ArchiveJanuary 2002

The Parisian Food Scene

A romantic weekend in Paris is the perfect antidote to chase away the dreary January blues. Pick up any newspaper, flick through the pages to the travel section, there will be a myriad of tempting weekend breaks, Vienna, Budapest, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Prague…. If you are a ‘whizz’ on the internet you can pick up even better bargains. We made a spur of the moment decision to jump on a 5.40am flight to Paris on Saturday last. As well as strolling hand in hand under the bridges of Paris, there are many other attractions in this beautiful city – Paris, despite its staid frumpy image on the global gastronomic food scene, is till a serious food town.

There’s lots of choice but unless you want to hit the three star Michelin luminaries, probably your best bet is to head for some of the legendary but still reasonably priced bistros and brasseries. Many have been around forever and offer the same classic dishes, year in year out – no fusion food here but delicious comforting winter dishes like soupe a l’oignon, oeufs en gelee, marinated herrings, choux croute, traditional roast chicken or daube of beef.


We particularly enjoyed the bright and brassy Brasserie Balzar, a much loved stalwart close to the Sorbonne which seems to have survived the take over by the Flo group a few years ago.

There are innumerable restaurants, bistros, cafes, wine bars, but unless you do a little homework before you leave, you can quite easily pass the whole weekend without getting a decent bite to eat. In fact, I was particularly saddened recently when an Irish friend who travels a lot and is really passionate about food, told me that he feels France is losing its food tradition faster than any other country in Europe – scary. Nonetheless, I’m thrilled to see that after many years of little innovation, things are beginning to happen on the Parisian food scene.

So where is the excitement? – The fashion restaurant where ‘the scene’ counts for everything is back in full swing in Paris again – Spoon and 59 Poincare, Alain Ducasse’s World Food Restaurants, attract media types, movie stars and models. The food is not great, but the menu is fun, divided into categories like ‘vegetables’ and ‘lamb’ which the diner can combine in any way they choose, not always a success! The Costes brothers whom many credit with livening up the stagnant Paris restaurant scene, are responsible for L’Esplanade, Hotel Costes, and Georges at the top of the Pompidou Centre. Count on amazing, sometimes sumptuous décor, a glamorous clientele and service with attitude. The food is rarely brilliant though we had a delicious lunch at Georges last year. Korora with its 70’s décor, named after the bar in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, draws the Prada and Gucci set, there’s an enticing menu but don’t be tempted by the Chicken in Coca Cola Sauce! Le Tanjia is the spot to head for if you want to nibble on tagines and b’stillas with models and actresses. Colette on Rue St Honoré is the hip shop with a Water bar downstairs to revive you when you’ve shopped for Ireland. When you get tired of the scene perhaps you’ll want to browse in some of the city’s temples of food. Fauchon in Place de la Madeleine, or Hediard just around the corner are a must. I defy even the most disinterested to come out of the shop without having succumbed to temptation, even if its only a little box of truffles. Less expensive but just as impressive because of its variety and scale is La Grande Epicerie de Paris, a deluxe grocery just beside the huge Bon Marche store.

The woman chef everyone is talking about at present is Helen Darroze







We tried to book a table at Restaurant Helene Darroze on Rue d’Assas but it was choc a bloc, so we had to content ourselves with reading the menu which offers delicious sounding dishes like Champignons des bois et ravioli de Romans, Foie gras de canard des landes grille au feu de bois, Filets de rouge de roche cuits en croute d’épices royals, Fruits de saison rotis……

Instead we managed by the skin of our teeth to get a table at on Sunday night at the other happening spot – Market on Rue Matignon. This new restaurant was opened by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who has been the toast of New York for decades now with his restaurants Jean Georges, Vong and the Mercier Kitchen. His new venture in Paris has had very mixed reviews at both sides of the Atlantic, nonetheless it is packed with the rich and famous. The food was good, but in my opinion not as good as his restaurant in the Big Apple. Don’t miss another of my favourite haunts in Paris, Angelina a salon du thé, across the street from the Jardin des Tuileries, on Rue de Rivoli. The elegant and sumptuous interior embellished with murals and gilded antique mirrors is utterly beautiful and the hot chocolate, thick and unctuous, is quite simply divine. It is served with a huge blob of whipped cream and a glass of water to aid digestion.


