Category Archives: Food

Samichlaus Classic

I’ve written on this blog before about Winter Warmer beers (Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome and Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale), but in my heart no other beer celebrates the category as Samichlaus Classic.  At one point it was the strongest beer in the world at 14% alcohol, and on it’s label it brags that it’s the “World’s Most Extraordinary Beverage.”  With swagger like that, you almost wonder if they were drunk on the stuff when they wrote its description.  All this, combined with its slack and silver label tell you : this is not a Bud light.  This is something big, but not in a childish way.  There’s no childish Four Loko technicolor camouflage strewn across it here.  No, the outisde of the bottle seems to both warn and entice.  It says to you “there’s something good in here, but if you’re not man enough, it will dominate you.”  I consider myself a Cesar Milan of booze.  I shall now try to calmly assert myself.

When you take the cap off the bottle, its siren song commences, as waves of malty goodness begin to emit from its orifice.  I smell the bottle and smell a layered maltiness, as if the brewers took the most flavorful malt and somehow distilled its essence into a beer.  As I smell it in the glass, I am taken back.  As a lapsed and lazy homebrewer, boiling wort (beer before its fermented) is a smell that’s both familiarly enjoyable and almost synonymous with an exhausting night of checking temperatures and waiting, lifting gallons of water around and hoping nothing is broken.  The smell itself is, from a practical standpoint, the smell of caramelized malts now in solution in the wort becoming further caramelized during the boil, and volatile hop aromas evaporating into the air.  Samichlaus screams these notes to me.  Moaning even.

Seriously, in the time it’s taken me to type this, my mouth has been watering looking at this auburn glass, watching little CO2 bubbles rise to the top.  The first sip is like a kiss from a lover who I’ve not been able to hold because of circumstances beyond our control.  Malty sweetness, roasted caramel, dark raisiny fruit and a cognac like alcoholic presence.  This is a beverage superior to what the idea of beer is in most people’s minds.  This is a monster of the best kind.  Power and potency combine with a certain eloquence.  Samichlaus is like a bull in a China shop, but a bull who speaks five languages.

Samichlaus is not a beer for every day.  Even in its native Austria (Samichlaus is Swiss German for Santa Claus), it’s brewed once a year and then aged 10 months.  But it’s Christmas Eve.  It’s cold outside, and the only way to fight sometimes is with a good strong drink.  Merry Christmas, and I hope one Christmas in your future, Samichlaus visits you too.  Merry Christmas!

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Amber Rose

Sometimes, a seed is planted in the subconscious mind.  After repeated subconscious exposure, rather than grow to like or dislike a person, they just become part of the landscape, and you find yourself wondering how this person who you don’t recognize at all seems to be own valuable real estate in your head all of a sudden… like Kim Kardashian but without the erection dissolving disgust.

Such is Amber Rose.

One day, this chick is on the cover of a magazine with Kanye West and company.  And my first thought is, man… some bitch is dressed up like a white Grace Jones:

Next thing I know she’s everywhere, doing Maxim and stuff:

Courtesy of HipsterRunoff.com

Now, this girl has a vodka commercial out.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I prefer beer and wine, with the occasional whiskey.  Even more rare is the occasion upon which I drink vodka.  When I do, it’s typically in the form of a dirty vodka martini… a wonderful thing that is both savory and elegantly crisp at the same time.  However, when I saw the above vodka commercial, I realized one thing.

I want to fuck the shit out of some vodka now.

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Fat Weasel Ale

I was at Trader Joe’s, picking up the random whatnot and so forth and found myself, as I often do, in the beer and wine section.  I’ve tried many of both their exclusive in-house contract brewed selections (the Winter Ale brewed by Unibroue is a yearly favorite of which I buy several bottles for instant consumption, and several to save for future enjoyment.

On this most recent trip, I spied with my soon-to-be-intoxicated eye a six pack of Fat Weasal Ale.  With a black background and cartoonish graphic of a weasel in clothing, it arouses the curiosity.  I bought a bottle.  Bragging a 7.1% alcohol content, if nothing else, the beer should pack a buzz.

