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AdultGrilledCheese_First

Cooking at the cottage means simple recipes using fresh ingredients. I don’t want to be in the kitchen any longer than I have to. Don’t get me wrong, I adore cooking but I also adore this view:

CottageView

This is the view looking out into the lake from our little bay.

Several years ago, our dear friend Barb (Profiteroles and Pony Tails) and her then beau (now hubby) came up to our cottage, The Upper Deck. We traded off days for cooking and for one lunch Barb made this excellent grilled cheese sandwich (Toastie)! We’re not talking about a processed cheese slice slapped between two slices of Mungie-cake white bread. No, this is a serious blend of cheeses with a splash of whiskey or cognac and some delicious green onion thrown in for good measure. Believe me, when I say: once you have this grilled cheese, you will NEVER want any other.

I posted this recipe originally in March 2009 and it was a bit of a sore spot because a named magazine asked to use my photo in a grilled cheese story but since I was relatively new to blogging, I wasn’t paying attention to the comments, so I missed out! Sigh. The flavour of the whiskey or cognac is essential, the cheese blend is entirely up to you, but I suggest hard cheese and not soft like goats cheese.

Adult Grilled Cheese

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 125-150 g shredded cheese, in total
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 slices sourdough bread, use this recipe
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp cognac or whiskey

Directions:

  1. Combine shredded cheeses, green onion and cognac and mix well.
  2. Butter one side of each bread, lay one slice buttered side down and top with the cheese mixture. Lay the other side of the bread on top, buttered side up.
  3. Heat a grill pan and place sandwich on top, lay a weight over it (I used 3 cast iron pans but I put a piece of parchment on top of the sandwich first).
  4. Grill until cheese has melted. Cut sandwich in half and serve with celery sticks and homemade salsa.

Notes:

  • For this sandwich, we used Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Extra Old Cheddar and Mozzarella.
  • We have also used Mozzarella, Gruyère and white Cheddar, the combinations are endless. It is nice to use a stringy cheese for this type of sandwich.
  • You could also put additional cheese on the exterior (omit butter) and instead of grill, lay a piece of parchment down in a cast iron frying pan and cook, repeat for other side. See instructions from my dear friend Lorraine, here.
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The marketing company that I work with from time to time recently moved into their new exciting office space and they invited me down for a look. I decided to bring them a baked treat (because that is how I roll) and created this new chewy chocolate peanut butter brownie recipe! I was inspired by your generous reaction to the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark with Gold Sea Salt that I created, thank you. This is not an overly sweet brownie but it is richly flavoured with chocolate with the classic peanut butter combo. I used natural, chunky PB that isn’t sugared or salted, but feel free to use your traditional grocery store PB and omit the additional sugar and salt that I add in the later part of this recipe. The recipe is loosely based on my Go-To brownie recipe that my dear Mom cut out of the Toronto Star about 20 years ago (click here and here).

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies 

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 25 brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 5 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 45 g (1 1/2 oz) semi-sweet dark chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup natural, chunky peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Sift flour, icing sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder.
  2. Melt butter  with chocolate chips, add vanilla and water and stir well.
  3. Beat in the egg whites (if the liquid is still hot, temper them so you don’t get scrambled eggs!)
  4. Add dry ingredients and stir well.
  5. Pour into a prepared 9″ x 9″ pan and line the pan with parchment paper, then spray with non-stick baking spray. Bake for 25-40 minutes until firm and cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Option to frost with a butter icing, but not necessary as this brownie is very moist and flavourful.

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Silvasgombocz_first

I recently read on a blog (which I can not find for the life of me, but if it was you, kindly mention it with a link in the comments) a rant about restaurant service where wait staff remove empty dishes from the table before everyone has finished eating. This is a HUGE issue in Toronto, particularly with the roadhouse-style (3 star or less) establishments. It is a disgusting trait, particularly when there are ONLY TWO people dining. Because JT inhales eats much quicker than I, I am often left eating at the table while his plate is cleared away. Just because restaurants here only pay servers minimum wage, it doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be training! UGH.