A weekend is a pretty short time and if you are to check out some of the places I’ve mentioned you’ll need lots of exercise. Paris is a wonderful city to walk through with splendid art galleries, hidden museums, a myriad of specialist shops run by passionate eccentrics and so many beautiful buildings and breath-taking vistas. I love the wonderfully flamboyant Roue de Paris in the Place de la Concorde. At present Parisians are divided over whether the splendid 60 metre ferris wheel should be retained. It was erected for the Millennium and should now be dismantled, however it is the subject of a bitter court case at present and a big row is brewing. We signed the petition to keep it and queued for half an hour, it was worth every second to soar over the rooftops of the Louvre and have unparalleled views over Paris at night – the fairytale domes of Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower and the glittering lights of the Champs Elysées in the distance.


French Onion Soup with Gruyere Toasts


Serves 6

French onion soup is probably the best known and loved of all French soups. It was a favourite for breakfast in the cafes beside the old markets at Les Halles in Paris and is still a favourite on bistro menus at Rungis market. In France this soup is served in special white porcelain tureens.

Serve with a glass of gutsy French vin de table.

3lb (1.35kg) onions

2oz (55g) butter

3 pints (1.8 litres) good homemade beef or chicken stock or vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

To Finish

6 slices of baguette (French bread), 2 inch (1cm) thick toasted

3oz (85g) grated Gruyére cheese

Peel the onions and slice thinly. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook on a low heat for about 40-60 minutes with the lid off, stirring frequently – the onions should be dark and well caramelised but not burnt.

Add the stock, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, bring to the boil and cook for a further 10 minutes. Ladle into deep soup bowls, put a piece of toasted baguette covered with grated cheese on top of each one. Pop under the grill until the cheese melts and turns golden. Serve immediately but beware – it will be very hot. Bon appetit!

Useful tip: Hold your nerve: – The onions must be very well caramelized otherwise the soup will be too weak and sweet.


Ballymaloe Quiche Lorraine



Serves 6


4 ozs (110g) white flour

Pinch of salt

2-3 ozs (55-85g) butter

1 egg, preferably free range or 4-5 tablesp. cold water or a mixture of egg and water


1 tablespoon olive or sunflower oil

4 ozs (110g) chopped onion

4-6 ozs (110-170g) rindless streaky rashers (green or slightly smoked)

2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk, preferably free range

2 pint (300ml) cream or half milk, half cream

3 ozs (85g) freshly grated Cheddar cheese or 2 ozs (55g) finely grated Gruyére cheese

¼ – ½ oz (15g) Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

2 teaspoon chopped chives

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Flan ring or deep quiche tin, 72 inch (19cm) diameter x 13 inch (3mm) high.

First make the pastry. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs stop.

Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, shorter crust.

Line the flan ring or quiche tin and bake blind in a moderate oven 1801C/3501F/regulo 4, for 20-25 minutes.

Cut the bacon and cut into 2 inch lardons, blanch and refresh if necessary. Dry on kitchen paper. Heat the oil and crisp off the bacon, remove and sweat the onions gently in the oil and bacon fat for about 10 minutes. Cool.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, add the cream (or cream and milk), herbs, cheese, bacon and onions and cool. Season and taste.

Pour the filling into the par baked pastry shell and bake in a moderate oven 1801C/3501F/regulo 4,* for 30-40 minutes, or until the centre is just set and the top golden (don’t over cook or the filling will be slightly scrambled).

Serve warm with a green salad.

a conventional oven gives the best result


Tarte Tatin



The Tatin sisters ran a restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne at the beginning of the century. They created this tart, some say accidentally, but however it came about it is a triumph – soft, buttery caramelised apples (or indeed you can also use pears) with crusty golden pastry underneath. It is unquestionably my favourite French tart!

Serves 6-8

2¾ lbs (1.24 kg) approx. Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Bramley Seedling cooking apples

6 ozs (170 g) puff pastry or rich sweet shortcrust pastry

4 ozs (110 g) unsalted butter

8 ozs (225 g) castor sugar

Heavy 8 inch (20.5 cm) copper or stainless steel saucepan with low sides

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/regulo 7 for puff pastry. For shortcrust -180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.

Peel, halve and core the apples. Melt the butter in the saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until it turns golden – fudge colour. Put the apple halves in upright, packing them in very tightly side by side. Replace the pan on a low heat and cook until the sugar and juice are a dark caramel colour. Put into a hot oven for approx. 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll out the pastry into a round slightly larger than the saucepan. Prick it all over with a fork. Cover the apples with the pastry and nick in the edges. Put the saucepan into the fully preheated oven until the pastry is cooked and the apples are soft-25-30 minutes approx.

