Monday, December 30, 2013

A Correspondence

Dear Health Department

I am writing to you today to draw your attention to the restaurant which served me this Jalepeño Pepper Steak (picture enclosed). As you can see, it is covered in a vile layer of phlegm. In fact, I could hear one of the cook coughing in the kitchen as my wife and I waited for our order. Frankly, it made me uneasy. I sent the dish back immediately and refused to pay.

Now, the restaurant is pursuing me for collection of the bill for this dish, which they claim is perfectly acceptable.

I believe my photograph is evidence to the contrary, and suggest you follow up with them — while I shan’t be returning, I would not wish this kind of disappointment upon another unsuspecting customer.


Mr. Lister

*  *  *  

Dear Mr. Lister:

Thank you for your letter informing us of your unhappy meal. Naturally, we are extremely concerned about any breach of public safety caused by a lack of hygiene in any of our city’s restaurants.

However, after investigation, it seems that the dish you ordered was indeed presented as it was meant to be prepared with no cause for alarm. The substance of which you were alarmed is a melted processed cheese product called “Velveeta.”

While we find the idea of a restaurant serving this product distasteful, it is by no means unhygienic. We recommend you pay your bill promptly.

Yours sincerely,

The Health Department

Favorite Brand Name Recipes For People Who Eat Food (Velveeta), Publications International, Ltd., 2001

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pablo The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Did you hear about that time Pablo Picasso tried his hand at baking? This is his attempt at a Rudolph the Reindeer cake. 

Creative Cake Decorating, Better Homes and Gardens, 1983

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Your Just Deserts

A desert is an arid region often associated with sand dunes and hot weather, although several deserts are in fact void of sand and are very cold.

A dessert is a tasty after-dinner treat consisting most often of something sweet.

People often mistake the two because they sound alike but are spelled differently.

To get your “just deserts” is a phrase that doesn’t help matters. It means to get one’s apt reward or punishment — as one deserves. It means neither you’ll just get an arid landscape or an apple pie. Often, restaurants will “cleverly” name their business “Just Desserts” as a pun to draw a clientele who find this sort of thing witty. In fact, the word comes from “deserve.”

Who, I wonder, deserves this Baked Prune Whip?

The Miracle Blender Cookbook: The Fine Art of Modern Blending, Tested Recipe Publishers, 1967

Also from this book: The Miracle of Blending! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Head and Shoulders Above The Competition

You might think that this post is going to be about the utter redundancy of candles on a table that is clearly being lit with a photographic light with a mega wattage resembling that of the sun. The vegetables are practically cowering from it as their shadows attempt to escape.

“What we need here to complete this picture are several candles,” someone thought as they adjusted their shades. “They will set just the right tone by providing a warm and cozy glow to offset the harsh reality of being served an entirely raw vegetable platter.” Perhaps the cook imagined that the camera lights would flash-cook them when the photo was taken.

There was a time, in the late 1970s, when food stylists reflexively added candles to every shot, as if candles suggested class and comfort. But every type of candle has clearly been lit only seconds from the shutter clicking, so that no wax be allowed to spoil the elegance. The candle, perhaps is also meant to suggest the hearth, the cooking flame from whence the food has so recently been removed.

But you’re wrong.

This isn’t about that at all.

It’s about using untoasted sesame seeds for a garnish. Dandruff, anyone?

Gourmet Christmas Cookbook, Ideals Publishing Corp., 1978

Also from this book: Ho Ho Ho Hum

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Miracle of Blending!

This photo suggests the long, eternal darkness that used to face the dentally-challenged.
You might think that miracles are reserved for events whose mechanics pass humankind’s comprehension and the laws of nature: you’d be wrong. Miracles can be found anywhere these days. Take, for example, the blender. Yes, that thing you make margaritas in.

In 1967, the blender was a miraculous invention — especially for those unfortunate people who have lost their teeth, and require foods that can be gummed and slurped. Prior to the invention of the blender, the toothless simply sucked on bits of solid food trying to extract whatever nutrients they could until they withered away.

