodation, and not as a base for an engine to work a thresher or other farm machinery as I had thought. He made an excellent suggestion with regard to finishing off the ceiling timberwork based on the way it used to be done in the past, and this is what Mike will be doing as against using ply.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

(07/09/11)

Brother Neil is working all week and so Simon has joined Mike to help get things done. They were absolute Trojans yesterday, working under a flapping tarpaulin in perhaps the worst weather we have had all year. How they managed to do anything beats me, but today they have nearly completed the exterior woodwork and have put in the pretty stained glass window - photo to follow shortly.

When I drove into the village yesterday, what did I see over the hedge of the cottage not a quarter of a mile down the lane from us??? A SHEPHERD'S HUT!!! I couldn't believe my eyes! I thought we were the only hut in the village and now there are two! I shall gather courage and go to ask if I could perhaps have a closer peep - they can look at ours if they want to. As my husband always say, time spent on research is never wasted.

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On another front, I have decided to redecorate my bathroom. Years ago I made my own stencils and painted the walls above the tongue and groove. I loved its organic feel and the colours went well with the bedroom and the garden but now it looks tired and jaded - a bit like me. So time for a re-vamp! We are so lucky in our village to have a wonderful assortment of individual, independent shops and one of them Angela Cheung Interiors, sells Farrow & Ball paints and paper. One quick visit, a suggestion by Angela and Louise, and re-visit this morning to confirm their excellent choice and, Bingo! Paint bought (Pigeon by the way) and three rolls of gorgeous paper later and Nigel is already applying the first coat! Next comes a totally necessary trip to the White Company in Brighton to buy NEW BATH TOWELS. Who could argue that???

This is how the bathroom was until a few hours ago - of course, cleared of all my clutter!

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THE HUT IS TAKING SHAPE!

(04/09/11)

There be good news and there be bad news...

We have unwelcome guests: they are everywhere and are as bold as brass, bristling their whiskers and sitting on their hunkers, refusing to scamper off when we try to frighten them away. I am hoping that if they eat the birds' peanuts they will leave everyone else alone. Time to call in the ratman I fear.

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So much has been going on with the building of the hut that I have barely time to catch my breath.

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Mike began by priming and undercoating the corrugated steel sheets which dried very quickly and then he and Neil were able to position them. Immediately the hut was transformed into a proper shepherd's dwelling. I couldn't believe what a change there was with something so simple. The matt black finish is perfect and goes well with the wheels, so much so that (having looked at other huts on the internet) I suggested we painted the sides of the magnificent steps Mike has made, but leaving the treads natural.

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Mike worked on his own today and managed to complete the back with the tongue and groove panelling, cutting out the space for the window. The colour at present is only undercoat but it gives a very good idea as to how the hut will eventually look.


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I couldn't resist going on a shopping trip and succeeded in finding exactly what I was looking for: a pair of wrought iron wall brackets which will take my sheep candle shades I designed years ago for Suzie Clayton. I also picked up a rusty pair of sheep shears, a beautiful tartan blanket and an old pine shelf. I searched on line and came across some vintage 30s curtains which, although showing signs of wear, will be lovely hanging from the wrought iron curtain rod Neil is going to make.

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