Take out of the oven and rest for 5-10 minutes or longer if you like. Put a plate over the top of the saucepan and flip the tart on to a serving plate. (Watch out – this is a rather tricky operation because the hot caramel and juice can ooze out!). Reshape the tart if necessary and serve warm with softly whipped cream.

Winter Warmers

Hot bubbly stews and casseroles, the sort of comforting food that we love to come home to on these wet or frosty January evenings – what a choice there is.
I’ve just been thinking about the word casserole – not easy to define, because there is such a diverse variety of dishes.   Basically it could be described as something cooked in a casserole, fish, meat or vegetables.   The casserole itself could be made of clay or cast iron. Depending on the part of the world – it could be a tagine, sandpot, hotpot, stew or daube, ragout, fricassee, curry or cassoulet.   Once you start to do a global cook’s tour one realises that one cook’s tagine is another cook’s gumbo, one cook’s braise is another’s curry.
In America a casserole is often interpreted as an assembly of par-cooked or cooked food baked in an open dish topped with crumbs and so the confusion continues, but here in Ireland a casserole conjures up an image of a bubbling Le Creuset pot of juicy meat and vegetables with lots of flavourful savoury liquid to soak into rice or fluffy mashed potato.
Here are some of my favourite warming winter stews and casseroles .

Spiced Lamb with Aubergines

Serves 6
2 lb (900g) shoulder of lamb
2 aubergines
1 large onion
2 tablesp. (28ml) olive oil
3 teasp. chopped mint
3 teasp. chopped marjoram
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ozs (225g) very ripe tomatoes, or 1 tin of tomatoes
1 large clove of garlic
1 heaped teasp. crushed cumin seed

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4
Cut the meat into 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes.  Cut the aubergines into cubes about the same size as the lamb.  Sprinkle the aubergine cubes with salt and put in a colander to drain with a plate on top to weigh them down.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and sweat the sliced onion.  Add the meat and allow it to colour, sprinkle with mint and marjoram and season.  Transfer the meat and onions to a casserole.

Wash off the aubergines and drain them with kitchen paper; toss them in olive oil in the pan, season with salt and freshly-ground pepper and cook for 10 minutes.   Add to the meat and cover.  Skin the tomatoes, chop them up and put them into the casserole with the meat mixture.  Add crushed garlic.   Heat the cumin for a few minutes, either in a bowl in the oven or in a frying pan, crush in a mortar and add to the casserole.  Cook on a gentle heat or in a moderate oven for 1½ hours approx.  Taste, correct the seasoning and de-grease the cooking liquid if necessary.  Serve with rice.

Daube of Beef Provencale

This gutsy Winter stew has a rich robust flavour. It reheats perfectly and can also be made ahead and frozen.
Serves 8
3 lbs (1.35kg) lean stewing beef - topside or chuck
2 tablesp.  olive oil
10 fl ozs (300ml) dry white or red wine
1 teasp. salt
¼ teasp. pepper
½ teasp. thyme, sage or annual marjoram
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 lb (450g) streaky bacon cut into ½ inch (1cm) lardons
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
6 ozs (170g) sliced mushrooms
10 anchovy fillets
2 tablesp.  capers
3 tablesp. wine vinegar
2 tablesp.  chopped parsley
2 cloves mashed garlic
Roux, optional
Chopped parsley
Cut the beef into large chunks, 3 inches (7.5cm) approx. Mix the marinade ingredients  in a bowl or large casserole. Add the meat, cover and marinade in a fridge or cool larder overnight. Remove the meat to a plate. Strain the marinade, reserve the vegetables and the marinade.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, cook the bacon lardons until crisp, add to the casserole. Dry the meat with kitchen paper. Seal the meat on the hot pan, and add to the bacon with the marinated vegetables and tinned tomato.

Degrease the pan and deglaze with the marinade and ¼ pint (150ml) good beef stock, add to the casserole. Bring to the boil and either simmer very gently on top of the stove or transfer to a preheated oven 160C/325F/regulo 3 for 1½-2 hours approx.