On pouring it from the bottle, it was an awesome coppery-golden color, with a lovely foamy head that evaporated all too soon.  On smelling it, I was presented with rich malty caramel aromas, and just a kiss of hops.  Not citrusy APA essence, something more English.  First sip: the malty tease I smelled rewards with biscuity maltiness and just enough hops to remind you that you’re drinking beer.  While I’m not always in need of intense lupulin, I do think this beer would greatly benefit with more hop flavor.  Either this is an old bottle, or the makers of Fat Weasel Ale seemed to add hops at the beginning of the boil and then forgot about adding later additions, leaving it with very little hop flavor.

Final thoughts: tasty, but it seems like they put entirely more effort into the bill and mashing process than they did into hopping the beer.  A bit more aggressive hopping, and this beer could be quite noteworthy.  Not bad for the price… certainly more character than your average macro-brew, but short of being much more than that.

Here’s what other people thought: here.

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Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Curry

image

To sum it all up, here’s a summary:

Ingredients:

  • Two sweet potatoes peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes.
  • One can pureed pumpkin
  • One chili of your choosing
  • One large onion
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • A big hunk of ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Enough olive oil to keep your stuff from burning
  • Cumin,Coriander, Cilantro, Fennel, Cardamom, Garam Masala, Turmeric

I love Indian food.  Yes, despite my pale skin and nomenclature, I am able to consume foods other than Guinness and potatoes.  Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m fairly sure I could survive indefinitely that way, but I love eating all kinds of food.  During my unemployment, I essentially lived off dahl, though I didn’t veganize the recipe I just linked to.  Lentils,  such an incredible cheap source of protein, nutrients and general culinary pleasure… it was a match made in heaven for the price.

Tonight, it was deemed my night to cook, and a healthier curry was requested. In the past, the only curry I’d ever made was eggplant curry, or in Indian, Baingin Bharta. I’ve always loved the name of this dish, because when reading it, I can only think some Indian dude who listened to too much hip hop was like “eggplant curry? Yo, that Bharta’s straight up baingin, son!”  I wanted to go out of my curry comfort zone.  I wanted to make something I’d never had before.  In the past I’d heard of butternut squash curry, and thought of making one.  I did a quick few Google searches to get an idea of where to start, but upon visiting my local grocery store found that they were all out of butternut squash.  I needed something else to currify.

I remember reading about a sweet potato curry recipe once upon a time and thought I’d take a stab at it.

In making my curry, I decided to start from where I knew.  In making dahl, I’d always started off with my own version of an Indian Mirepoix: Garlic, Onion and Ginger.  I went ahead and sauteed these in Trader Joe’s’ Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  If nothing else, Trader Joe’s has ridiculously good deals on tasty olive oil.  Additionally, I minced a cherry pepper and a clump of cilantro.  I used a cherry pepper rather than a jalapeno, because a) I was familiar with its heat level, and b) I thought its inherent sweetness would round out the flavor of the soup vs the flavor of a green pepper like a jalapeno.  For a second, I thought about using a habanero, but thought it would be better to make the food edible vs. me and my girlfriend crawling around our front lawn in agony with 40 foot flames erupting from our gullets .

As the flavor foundation of the soup (onion, chili, garlic and ginger) merged together, it was time to take the soup to the next level with additional flavoring.  I added seasonings, starting off with some of my favorite C-words.  No, I’m not talking about the Real Housewives of any particular high income area of the country, I’m talking about cardamom, coriander, and cumin.  About a half a teaspoon of each.  I then added fennel, as it’s a spice frequently used in Indian cuisine, and I figured its licorice-like and sweet flavor would help contribute to the sweetness of the dish.  I stirred the mixture around until the fragrance of the spices began filling the room.  Lastly, I added garam masala ( a  glorified mix of Indian seasonings) and a pinch of turmeric for additional color and a hint of earthy flavor.

At this point, I added the sweet potatoes, which I’d chopped up into one inch cubes.  From there, I added a can of pureed pumpkin.  Why?  Well, I figured that sweet potatoes and pumpkins are typically seasoned similarly, so they’d probably set each other off well in a soup.  If nothing else, I wanted my curry to be nice and thick, and pumpkin is awesome at adding body to a dish.