I mention this trend because on a recent dinner with neighbours (progressive dinner folks) at a fairly well reviewed French restaurant in our historic Distillery District they actually went one step further. It wasn’t a busy night but service was slow and we were through a bottle of wine before our first course even arrived; eventually we casually ate our appetizers and chatted up a storm so when they removed the dishes I got up for a quick bio break. I ordered my favourite bistro dish, Table Side Wellington Country Beef Tartar which is prepared in front of the guest. Can you guess what’s coming next? The server actually PREPARED MY DISH WITHOUT ME BEING THERE! OMG, did that really happen? Oh yes, it did. I was so aghast, I was speechless! So now, several weeks later I am ranting on my blog. Shame on you, French restaurant in the Distillery District, the remainder of the experience wasn’t even worth mentioning (OK, I will say the steak frites came in pieces (what? did they gather up the leftovers from other plates?) AND it was over-cooked). Strike that place off my list.

It is no secret that Hungarians love food and we love to cook; so while my cousin and his lovely wife, Éva were visiting, I asked her to show me how to make a traditional, light Hungarian supper called Szilvásgombóc (Plum Dumplings). I’ve read many a blog that this dish is NOT a dessert and the Hungarians are quite adamant about it. When I was a child, we had this dish during plum season but I can’t recall if it was a main or a dessert. I have never made it on my own so I was happy to have Éva make it while I watched. It is delicately sweet and seasoned generously with toasted bread crumbs and cinnamon. We always had it with sour cream so my presentation included Greek Yogurt, but Éva always had it plain with extra cinnamon or with some lekvár (thick jam).

We made the dish at the cottage, so I wasn’t able to document the weights and measures and I still have some in the freezer so I won’t be making it any time soon. For an experienced cook, like most of my followers, it is a recipe made by feel (similar to making Italian Gnocchi), but I will reference Ilona Horvath’s recipe from The Traditional Hungarian Kitchen published in 1996 and 2000. It is an excellent cookbook translated and worked into North American cooking standards and according to my dear Mom, good, old fashioned Hungarian recipes.

Below, I present my dear Mother’s recipe from her Mother’s cookbook that she brought with her on her escape from Hungary in 1956, Az Ínyesmester Ezer Új Receptje published by Athenaeum, 1935. It is a well-loved, faded copy and the recipe for szilvásgombóc in the book is entirely by feel (no measurements documented!).

Cookbook

That’s a recipe for Roquefort Dressing written in my Mom’s handwriting in Hungarian.

Magyar Szilvásgombóc (Hungarian Plum Dumplings)

Makes about 24 gombóc

Ingredients:

  • 12 sweet plums (the small Italian ones are best, we were not able to find them so we cut them in half)
  • Boiled potatoes (we used 5 medium-sized yukon gold potatoes)
  • All purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp cinnamon, divided
  • 3/4 cup of unseasoned bread crumbs (we made our own from whole wheat bread)
  • 2-3 tbsp sugar

Directions:

  1. While boiling the peeled potatoes, wash, pit and cut the plums in half and season with 2 tbsp of cinnamon, set aside.
  2. Rice potatoes while still warm (Éva made a point of this). Beat the egg by hand and combine it with the riced potatoes.
  3. Slowly add flour to the potato and egg mixture to make a soft dough.
  4. Using about two tablespoons of dough, press out to about 1 cm thick in the palm of your hand (about the size of the palm of your hand), add a quarter of a plum to the centre and cover entirely with the dough, pinching the seams shut.
  5. Boil water with a pinch of salt. Boil plum dumpling until done (they should float to the top, just like gnocchi).
  6. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, toast the breadcrumbs until golden and while still warm, add the sugar and mix gently until the sugar has melted and caramelized. It should not be a sopping mess. Turn off the heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp cinnamon and mix well. Roll each cooked dumpling in the bread crumbs and plate.
  7. Serve warm or cold, with or without yogurt or sour cream
This plate survived two bombings during the second world war.

This plate survived two bombings during the second world war.

Notes:

  • We tested one plum ball first to make sure it didn’t fall apart during boiling and decided it was a bit too soft and we added more flour.
  • The old cookbook describes a good plum dumpling dough to be thinly wrapped around the plum, a fine and light texture, somewhat pillowy (not chewy). “A jó szilvásgombóc téstája vékony, finom és könnyu, sőt omlós.”
  • I wish we had tasted the plums because they had very little taste and we should have seasoned them with a touch sugar to bring out their plum taste. This dish should not be sickly sweet, it is delicately sweet.
  • Ilona Horváth adds lard to the dough but we did not.
  • My relatives LOVE cinnamon so the proportions may be a bit much for the average person, add according to your own personal taste. Cinnamon in Europe is the real McCoy and is a lot stronger than our Cassia. Too much cinnamon may make the dish bitter!

