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Chocolate bark with macadamia nuts, dried banana and sea salt

Another delicious topping for chocolate bark is a combination of toasted macadamia nuts, dried bananas and flaked sea salt. Drizzle everything with melted milk chocolate and ta-dah!

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Chocolate bark with macadamia nuts, dried banana and sea salt

Makes enough for 2 – 4 little bags

Ingredients

150g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids)

large pinch of sea salt flakes

30g (1/4 cup) macadamia nuts, toasted for 5 minutes at 180˚C pre-heated

30g dried bananas, finely chopped

5g popped quinoa, optional

20g milk chocolate

Method

  1. Melt 2/3 of the dark chocolate in a double boiler until just melted, stirring continuously. As soon as it has melted, stir in the rest of the chocolate until all has melted.  You could also melt the chocolate in a microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring after each, until just melted. Do not let the chocolate get warm.
  2. Pour the melted chocolate onto a large piece of greaseproof paper and quickly spread out to about 1/4” thickness with a spatula.
  3. Quickly scatter  over all the toppings  evenly.
  4. While the bark is cooling, melt the milk chocolate in the same way as the dark chocolate.  Either drizzle this over the bark with a spoon or use a small sandwich bag (or piping bag) to pipe the melted chocolate onto the bark. Set aside to cool completely.
  5. Peel away the paper and snap into pieces.


Cashew butter truffles

After a rather busy year (yes, sorry, I know…) the last thing you need is someone suggesting you actually MAKE your Christmas presents from scratch. Except… taking the time to create a gift for someone you love (like these cashew butter truffles or perhaps matcha and cacao pinwheels) is wonderfully festive, therapeutic, and probably also a lot more meaningful than anything store-bought.

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I encourage my children to make their own cards and find ways to bring joy without spending a penny in a shop and they love the challenge of coming up with the perfect gift. They also love making chocolate truffles with me – ha! These are so easy – cashew butter, melted cacao butter, honey and salt – and keep very well for several weeks.

Cacao Butter is the edible fat extracted from the raw cacao bean. It looks like white chocolate in solid form (at room temperature or colder) and turns into a beautiful amber liquid when heated. The higher the cacao butter content in a chocolate, the more luxurious and smooth it will be. You can buy it from most leading supermarkets and specialist confectioners these days. If you want to keep the truffles vegan, use maple syrup instead of honey, and be sure to use a vegan white chocolate or pure cacao powder for coating.

Cashew butter truffles

Makes 80 very small truffles

Ingredients

110g (1/2 cup) raw cacao butter
75g (1/4 cup) raw honey or maple syrup
80g (1/4 cup plus one heaped tablespoon) crunchy cashew nut butter
1/4 teaspoon fine grain rock salt
30g good quality white chocolate, grated for coating

Method

  1. Melt the cacao butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat.
  2. Whisk the melted fat, honey, cashew nut butter and sea salt until well mixed.
  3. Set aside to firm up at cool room temperature for a few hours, or in the fridge for an hour or so.
  4. Roll half teaspoons full between your palms until round, then roll in the grated white chocolate. Repeat until you’ve used up all your mixture.
  5. If you do refrigerate it, it will have to stand at room temperature for a while, before you are able to roll it.

Note: If you can’t find crunchy cashew butter, use smooth and add a handful of chopped roasted cashew nuts.

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Rhubarb and apple crumble

It’s rhubarb season! The word “forced” used to lead me to believe that this kind of rhubarb is somehow inferior, but I have since come to love this delicious late winter treat. Lifting sections of the rhubarb roots and bringing them under the cover of a greenhouse or other warmer place, shutting out all light, creates stems that grow pale. This means the light-starved plants desperately reach out in search of light and thereby produce smooth, bright crimson stems (rather than green ones created post photosynthesis). The Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire produces some of the world’s finest. Forced rhubarb is less bitter than the traditional, non-forced stalks and needs less sugar to balance the tartness. Pretty in pink and less astringent – perfect!