I covered it all up and simmered it for about a half hour.  After 30 minutes of cooking on low heat, all I had to do was add salt to taste.  Once I’d added a bit of yogurt and basmati rice, I’d arrived at my destination.  This is something that started as an experiment, but is something that will be made again, for sure.  Full of both complex sweet yet savory flavor, fiber, and glycemic index good carbs, this is great stuff.

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How to drink like a comedian

I’m at Shakas in Virginia Beach, about to do another show with Tim Loulies.  While I’m waiting on him, I’m drinking a concoction of my own creation.  One shot of bourbon in a cup of coffee.  No cream, no sugar.  Just bourbon and a cup of coffee.  For my own ease, I’m drinking it on ice.  It’s like a frappucino, but more like a man-chino, because well it’s coffee and bourbon.

It’s what your dad drank before people even thought of red bull and vodkas, and classier than a Four Loko

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Worst Food Ever, or “Rich People Will Pay Ridiculous Amounts of Money To Eat Things They Shouldn’t.”

The rest of this rant is based on the following article : Women flock to take horse semen shots.

This link probably makes you ask a bunch of questions. I will try to answer some of them. No, this blog is not going to be about equine moneyshot scenes. No, these girls are not shooting up horse loads intravenously. Yes, they are drinking horse semen.

It seems the subject of the story, Chef Jason Varley, serves horse semen shots at his restaurant.  First of all, at what point did he arrive at the conclusion that horse semen was something to be served at a restaurant?  Like, was he sitting there thinking to himself, “what’s the most nasty thing I’ve seen in a teen sex romp comedy?  Oh yea, that one scene in Van Wilder where they trick a bunch of idiot frat boys into eating bulldog semen!”

Or was he simply shopping around and happened to see horse semen next to his eggs at the local organic farmers market and said to himself “here we go! Now that’s a new ingredient!  Pure eau de vie de Mr. Ed!

One wonders if he had to call the supplier of the stuff and have a conversation where he said something along the lines of “hey, this is chef Jason Varley. Yea… I was wonderring if this semen was food safe? Hello? Hello? Hello?” Because, frankly, if someone called me up and asked that, I would hang up on him. Unless it was Richard Gere, as multiple urban legend stories have told me that Mr. Gere is a fan of eating things like this, and/or animals.

At what point, if you are in a restaurant and the waitress offers you this, do you still continue eating there?  If someone were to buy a shot for you, it would, definitely, be considered a gag gift by this blogger.  The strangest thing of all?  It’s expensive.  Apparently the going rate for [food grade?] loads is 20 vials for 300 dollars.  How big is a vial?  I don’t know.  But that breaks down to 15 dollars per vial… or is it vile?  The best thing about this, is that it’s making some creep of a man ridiculously rich.  Because, well, most naturally occuring horse semen, one would imagine, ends up in mares or the peritoneal cavity of Kenneth Pinyan, aka Mr. Hands.  But no, this semen ends up in vials.

This means there’s someone out there whose job it is to jack off horses, save the horse semen, and then pour it into vials.  I don’t care who you are, you have to be weird as hell or have the worst high school guidance counselor ever to be the guy whose job it is to masturbate horses and save the end product.  I could see the guy in high school… his friends getting ready to go to college, join the Army, or apprenticing for a trade… and he says “I’m going to jerk horses off and sell the product!”  And as his friends ran from him, he just screams “I’ll be rich!  Rich I tells ya!  Rich!”

15 dollars, wholesale, per vial.

And then people pay to drink it.

A fool and his money are soon parted.

And well, some people apparently pay to consume horse loads.

I still want to see Andrew Zimmern down a few of these.

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Employment

To help pay my bills between shows, I do have a day job.  It sucks, as every time someone wants to act as though they are making a dig at your talents, they merely shout “don’t quit your day job.”  One cannot simply stare back at the person judging them and  shout “I see what you’re getting at, but you see, until one has developed a certain network of booked comedy gigs, figured out an efficient way to travel the large distances between venues, and generally survive on a payment system that’s not effectively changed since the 80’s,  it’s kind of hard to support one’s self off of comedy alone.”