The Miracle Blender Cookbook: The Fine Art of Modern Blending seeks to right the oversight of the Almighty by pulverizing the living daylights out of almost anything you feed into it. In it you can find many useful recipes for things that never would have been possible to concoct before: instant nonfat dry milk, for example.

And how would the Lemon Salad Dressing have been made without a blender? The Steak Sauce? You might think that is cream in the parfait, but you’d be wrong again. It’s whipped nonfat dry milk — clearly a favorite of the authors.

The Miracle Blender Cookbook: The Fine Art of Modern Blending, Tested Recipe Publishers, 1967

Also from this book: Your Just Deserts

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ho Ho Ho Hum

Fed up with all this Christmas hoopla from which it is impossible to escape? Are you sick and tired of hearing the jingle of bells every time you walk into a shop or turn on your radio? Does your family expect you to celebrate the season by cooking all day long and then washing a mountain of dishes while they fall asleep in front of the TV? Does the thought of wrapping another present make you want to stab yourself with the scissors? Would you rather wash a handful of depression pills down with a large vodka than sip from a punch bowl of wassail?

Then break the cycle of traditional merriment and serve your family this hearty spinach lasagna for Christmas dinner. Its Yuletide colors of red and green will suffice to remind them that not everyone is filled with unreasonable happiness at this, the darkest time of the year.

There’s enough here to feed at least two people — and if they clamor for more, give them an apple! My mother always used to say “if you’re not hungry enough for an apple, then you aren’t hungry at all.”

Gourmet Christmas Cookbook, Ideals Publishing Corp., 1978

Also from this book: Head and Shoulders Above The Competition

Randolf, The Red-Nosed Rainmoose

If you are the sort of person who views garnishes with suspicion — that they are being used to hide some deprecation of the food they are meant to enhance, say — then you might be on to something.

The word garnish comes to us from the Proto-Germanic term warnejan, which lead to the Old High German warnon, “to take heed” and from which we have the English warning. The stem of the proto-Germanic word lead to the Old French garniss, or garnir in the 14th century, meaning “to provide, furnish, fortify or reinforce.”

To garnish, or embellish a dish in the culinary sense dates from 1700, and comes to us English via the sense of outfitting oneself with arms for war.

If you have a lot of time on your hands, you might want to explore some extreme garnishing by turning two innocent apples into turkeys. Be sure to use plenty of lemon juice so they don’t turn brown halfway through!

Garnishing: A Feast For Your Eyes, Francis Talyn Lynch, 1987

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cabbage Christmas Tree

Are you the sort of person who makes their own laundry detergent?

Do you wash and re-use Ziplock bags?

Are you a secret foil hoarder?

Do you wait for illnesses to “run their course” rather than succumb to “conventional” medicines?

Do you recoil at the thought of fake Christmas trees, yet find yourself in an ethical dilemma when thinking about the tremendous waste involved in buying a “fresh” one each year, only for it to end up in a landfill?

Then you will LOVE this handy alternative!

A cabbage Christmas Tree has all the wonder of the real thing (including artful decorations) without the fuss of pine needles, the annoyance of sticky resin, the danger of flammability, and the emotional scarring that comes with following the herd and handing over real money to a seasonally-employed fellow hawking farm-grown trees out of a parking lot.

Who needs the smell of pine when you can enjoy the smell of raw cabbage! And just think of the savings you will encounter by being able to eat the entire thing afterwards (decorations and all!)

And who has the space for a tree? They only force you to rearrange your furniture and can usually be seen form the street, inviting hooligans and miscreants to rob you blind. This all-natural tree can be placed on your table and does not need watering. All you need to do to keep it fresh is remove the shriveled decorations every now and then, shave the tree, and replace with new decorations.

If you’re worried that there won’t be room for presents under your cabbage Christmas Tree, never fear: Christmas isn’t about the wanton consumerist greed and commercial religiosity that has plagued the holiday in recent years. This tree delivers the REAL message of Christmas: no gifts necessary.

You wouldn’t want your children to grow up with Santa Claus as a role model, would you? He’s clearly overweight and relies upon the slave labor of elves and reindeer to do his work. This way, you can dispense with all of that nonsense and give your children the gift of disillusionment instead — it’ll serve them far better in the long run.