Meanwhile saute the sliced mushroom on a hot pan and keep aside.
When the meat is soft and tender liquidise the anchovies with the capers, chopped parsley, wine vinegar and garlic. Add to the casserole with the mushrooms. Simmer gently for 8-10 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning. Degrease and if necessary thicken the boiling liquid by whisking in a little roux (see below). 

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with fluffy mashed potatoes.

Shanagarry Chicken Casserole

A good chicken casserole even though it may sound 'old hat' always gets a hearty welcome from my family and friends, sometimes I make an entire meal in a pot by covering the top with whole peeled potatoes just before it goes into the oven.  Pheasant or rabbit could also be used.
Serves 4-6
1 x 3½ lbs (1.57kg) chicken (free range if possible)
A little butter or oil for sauteeing
12 ozs (340g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)
12 ozs (340g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced (if the carrots are small, leave whole.  If large cut in chunks)
1 lb (450g) onions, (baby onions are nicest)
Sprig of thyme
Homemade chicken stock - 1¼ pints (750ml) approx.
Roux - optional (see below)
Mushroom a la créme (see recipe)
1 tablesp. parsley, freshly chopped
 Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. ½ inch (1 cm) cubes, (blanch if salty). Dry in kitchen paper. Joint the chicken into 8 pieces. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp, remove and transfer to the casserole. Add chicken pieces a few at a time to the pan and sauté until golden, add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn't burn yet it must be hot enough to saute the chicken. If it is too cool, the chicken pieces will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then toss the onion and carrot in the pan adding a little butter if necessary, add to the casserole. Degrease the pan and deglaze with stock, bring to the boil and pour over the chicken etc. Season well, add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, then put into the oven for 30-45 minutes, 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.

Cooking time depends on how long the chicken pieces were sauteed for.
When the chicken is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease, return the degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary (see below). Add the meat, carrots and onions back into the casserole and bring to the boil. Taste and correct the seasoning.  The casserole is very good served at this point, but it's even more delicious if some mushroom a la creme is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and bubbling hot.

4 ozs (110g) butter
4 ozs (110g) flour
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep for at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Mushroom a la Creme

Serves 4

½-1 oz (15-30 g) butter
3 ozs (85 g) onion, finely chopped
½ lb (225g) mushrooms, sliced
4 fl ozs (100ml) cream
Freshly chopped parsley
½ tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured; remove the onions to a bowl.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice .  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning, and add parsley and chives if used.

Women’s Christmas

Well now that Christmas and New Year are over, I think us girls deserve a special night in the time-honoured way. Little Christmas on the 6th of January has been the traditional Women’s Christmas, the day when the long-suffering Mná na hEireann go out to relax and celebrate together. According to Brid Mahon in ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ (The Story of Traditional Irish Food), " Nollaig na mBan was the day when all the dainties that women were said to enjoy were produced for high tea: thinly cut sandwiches, scones, gingerbread, apple cakes, sponge cakes decorated with swirls of icing, plum cake, brown bread, soda bread, baker’s bread, pats of freshly made butter, bowls of cream, dishes of jams and preserves and the best-quality tea. Men had eaten their fill of meats and had often drunk to excess during the festive season, but this was the women’s feast." Nowadays, many people choose to go out to dinner, but if you decide to just meet for tea instead, here are a few dainties you might like to try.

Rum and Raisin Cake

Our favourite cake – keeps for ages to have with coffee.
6oz (170g) raisins
6 tablespoons rum
10oz (285g) butter
6oz (170g)) castor sugar
4 eggs, free-range and organic
2fl oz (50ml) milk
1½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
10oz (285g) white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 oz (50g) walnuts, shelled
23cm (9inch) round tin with a pop up base, buttered and floured
1½ tablespoons sugar
Soak the raisins in the rum for 30 minutes. Drain and save the rum.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Separate the eggs, save the whites, add the egg yolks, one by one. Beat well between each addition, add the rum, milk and vanilla extract. Mix the flour and baking powder together and fold in to the base mixture bit by bit. Whisk the egg white in a spotlessly clean bowl until stiff
and fluffy. Fold into the cake mixture one third at a time, add the fruit and chopped nuts with the last addition of egg white. Pour into the prepared tin, sprinkled with soft brown sugar and cook in the preheated oven for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the top is golden
and the centre set and firm. Allow the cake to cool in the tin, invert, remove from the tin, invert again and cool on a wire rack.