No.  This typically doesn’t work on stage.  Instead, one must usually rely on stand-bys like something penis-related, or, if the venue allows for it, the comedy club stand-by of years past, present and future:  “fuck you.”  Having not worked in a grocery store before though, it’s all very new to me.

First of all, you never have an opportunity to get bored. As soon as you clock in, your day’s tasks have been delineated for you. Work old frozen foods, work the freshly delivered frozen foods, stock the produce, corral the shopping carts, lunch break, steal the women, rape the horses, etc. This is great, because, one of my favorite things about the restaurant business is that if you’re working hard enough, time flies. I remember once working at Macado’s (an extremely popular family dining/sandwich shop/bar chain) in Blacksburg on a game day, clocking in at 9, and clocking out at 4:30, and having no idea where all the time went, as I just stood in the same spot the whole time.

Second, it’s a lot more physical labor than I thought it would be. It’s apparently so much that in the last year or so, 8 or 9 people quit after their first day because it was too much. To me, it’s just enough to be a little sore and tired at the end of the day. But yea, you’re lifting stuff of varying weight all day long, which I love, as if I work good and hard all day, by the end of the day, I’m just tired and happy from the little bit of endorphins. If I am not active enough during the day, I end up all fidgety by 8:30, and I’ve noticed that any day I work, I fall asleep very well that night.

Third, the shoppers. It’s really funny the wide range of folk that come into the stores and how much of an adjustment it is from my Portsmouth folks.  The store is in Virginia Beach’s nicer northern end, and as such there’s a lot of people with very high-end attitudes.  I was training on the register one day and this older gentleman had an interesting looking tie on… it looked like an impressionist painting.  I asked him about it, he told me it was his payday tie. I asked why, he said it was because when he wore it, he always had “Monet.”  I laughed, and correctly guessed that the painting the tie’d been made from, and told him about actually being able to see the painting live and up close at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Then he slapped me in the face and told me to take his bags out to his car.  Okay, the last part didn’t really happen, but it almost feels like it could, as there is always an understood dynamic of subservience and inferiority between those with a name tag and those without.

Another subset of rich people are the health-nuts, which I really don’t mind, as it is not visually unpleasant seeing a woman who has tried really hard to keep her body in shape wearing spandex and a sports bra while she buys her groceries. Though, there is a funny side effect of this.  Pretty women are so used to men hitting on them that, for some, any conversation seems like a sexual advance.

For example, if I see a woman of above average desirability staring at the same few spots in the freezer, looking confused. So I walk up, and ask “you finding everything okay?” She, being apparently such a beautiful woman, hears something else, perhaps grunts and clapping,  and looks at me like I’ve just delivered the worst pickup line in my life.  But seriously.  It’s part of why they pay me to be friendly and offer assistance.

To this woman, I’d like to say this:  I’m sure when you sit down to pee and take off your panties it has to be hard quieting down the angelic choir-like tone and blindingly radiant light your lady parts emit, and I’m sure you’ve accidentally inspired Trojan wars and/or circle jerks through the simple act of picking up your dry cleaning, but you know what? I’m just doing my job. I am just trying to meet the obligations inherent to my paycheck, not bed you.

If I do, I know what I’d have to do first.  Quit my day job.

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Memorial Day Ribs-A Half Assed “How-To”

Today is memorial day.  A day intended for America to sit back and meditate on the fact that people have actually fought for our country and died for it.  Regardless of your feelings on America’s role as the world’s greatest war machine, the military industrial complex, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on that dedication at home with your loved ones.  And well, if you’re going to doing all that, you have the time to make something good to eat with all that meditation.

Ribs.  Ribs, in addition to surrounding vital organs with a bony protective cage, are delicious if cooked properly.  There are different kinds of ribs.  Today, we will be making baby back ribs.  If you go to a different foodie-friendlier, they can explain to you how the different ribs, spare, baby back, etc, are all the same ribs just cut from different sections. So, no, baby back ribs are not actually from a tiny pig, or from the thorax of an infant, no matter how ultra-metal that might sound.  Except for beef ribs.  Those actually come from cows rather than pigs.  Kudos to you if you figured that out.