Finally, if you’re unsure about desecrating a religious celebration by bucking the system, reassure yourself that the baby Jesus would encourage you to keep humble and use vegetables to represent his nativity; after all, that’s probably what the Holy Family would have found in their stable — none of this chocolate and fruitcake business.

Go ahead and make yours today.

Garnishing: A Feast For Your Eyes, HP Books, 1987

Friday, November 29, 2013

You’ve Been Served!

The instructions you find in recipes vary greatly according to the simplicity of the recipe, the era in which the recipe was written, and the personal style of the author. Sometimes, very detailed or complex instructions can completely overshadow the  recipe itself, a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. At other times, the instructions do not provide enough information for an inexperienced cook to know what to do.

Some instructions feel redundant or overly obvious: turn oven on seems rather a necessary step if you want to cook anything in it.

The earliest written recipes in English — those dating from the 1600s, say — tend to assume that anyone reading them would already know how and why certain steps are done, so they don’t bother with the finer details, or exact amounts, or even very specific ingredients.

But one thing they all appear to include is the instruction which comes at the end: serve it up. Is this necessary or just a sort of a semantic signal that the recipe has come to an end?

This recipe for chicken in a clay pot is very old indeed: people have been cooking fowl this way for as long as we know. The modern ingredients had their ancient substitutes. The method would have been the same then as now, except the sealed pot was placed in the coals and not an oven.

The detail that links it most surely to the past, however, is that final, simple injunction: “Serve.”

The command to serve the food you’ve cooked means that the cook must also be hostess and waitress (or host and waiter). It presumes that there is a family to be served, and it makes the meal ceremonial. To serve yourself indicates a breakdown in that chain of food preparation that leaves the diner in a tricky position: how much to serve, and what parts to serve.

To serve enables the cook to build a dish and destroy it. To serve — in any capacity — has traditionally meant to subject oneself to a greater authority. One serves one’s master. The words “service” and “slave” both come from the same root. To be served a legal notice dates from the early 15th century, and suggests, like other forms of servitude, that the one being served is under an obligation to accept the service.

To deserve is to assume the right to be served. If it all goes wrong, well, it serves you right.

Creative Low Cholesterol and Low Carbohydrate Cooking, Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc., 1980

Also from this book: Fried Bread

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Carrot Fishing Net

The Pearl, Continued

News of the great pearl that Kino had found and the terrible luck that it had brought him soon reached beyond La Paz. Fishermen in distant cities told the story of his pearl, of Coyotito’s murder, and of the way Kino and Juana never spoke of what had befallen them in the mountains.

Once the pearl was returned to the sea, Kino knew he would have to rebuild his life. Because he had no canoe, and no brush house, he and Juana simply slept upon the shore of the estuary, keeping warm with a fire made from driftwood and eating fish Kino caught with a line he collected from among the rocks. They spoke to no-one and no-one spoke to them; it was as if they were ghosts on the periphery of the town. It was considered bad luck to approach them, and even Juan Tomas stayed away.

Years passed in this way until the town’s memory of Kino’s misfortune was buried along with the citizens who’d known of it first-hand. He became a legend whom children fancied lived a very long time ago. The doctor choked to death on a fishbone and was mourned by no-one, not even his cat. The beggars on the church steps carried on begging for scraps. The town kept on breathing, and children kept on being born, and pearls kept on being bought and sold and the pearl fishermen knew that nothing could be done.

Eventually, Kino grew too old to wade into the sea, so to keep himself occupied while Juana went into the town, he sat and carved elaborate fishing nets out of carrots. In his dreams, each net held baby Coyotito before that fateful scorpion bite, giggling as Juana prepared corncakes. Then his son was replaced by a great pearl, glistening in the moonlight. Then the pearl was replaced by a skull, bleached clean by the sea and the sun. Then Kino woke up and carved another net, hoping each day to catch a different dream.

Garnishing: A Feast For Your Eyes, HP Books, 1987

Also from this book: Cabbage Christmas Tree, Randolph The Red-Nosed Rainmoose

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Will no one rid me of this turbulent cake?