 

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SweetPotatoHummus_first

A couple of weeks ago my kitchen had all sorts of half used leftover vegetables from a testing I did for my recipe testing lady. They were for recipes that called for specific volumes of vegetables (such as, 1 cup) instead of the quantity of vegetables (such as 1 medium carrot). I always find those recipes a bit odd because I am left with bits and pieces that lay around for weeks without any specific purpose. Indeed, I could have thrown them into a soup or stew but I wasn’t making either of those things. Then I saw my lovely friend Lorraine’s Roasted Vegetable Hummus recipes and thought “GENIUS”! What a great way to use up bits and pieces of leftover veg. Thank you Lorraine, truly a great idea (ps, it was darn delicious too!).

Because this recipe was created to use up leftover vegetables, feel free to modify the quantity or variety to what you have on hand. This would also work beautifully if you had leftover roasted veg from a dinner. Hummus is an easy Middle Eastern dip/spread and the seasonings should be to your personal taste; we love the traditional flavours so I’ve kept it pretty much the same with the exception of substituting tahini with toasted sesame oil because that’s what I had (you can use peanut butter too, I know, GASP!!!).

It turned out that The Hungarians had never tried sweet potatoes (not sure if it’s a veg not available in Budapest or they were never introduced to it) but it was a grand success as a dip AND as a roasted vegetable side for our roast chicken dinner one night.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Hummus

makes about 1 cup, depending on the size of your vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into equal sized cubes
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into equal sized cubes
  • 1 large clove of garlic, whole
  • 3 tbsp EVOO, divided
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp each, cumin and coriander
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp water or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp smoked sesame oil
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 190° C (375° F).
  2. Add sweet potato and carrot cubes to a large roasting pan and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil.
  3. Add garlic (peel and all) to a small ramekin, top off with 2 tbsp olive oil and and water. Season with sea salt. Cover with foil and tuck into a corner of the roasting pan.
  4. Roast vegetables for about 35 minutes or until very tender, try not to brown the vegetables so that the dip colour remains vibrant.
  5. Scrape vegetables from roasting pan into a glass bowl, squeeze the garlic out from its skin and pour the liquid from the garlic into the glass bowl with the sweet potato and carrot.
  6. Toast the cumin and coriander until fragrant, add to the glass bowl along with the remainder of the ingredients (with the exception of the sesame seeds). Purée until smooth, season with salt and pepper, if desired. For an ultra smooth dip, press through a fine sieve. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve at room temperature with bread, crackers or crisp vegetables.
SweetPotatoHummus

It’s creamy and naturally sweet.

My dear friend Genie of Bunny, Eats, Design suggested I submit this post to our growing edge for June, themed Picnic, hosted by Maddie from Supper Lovin’

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KaleChips_first

A few years ago we purchased a reasonably priced (read cheap) awning for our cocktail patio; I never loved the fabric, it was a pinkish/beige stripe that weathered into a more horrible pinkish colour over the years, but it was about 1/10th the price of one of those swanky awnings that you can order with custom fabric, so I compromised. It wasn’t bad enough that the colour sucked when it was new, it sucked even more over the years and the birds loved to bathe in the water that collected in the divot when it was closed and they also loved to peck little bugs that drowned. Sadly, their pecking caused many tears and eventually the awning looked so tattered and torn that we hadn’t unrolled it in two years!

Old Awning

This was the last time we unrolled the awning at my benchmark birthday party a couple of years ago. That’s my lovely SIL, Wendy. The colour just gets better and better.

Fast forward to 2015 and my cousin and his lovely wife are coming for a visit from Europe in June. What is better than an actual deadline to get those nagging projects completed? So we are in fix it mode! The list is long.

Last year, I priced replacing the fabric with an awning company and discovered that it’s still out of reach (I’d rather spend the cash on a vacation than an awning!) so I checked Youtube and found a really good video on how to remove and replace the awning fabric (click here for the video) and even though our awning is a different manufacturer, the basics are the same. So off I went to purchase 11 m or 12 yards of fabric! And specialty thread (nylon in case you are interested), a specialty sewing machine foot and of course heavy duty leather sewing machine needles! If you’re interested, I can post instructions on how to sew the awning, but it’s a cooking blog so I won’t bore you with it now.

The worst part of sewing this type of project is finding the space to accommodate the enormous volume of fabric (3.2 m x 3.4 m or 125″ x 135″ finished size) so I ended up sewing it on the dining room table and pinning and cutting on the wood floors in our bedroom. Sewing on the dining room table and that I can see the awning from my kitchen window is my reason for using this post in Celia’s In My Kitchen series.