So the first part is the easiest, actually procuring the ribs themselves.  Unless you choose to tackle a pig and proceed to slaughter and butcher it on the spot, they’re usually easily found at the grocery store.  Luckily when summer holidays start creeping up, they go on sale.

The ribs, still in packaging

So now that you’ve gotten your ribs, you want to give them a good rinse, as pork is often packaged in a saline solution that attempts to keep the pork moist and juicy when you cook it.  After rinsing it, depending on the size of the ribs you bought, you might need to trim it up to make sure it will actually fit on your grill.

Our ribs, trimmed up to fit on the grill

Now that our ribs are more managable, it’s time to put the rub on them.  In the picture above, the rub is the reddish-orangey-brown substance in the bowl.  Rubs are a way of adding a quick extra burst of flavor to your ribs and concentrating the flavor in the meat.  Again, more descriptive foodie blogs will give you exact details on how to make your rub simply superlative.  Yours truly simply prefers to mix paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, chipotle powder, cayenne powder, cumin, mustard, and salt and black pepper.  While some people have a very careful specific rub recipe, I simply like to mix ingredients together in what proportions seem correct to my eyeballs and stick my finger into it and taste it.  If it tastes like barbecue rub should taste, I stop.  Otherwise, I add what seems to be missing from the desired list of spicy savory and sweet flavors that are what make barbecue great.  I like to use other ingredients in my rub, but to impart these would ruin the age old tradition of barbecue secrecy… that is to say, if you knew everything I already put in my ribs, then why would you ever want to come over for dinner?

Rubbed Ribs

Ribs with rub applied, just begging to hang out in wood smoke

So now the ribs have received a thorough rub down in seasoning.  I like to leave the rub thick enough that after cooking, it becomes a crunchy flavorful crust upon the rib meat.  So now are ribs are ready, eager to spend some time in the delicious hickory sauna that will allow them to transform themselves from mere sections of a swine carcass that upset members of PETA into proper barbecue.

True, if you don’t have the ability to cook foods over flame or add smoke, then you could stop at this point and put them in your oven at 250 for 5 hours, and they’d be edible… sort of.  The key to making pork transcend its mere existence as simple sustenance and become the American art form that is barbecue is embodied in the phrase “low and slow is the way to go.”  This is because animals’ muscles are connected by tough stringy connective tissue.. membranes, ligaments, all made of collagen.  Collagen renders down at about 200 ish degrees and just melts away.  Cooking at low temperature allows the collagen to break down and soak into the meat.  Leaving it moist and ridiculous.  Add in fragrant wood smoke, and now you’re really talking.

Adding in just the right amount of smoke is where the real artistry occurs.  People have devised several different ways of adding just the right amount of wood smoke without over cooking the meat.  Today, I am using a Weber Kettle Gold 22.5″ model.  While it is not necessarily optimized for smoking like some other smokers, such as the Big Green Egg or Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, it is a great all around grill that allows both slow indirect cooking and high temperature direct heat grilling for things like steaks and hamburgers.

Fueling our Weber kettle today is Trader Joe’s charcoal briquettes.  While I have used Cowboy brand charcoal in the past, I’ve been a long time fan of all things Trader Joe’s and trust that I won’t be disappointed.  All I must do is load it in my chimney starter, a method of starting charcoal that requires no lighter fluid but gets the coals burning just as fast, and I’ll soon be grilling!

Chimney starter in the Weber Kettle

The coals take forever to get started, but soon enough, they’re ready and I can get my indirect cooking setup together.  Indirect cooking allows the cook to use the heat of the coals to cook their food in a way similar to that of an oven rather than putting the meat directly over flame, where it is more likely to burn.

Preparing for indirect grilling

As can be seen in the picture above, I am preparing to use the “Minion method” in which I put fuel in the grill before placing hot coals on top of them, so that as the coals burn down, the fire will simply move into the fuel below.  Also, I am using hickory, as it is a traditional smokewood that always goes well with pork.  I’m also using some oak and applewood chips to supplement the flavor that I’ve begun soaking before adding them to the grill.