It is said that Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was wearing a hair shirt when he was murdered by Henry II’s knights in 1170. Hair shirts were made from goat hair, their inherent itchiness occasionally enhanced by the addition of twigs, so that their unpleasantness might be a perpetual penance for their wearer. Mortifications of the flesh were curiously popular among the pious of the middle ages, when life in general had its share of painful experiences. The hair shirt, for example, carried with it a living cargo of lice that can only have added to the prickly sensation.

To wear a hair shirt has entered the lexicon as being the action of a martyr. Becket, canonized as a Saint since his gory death, became the object of pilgrimage at the site of his demise, Canterbury Cathedral.

Saint Thomas Becket having his brains spilled
Eating one of these delightful shirt cakes also requires a kind of martyrdom. Imagine, if you will, the rictus of a smile one might adopt upon receiving the gift of such a cake. It’s the same one Becket wore, no doubt, upon seeing the assassins approaching him with evil intent in their eyes. “Why hello good sirs,” he probably said, scratching his chest. “What brings you to church at this ungodly hour?”

How different history might have been if instead of slicing the top of his head of by means of reply, they’d simply said “Ta-da! Cake!”

Creative Cake Decorating, Better Homes and Gardens, 1983

Also from this book: Pablo The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mother's Day

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Fate Worse Than Death

It was long thought that the very tiny German pixie men were nothing more than a novelty dreamed up to delight tourists and fashion cuckoo clock springs, and that once the penchant of northern Europeans for digital timepieces overcame their sentimental adoration of wooden ones, the miniature fellows would find themselves out of work.

Fearing what might happen should a hoard of starving, underemployed wee Germans take to the streets, the beneficent owners of a local sauerkraut factory devised a solution: he put them to work in the pickle vats, where they stood, in doll-sized wellington boots upon the raw cabbage, raking it over and throwing tiny armfuls of salt upon each layer. A good pair could thus be occupied in a sauerkraut barrel for an entire day.

If, however, one or both succumbed to fatigue and did not meet their quota quickly enough, the ladder providing their only means of exit would be lifted away from the barrel’s edge until productivity increased.

After a particularly unfortunate incident which resulted in the suffocation of a miniscule sauerkraut worker who slipped and was quickly inundated with a fresh load of shaved cabbage from the chute above, the little people called a strike in order to win better working conditions.

Sadly, the strike resulted in halting the supply of sauerkraut to the stores, whereupon German housefraus abandoned cabbage as a staple and switched instead to a diet consisting entirely of sausage. Millions died as a result of clogged arteries.

Today, these events are memorialized in the extremely small and hard to see plastic figurine which can be found buried in every jar of sauerkraut. Luckily, the label warns against swallowing said figure, and offers up a year’s supply of kraut to anyone finding a special sauerkraut turning pitchfork instead.

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1968

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Peanuts and Insect Parts

One of the more curious medical conditions of modern times is the peanut allergy. For those who break out in actual symptoms, it is a real threat whose potential outcome can be death. We all know of schools with peanut-free classrooms, and airlines no longer serve peanuts with their drinks (or pretty much anything, but that’s another story) to avoid troublesome lawsuits from people whose sensitivity is so severe that the mere proximity to peanuts can set them off.

Numerous studies have been done to determine what the cause of such a widespread allergy could be, and the results are — well, unclear. The only thing they have found is that a large percentage of peanut allergies appear to be psychosomatic in nature; that is, all in the mind. Even a minor sensitivity can be made physically more severe if the sufferer thinks it’s going to be. In fact, on average, only ten people die each year from a peanut allergy. Sucks if you’re one of them, but that’s out of millions and millions who claim to have a peanut allergy.

In the US particularly, candy bars are heavily peanut-based. Chain restaurants always feature one or more peanut butter flavored dessert. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the de facto food for children who are picky about eating anything else.

Peanut butter at its most simplest consists of roasted peanuts ground to a paste. But the best-selling brands in the US give you much more than that.

Jif,  Skippy, and Peter Pan brands all contain hydrogenated oils, mono and diglycerides, molasses, sugar and salt.