PinningAwning

I had to fold the fabric in half because that’s all the room I had!

It didn’t take me long to make the awning but I had to wait 3 days to install it because it was raining and hailing (in April)! The installation went smoothly but you really do need two people to help feed the ends into the hardware. JT was great and we got it working in less than an hour! Now we wait for summer. Hopefully!

Awning3

This is the view from my kitchen window. I guess I could have opened the window and removed the screen for the pic.

Awning1

We chose a light grey fabric.

Awning2

The awning actually extends all the way to the far end of the deck but it was too windy and I didn’t want to risk issues.

A couple of weekends ago, we had amazing weather and JT and I enjoyed lunch on the patio. I had a lovely bunch of fresh kale and I wanted to try something different so I baked Kale Chips! I know it’s been done to death, but these things were actually really tasty and if you’re looking for a healthy snack, I would suggest you try and bake some of these. I used Charles’ recipe which you can find here, the only thing I did differently is that I dressed the chips in some grated parmesan and sea salt. They didn’t last long.

KaleChips3

The olive oil gives them a gorgeous sheen and helps maintain the bright green colour.

Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • 400 g Curly Kale
  • 2 tbsps Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/2 cup fine grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 93° C (200°F )(I used my convection (fan) setting).
  2. Wash kale and remove thick ribs. Cut into bite-sized pieces keeping in mind that they will shrink to about half their raw size.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over kale and toss to coat evenly. I gave them a quick, light massage.
  4. Spread on a cookie sheet so they are on one layer and not over lapping. Bake for 15-20 minutes tossing occasionally until crisp. Sprinkle cheese over hot kale and toss to coat.
  5. Serve immediately.
KaleChips2

They were crispy and very tasty.

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VeganSpanakopita_4208

In converting a recipe to Vegan, I generally try to keep in mind all the flavours AND the textures in the non-vegan version. When I decided to make Vegan Spanakopita I became very excited until I remembered that there was crumbled feta in my recipe. Crumbled feta is not Vegan, so I began to think…what oh what can I use to replace the flavour and the unique texture this delicious cheese brings to the table. Yes, I could have omitted it altogether, but then it wouldn’t be as delicious!  Some time ago, I’d made a note to marinate tofu in ‘feta’ flavours like lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, oregano and olive oil…so I did a little experimentation and came up with this version. It’s actually pretty tasty on its own, but I needed it for this recipe so there won’t be marinated tofu on the buffet table, but this spanakopita more than makes up for it. I don’t think the non-vegans will mind this version. But there will be pulled pork and bacon wrapped dates just in case ;-)!

Vegan Spanakopita

A kitcheninspirations original recipe.

Makes about 50, 6 cm (about 3 inch) triangles

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced thinly
  • 5 cloves garlic ~20 g, finely minced
  • 500 g zucchini grated (about 2 medium-sized)
  • 300 g spinach
  • 3-4 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 350 g marinated tofu, drained, roughly chopped (recipe below)
  • About 8-10 sheets phyllo
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. Heat canola oil in a large dutch oven. Add the sliced onion and sweat it out a bit, add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the grated zucchini (click here for some clear steps on making this dish) and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until it has totally wilted.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the fresh dill, oregano and roughly chopped marinated tofu. Set into a fine sieve and allow to cool and drain.
  3. Once completely cool, prepare the phyllo sheets by cutting them into 3 cm or 2.5 inch strips and lightly spraying each one with canola oil. Use two strips per triangle. Place one heaping teaspoon of the cooled filling onto one end and start folding into a triangle. Brush or spray lightly all over with the canola oil.
    VeganSpanakopita_4196

    A heaping teaspoon of filling goes at the end.

    VeganSpanakopita_4197

    Begin folding into a triangle and continue until the length is used up.

    VeganSpanakopita_4198

    The nature of the folds covers in the filling very well.

    VeganSpanakopita_4200

    A tidy little triangle.

  4. Bake at 350°F for 12-14 minutes if saving for the freezer or 116-18 minutes to serve immediately.
  5. To reheat, place a single layer of the triangles onto a baking sheet and reheat in 300°F for 10 minutes or until golden.
VeganSpanakopita_4209

The oil makes the phyllo very crispy.