Oak and Applewood chips soak up water for a slower burn during my rib cook.

Now that the chips are soaked and my coals are getting nice and hot, it’s time to add the hot coals to my unlit coals and put the chips in as well.  Additionally, I’ll be using the casserole dish as a water pan, making sure that the inside of the kettle stays nice and humid so that our meat won’t dry out.

indirect cooking ready to go

With our charcoal briquettes, hickory chunks, applewood and oak chips all ready and water pan in place, we're almost ready to go!

Now that everything is in place, we put the grate back on top of the grill and cover it up to let the entire thing get nice and hot. After five minutes is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Rubbed up, bathing in hickory, apple and oak essence, getting ready to render fat and collagen… A thing of beauty for sure!

But, unfortunately, there is an old barbecue addage… if you’re looking, you’re not cooking!  Time to cover it up and only peek every now and then to make sure there’s enough fuel.  After a few hours, I’ll wrap them up in foil and cover them up to make sure they don’t dry out.

My Weber kettle, vents all but closed to give me a good low barbecue temperature, covered up and cooking!

After about four hours, I decided to wrap them up in foil.  After about an hour in foil, I sauced them.

Foiled ribs get hit with sauce

What’s in the sauce?  Again, some other blog will tell you about how to make an amazing sauce, I just start off with Sweet Baby Ray’s as a base, and then add things like apple cider vinegar, honey, sriracha, etc. till I think it tastes like it should.  After a half hour or so, I took them off the grill.

Finally of the grill

Finally off the grill!

 

The outside got cooked a little more than I had planned on.  I probably should have foiled them earlier in the cook.  Using foil is paradoxical.  The longer the ribs are wrapped in foil, the less chance there is of them absorbing smoke flavor.  At the same time, the longer they are unwrapped, the higher the chance of the meat drying out.  Did my meat survive?

They most definitely survived!

The rub became a crunchy chewy layer of smokey meaty spicy goodness.  Below that was tender juicy meat with not a hint of toughness.

Perfection. The meat is almost falling apart, it separates cleanly off the bone, and the surface is a perfect combination of smokey rub and a pink smoke ring.

Behold.

Happy Memorial Day!

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In Defense of Carbs, Gluten

With my time being unemployed, I have had time to explore things that interest me, even things I never knew I was interested in. Before my employment ended, I spoke with my girlfriend’s sister who began making bread every Sunday as a cost-cutting measure. The logic of it all jumped out and slapped me in the face. Bread is simply flour, water, microbes and time, give or take a few extra ingredients (all my Jewish readers, if you like egg in your bread, challaaaaaah).

I’m sorry.

At any rate, I figured I’d start making my own bread. What first began as naan I made to go with the Indian Lentil and Chickpea soup slowly began to evolve, as I became enraptured in the mysteries of making bread. From three simple ingredients, one can go in so many different directions. Flour, water and yeast, and you have Wonderbread. Adjust the recipe/proportions just a little bit, and you have a ciabatta bread. Add some flour to your yeast as it proofs, and be amazed at the new complexity of microbes that will take your bread in yet a different direction.


One of the author’s early attempts

Amazingly enough, if you simply mix flour and water together and let it sit, microbes in the air will combine with microbes already on the surface of the granules of flour… and you will have a foamy concoction that will make your bread delightfully sour.   Indeed, from what seems like useless white powder, and water, one can make the very thing Jesus claimed he had turned his body into (if you’re Catholic). Transubstantiation in multiple forms… he who bakes is able to perform an alchemical act of sorts.

I am now addicted to the biological manipulations that are making bread… sufficiently making sure the proteins are aligned in the bread such that the dough will have proper structure… manipulating which microbes are in action… even manipulating the temperature and pace with which they act. Though modern technology lets me know what exactly I am doing, which chemical processes are happening, I am still part of something that has been happening since thousands of years ago someone accidentally let their grain get wet. Simultaneously, by making bread, I am exploring my own future and past at the same time.

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