There’s also this:

The defect guidelines on food exposed to biological or natural contaminants establishes acceptable levels of defect. According to the FDA Food Defect Action List, peanut butter is allowed to have an average of 30 or more insect fragments, 1 rodent hair, and 20 milligrams of grit in 100 grams. An 18-ounce jar of peanut butter is 510 grams. What this means is that you could find an average of 150 insects parts, 5 rodent hairs and 125 milligrams of grit in your 18-ounce peanut butter jar.

Mold, insect fragments, excrement, maggots, and rodent hair, sand, wood, and fiber have set levels allowed in peanut butter. Samples that fall under the set levels pass inspection and are allowed to be marketed.

In case that gives you the willies, you could always make this cake. In 1959, whoever made it decided that sticking peanuts in their shells on toothpicks around the edge was a good idea.

Holiday Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1959

Also from this book: Lincoln Log

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lincoln Log

When you see a set of Lincoln Logs — or anything built with them by a child — you probably don’t immediately think “Frank Lloyd Wright!” And yet they were invented by his son John in 1916, and modeled after the eminent architect’s design for Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel. The hotel was built to withstand earthquakes, which it did admirably.

It is curious then, that Lincoln Log kits are so clearly reminiscent of the kind of frontier houses that President Lincoln was born in. Originally, sets came with instructions for building a future president’s log cabin as well as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Hmm.

While logs that link sound like “Lincoln [linkin’] Logs” and thus create a neat auditory knot, we don’t usually associate them with cake.

The original Mr. Log
But if you want to make a house out of cake, you may very well use this recipe for Lincoln Log — a jelly roll and ice cream concoction that Lloyd Wright might not exactly deem earthquake-proof.

Holiday Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1959

Also from this book: Peanuts and Insect Parts

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Potato Pancakes

In Creative Writing the teacher always gave us assignments like “write about your grandmother’s kitchen.” I know why she did this. She wanted us to write about cookies and love. Blech. The girls all wrote about cookies and love and it made me want to throw up. Hannah wrote about how her grandmother made chocolate chip cookies with her and how she let her mix the dough and how she ate them afterwards when the chocolate was all melty and her grandmother wore wire-rim glasses and an apron and slippers, and when her grandpa came home he ate cookies too and gave them all a big kiss. Hannah Hopkins is a liar because everyone knows she has no grandparents, because her granddaddy killed her grandmother and spent the rest of his life in jail. Killed her dead with a carving knife. She got an A+. That’s when I stopped believing in Creative Writing.

This year we have a new teacher and she’s lazy. She’s using the last teacher’s class plans, so we have to do all the same assignments over again. Last time, I wrote about how my grandmother’s kitchen had flowery wallpaper and smelled like cotton candy and how my grandmother used to be in the circus, which is how come she loved cotton candy. I got a D. I went too far, I guess. This year, I’m going with THE TRUTH, because being creative doesn’t pay off.

Chapter One

My grandmother makes me eat potato pancakes every day. This is because she lives on a potato farm and there isn’t much else to eat. My grandmother is a stout woman who never smiles, and she always wears the same blue spotted dress and apron and puts her grey hair in a bun on her head. She is too poor for wallpaper.

Chapter Two

When my grandmother makes potato pancakes, she clamps a steel grinder to the wooden table in the kitchen and cranks the handle while pushing potatoes in. The potato mush comes out the other end. I sit and watch. There is nothing else to do.

Chapter Three

Once my grandmother has ground all the potatoes into mush, she mixes it with some flour, salt and pepper, and hands me an onion to cut up. She doesn’t like cutting onions because they make her cry. They make me cry too. But I do it.

Chapter Four

My grandmother mixes the onion with the potato mush and warms up a skillet with a big knob of bacon fat in it. Then she puts in handfuls of the potato mixture. They sizzle when they hit the pan. I often wish for a sausage instead but this is not to be. I once asked for sausage and she threw a spoon at me. Grandmother isn’t one for conversation.

Chapter Five

I do not know my grandmother’s name. I’m not sure my mother knows my grandmother’s name, and they’re related. My mother grew up eating potato pancakes and as soon as she had me she left to go work in the big city so here I am. Maybe her name is Gretchen. Maybe it is Gerta. Maybe it’s Esperanza. OK, that’s impossible, I know that. Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. Maybe it’s Verzweiflung. That’s a German word, and she is German.