Marinated Tofu

Makes enough for one batch of Spanakopita (prepare 1-2 days ahead to allow tofu to absorb the marinade flavours)

Ingredients:

  • 350 g extra firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground mixed peppercorns

Directions:

  1. Place the drained tofu on a cutting board over a sink so it’s tilting a bit into the sink. Place another cutting board on top and a heavy cast iron pan. Leave for 30 minutes to drain.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, water, EVOO, oregano, sea salt and peppercorns and mix well.
  3. Once drained, dry off the tofu and cut into 1 cm cubes. Place into a glass container and cover with the marinating liquid. Marinate in the refrigerator, shaking the jar intermittently over 1 to 2 days. Drain to use.

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A surprisingly creamy dip

A surprisingly creamy dip

We’re hosting the company Christmas party (the company I write social media content for) and 1/4 of them are vegans and vegetarians! As usual, I really didn’t feel like making two different things so other than 2 fish and 3 meat dishes, everything else is going to be vegan! I’m even testing my skills with some pretty interesting desserts and VEGAN CHEESE! Stay tuned, I’m looking forward to learning to cook gourmet vegan. BTW, thank you to a long-time friend and colleague (and loyal reader) Michela, who offered some excellent suggestions ❤️.

Did you know that purée-ing (with a stick blender) cooked red lentils become so incredibly creamy that it tastes like you’ve added cream or butter to it? It makes an incredible dip and it also could be used as a base for a gluten free, even vegan white sauce! I make a large batch and freeze in an ice cube tray for quick additions to ‘cream’ up a sauce! Recently, we had an incredible cauliflower-lentil ‘Alfredo’ sauce which was TDF! So good. Next time I make it I’ll be sure to jot the ingredients down and actually measure everything!

A few years ago I won the runner-up prize for a photo contest from Roger Mooking (a celebrity chef here in Toronto), the prize was a Crock Pot with a mini heated dip pot. The crock pot croaked last year but the mini dip pot goes on. I don’t know about you, but I have never liked using this unattractive pot on my buffet table, so about a year or so ago I did some testing to see how hot it actually gets and was quite surprised that you could actually cook in it! The temperature gets to around 165F which would be enough to cook meat, but I wouldn’t suggest it. It is however, perfect to make a batch of beans or lentils for dip! I’ve been using it almost every week to make healthy bean or lentil dips. So if you have one sitting on a back shelf gathering dust, bring it out and put it to good use. Put it on before you go to work and when you get home you have a delicious dip or base for a creamy soup or sauce.

Creamy Red Lentil Dip

An original Kitcheninspirations recipe.

Makes about 250 mL (1 cup) of dip

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c red lentils
  • 1 cup water or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp dehydrated onion flakes
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2-1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients except lemon juice and toasted sesame oil to a mini dip crock pot, stir and then cover.
  2. Plug it in (only way to turn it on) and cook for 3-4 hours or when lentils are very soft.
  3. Turn hot cooked lentils into a tall container. Purée using a stick blender until smooth and creamy adding lemon juice and toasted sesame oil to taste. Refrigerate until needed.
I drizzled some toasted sesame oil over the top.

I drizzled some toasted sesame oil over the top.

The oven roasted tomatoes are incredibly sweet but still give this dip a piquant flavour.

The oven roasted tomatoes are incredibly sweet but still give this dip a piquant flavour.

RedLenilDipOvenRoastTomato_3984

These little water crackers were the perfect accompaniment to this cream dip.

Additional Flavours:

  • “Hummus”: to the recipe above, add additional finely chopped fresh garlic at the end as you purée to give it more of a hummus flavour.
  • Curry Dip: omit the lemon juice and toasted sesame oil and add 1/2 tsp curry powder with 2 tbsp coconut milk powder at the purée stage.
  • Oven dried tomato dip: Omit the cumin, coriander, lemon juice and sesame oil. Add to cooked lentils, 1 tbsp chopped oven (or sun dried) tomatoes plus 1 or 2 fresh basil leaves and purée until creamy and smooth.

Notes:

  • Other lentils (like green or du puys) don’t turn out as creamy, I’ve tried them and seriously prefer red.
  • I use granulated garlic (not the same as garlic powder) and dehydrated onions in this recipe because we preferred the end taste over cooking fresh cloves and onions in the mini crock pot. For whatever reason, the mini crock gave the garlic a very unusual flavour.
  • To make a base for ‘cream’ sauce, omit everything but the lentils, water and salt. Purée when cooked, allow to cool and freeze in ice cube tray for future use.
  • Note on December 8: Lentils cook in far less time than the prescribed 3-4 hours, it’s just that I’ve left it on for that length and the result was what I wanted, totally mushy and easily puréed lentils. If you’re around and can unplug the little dip warmer when the lentils are first cooked, then be my guest.

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