Butterfly Buns

Makes 24
I've never bothered to make buns by hand since Pearl McGillycuddy gave me this recipe, its most depressing because even though they only take seconds to make they are actually better than the ones I make laboriously make by hand. These buns are made by the all - in – one method in a food processor.
8 ozs (225g) butter, chopped
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
10 ozs (285g) white flour, preferably unbleached
4 eggs, preferably free range
½ teasp. baking powder
¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/regulo 7. Chop the butter into small dice, it should be reasonably soft. Put all the ingredients into the food processor and whizz for about 30 seconds. Clear the sides down with a spatula and whizz again until the consistency is nice and creamy, approx. 30 seconds. Put into greased bun trays or paper cases. Reduce
the temperature to 190C/375F/regulo 5 as soon as they begin to rise. Bake for 20 minutes approx. in total. Cool on a wire rack.
Cut the top off the buns, cut this piece in half and keep aside. Meanwhile, put a little homemade raspberry jam and a blob of cream onto the bottom part of the bun. Replace the two little pieces, arranging them like wings. Dredge with icing sugar and serve immediately. These buns may be iced with dark chocolate icing or coffee icing or they
are also delicious painted with raspberry jam or red currant jelly and dipped in coconut.

Pecan Puffs

Makes about 35
These delicious biscuits keep for ages in a tin, but they are so irresistible that they are seldom around for very long!
4oz (110g) butter
2 tablespoons castor sugar
3 teaspoon. pure vanilla essence
5 oz (140g) pecans
5oz (140g) plain white flour, sifted
icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/regulo 2.
Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until soft and light. Grind the nuts finely in a food processor, mix with the butter and sugar, add the flour and vanilla essence. Pinch off teaspoonsful of the mixture and roll into balls. Place well apart on greased baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes or until pale and golden. Remove from the oven and roll quickly in icing sugar. Handle the pecan puffs very carefully as they will be fragile, brittle and and extremely hot! Return to the oven and bake for 1 minute, to set the sugar. Cool on a wire rack. Store in a airtight tin. Dust each layer with icing
sugar. Separate each layer with greaseproof paper.
Walnut Cake with American Frosting
Even though it is very laboursome, we quite often crack open the walnuts for this cake, to really ensure that they are fresh and sweet. Shelled walnuts turn rancid easily so taste one to be sure they are still good.
Serves 8
7ozs (200g) plain white flour
2½ level teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
3ozs (85g) butter
½ level teaspoon pure vanilla essence
8ozs (225g) castor sugar
3ozs (85g) very fresh walnuts
4 fl ozs (100ml) milk
2 eggs
2ozs (55g) butter
4ozs (110g) icing sugar
A few drops of pure Vanilla essence
American Frosting
1 egg white
8ozs (225g) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water
5 or 6 walnut halves
3 x 7 inch (7.5 x 18cm) round sandwich tins
Brush the cake tins with melted butter, and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper, brush the paper with melted butter also and dust the base and edges with flour.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/regulo 5.
Sieve the flour with a pinch of salt and the baking powder. Chop the walnuts roughly. Cream the butter, gradually add the castor sugar and the vanilla essence. Separate the eggs, add in the yolks and keep the whites aside until later. Add the chopped walnuts to the creamed mixture. Fold in the flour and milk alternately into the mixture. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff. Stir a little into the cake mixture and then fold the rest in gently. Divide between the 3 tins and smooth over the tops.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. or until firm to the touch. Turn out of the tins onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper and allow to get completely cold.
Meanwhile make the filling
Cream the butter and add the sieved icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence. When the cake is cold, sandwich the three layers together with butter cream.
Next make the frosting: This delicious icing is just a little tricky to make, so follow the instructions exactly. Quick and accurate decisions are necessary in judging when the icing is ready and then it must be used immediately. Bring a saucepan of water large enough to hold a pyrex mixing bowl to the boil. Whisk the egg white until very stiff in
a pyrex or pottery bowl. Dissolve the sugar carefully in water and boil for 1 ½ minutes approx. until the syrup reaches the ‘thread stage’, 106º-113ºC/223º-236ºF. It will look thick and syrupy when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form a thin thread. Pour this boiling syrup over the stiffly-beaten egg white, whisking all the time. Sit the bowl in the saucepan of simmering water. Continue to whisk over the water until the icing is snow white and very thick (this can take up to 10 minutes). Spread quickly over the cake with a palette knife. It sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential. Decorate with 5 or 6 walnut halves.


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