Chapter Six

When the potato pancakes are done, Grandmother stands over me and makes sure I eat every bit. This is because she suspects I do not like potato pancakes. If I had a dog, I would feed them to the dog. Some apple sauce would be nice. A dollop of sour cream would be better. A sausage would be better still. After I have eaten the potato pancake, Grandmother wipes my face with a foul-smelling rag and sends me out to play. Most of the time she hands me a garden fork and basket because I also have to dig up more potatoes for dinner. This leaves very little time for play. A dog would be nice. A dog and a ball would be better.

Chapter Seven

When I grow up I will never eat another potato pancake. If I never see a potato pancake again in my life I will consider my life to have been a success. When I grow up I will eat sausages and own a dog. I will marry a lady named Esperanza who smells like cotton candy. Some people might call this wishful thinking, but I call it ambition.

The End. 

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1968

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sauerkraut Stuffed Pineapple

Do not try to bring hummingbirds into Hawaii. They will not let you. It is strictly prohibited. It is verboten. Not even if it is your favorite pet hummingbird. No way, no how. A soon as you land in Hawaii, they throw a lei over your shoulders and search you for contraband hummingbirds. Aloha my ass for the hummingbirds. Do not hide a hummingbird in your pants. Don’t even joke about the hummingbirds. Sure, you may find that once you have booked your passage to Hawaii, you will be inundated with requests from hummingbirds to secure themselves as stowaways in your baggage, because they, too want to go on holiday to Hawaii. But do not accept their bribes. If a hummingbird decides to hide in your baggage, and is discovered, he or she will meet a grisly end. Hummingbirds are not welcome in Hawaii.

This is because hummingbirds are attracted to bromeliads and end up pollinating them. But this is great! you say. How convenient! Isn’t nature wonderful! Surely the world could use more bromeliads! Hang on, what’s a bromeliad?

Pineapples, for a start. They are the most delicious bromeliads around. Companies like Dole and Del Monte have invested a lot of time and money into making sure your pineapple is succulent, sweet, low in acid, and lasts until it reaches your local supermarket. What ruins pineapples is seeds. And what makes seeds? Pollination. And what pollinates pineapples? Hummingbirds. Hence the ban. 

Pineapples aren’t even native to Hawaii; they were brought over from South America and soon found a home in the perfect climate. Hawaii might very well be associated with the pineapple, but it doesn’t even crack the top 12 list of nations producing the most pineapples.

It sucks to be a hummingbird.

Here is a picture of a pineapple stuffed with hot sauerkraut from Germany. Enjoy. 

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1968

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ludwig Boltzmann's Steak Tartar

That Will Be That: Ludwig Boltzmann’s Last Meal, September 4, 1906, Duino, Italy

Ludwig stares at the wooden platter in despair.
On it, with utmost care, has been arranged steak tartar —
several small dishes of condiments surrounding
a rounded heap of raw minced beef into which
a single egg yolk has been dropped.

It’s a treat from his wife, who’s thought to combat
his dour mood of late with a dish from the Old Country
that he used to love. They are at the Hotel Plas,
on the Adriatic coast, for a spot of R & R
to shore up his unstable state of mind
before the lectures he’s due to give.

But all Ludwig can see are his brains,
the yellow egg throbbing at the center
like the restless nucleus of an atom,
more dense than he can imagine,
more, even than the rye bread
his wife is breaking apart with her bare hands.

She points to the anchovies, the salt, the capers,
but he’s imagining they’re electrons, protons, neutrons, entropy,
the Second Law of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
He’s watching his daughter Elsa scoop up some meat,
dip it in parsley and eat, oblivious to the fact
that while there’s less on the platter, it’s not really gone.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” a therapist once told him,
but the small stuff is his life’s work,
something his colleagues don’t even believe exists.
He dips his fingers in and chews it over: tomorrow,
when his wife and daughter go for a swim,
he’ll hang himself, and that will be that.

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1969

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