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Rhubarb and apple crumble

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients for the fruit filling

500g rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1/2 cm pieces

2 apples, cored and thinly sliced

zest of 1 orange

juice of 2 oranges

40g dark muscovado sugar

1 cinnamon stick, broken into 2 or 3 pieces

Ingredients for the topping

85g cold unsalted butter (preferably organic) or ice cold coconut oil, cut into little cubes

50g mixed nuts, roughly chopped (I used a combination of almonds, pecans and walnuts)

30g demerara sugar

70g muesli base (mine is a mix of oat, rye and quinoa flakes, but you can use any combination)

70g wholemeal rye flour (or use wholemeal spelt or you favourite gluten-free mix)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (370°F).
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl, then transfer to a medium ovenproof dish and cover with a lid or foil. Bake for 45 minutes (or until the fruit is tender when tested with a sharp knife), stirring carefully half-way through the cooking time.
  3. In the meantime, place all the topping ingredients apart from the butter in a bowl and mix well. Now add the butter (or coconut oil) and quickly rub into the dry ingredients until it comes together and you are able to form large clumps. Spread the clumps out on a baking sheet and place in the oven with the fruit. The crumble topping should be ready after about 30 minutes, but use a spatula to turn the pieces over gently half way.
  4. To serve, divide the fruit amongst 4 – 6 bowls, spoon over the delicious juices, scatter the crumble over the fruit and serve with vanilla-sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream of your choice.

Note: If you use coconut oil and gluten-free flour, your crumble will be a much finer texture, but still crunchy and delicious.

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Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream

I love brunches so much, that I centre most of my social engagements around them (click here and here for some easy recipe ideas). Not too early, with an array of delectable foods to choose from, most often vegetable-heavy, and no rush to leave, it is by far my favourite kind of meal. I especially like being creative and pushing boundaries when it comes to menu ideas, so I really enjoyed collaborating with M&S on their Super Brunch campaign using their new Chef range cookware.  The products are well-designed, solid and beautiful to look at, and being part of a brunch initiative has me smiling from ear to ear. These pears would make a great addition to any brunch spread, but would also be a spectacular dessert, perhaps with a few candied macadamia nuts scattered over the top.

A lot has been written about curcumin, an active compound in turmeric believed to have many health benefits since they are powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents. But interestingly enough, turmeric is not that easy for our bodies to assimilate, as most of it is metabolised by the liver before being absorbed. Studies have now shown that eaten with even just a tiny amount of black pepper, absorption of the curcumin is a lot higher, because the chemical compound “piperine” in the pepper inhibits this metabolisation. Bioavailability of curcumin is also higher when eaten with a fat, as it can then be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.

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Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream

Serves 6

Ingredients for the pears

6 – 7 ripe but firm pears

5cm (2”) piece of fresh turmeric, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced

thumb-sized piece of ginger, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced

a few gratings of coarse freshly ground black pepper

500 – 600ml dry white wine

40ml (2 1/2 tablespoons) maple syrup

 

Ingredients for the macadamia nut cream

140g (1 cup) macadamia nuts, soaked in filtered water for 2 – 4 hours

80ml (1/3 cup) reduced poaching liquid

unrefined salt

 

Method

  1. Peel the pears, taking care to leave the stalk in tact. Place the pears, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and white wine into a medium, deep saucepan like this one I was recently sent by M&S, and set over medium heat.
  2. Cut a circle out of greaseproof parchment paper just large enough to fit into the saucepan and lay over the pears in the wine (this is called a cartouche and prevents the liquid from evaporating too quickly whilst the fruit is poaching).
  3. As soon as you see tiny bubbles form under your cartouche, turn the heat down very low and allow the pears to poach for 15 minutes. Test with a sharp paring knife – the pears should be tender, but not too soft.
  4. Remove the pears carefully with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Turn the heat up high and boil the wine with the flavourings until it has reduced by about two thirds to three quarters. You will need about 160ml (2/3 cup) of reduced liquid.
  6. Now add the maple syrup, whisk and set aside to cool slightly.
  7. To make the macadamia nut cream, rinse the soaked nuts and place in a blender with roughly half (about 80ml) of the reduced poaching liquid and a small pinch of salt. Blend until the cream is very smooth – if you do not own a high speed blender, you might have to keep going a bit longer.
  8. Serve the pears with the cream and remaining poaching liquid.

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*This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S. All content and photos my own.



Apricot, red currant & butternut cake

I absolutely love cooked apricots, whether in a cake, jam, compote, tart or savoury dish. I find that they offer the perfect balance of flavour, and the vibrant colour is always a treat. This cake has a firm texture and is not very crumbly, so makes for an ideal dessert to take along on a picnic. Use frozen red currants if you can’t find fresh.

apricot cake (2)

Apricot, red currant and butternut squash cake

Makes one 20cm cake

 

Ingredients

3 medium eggs

150ml (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) macadamia nut or extra virgin olive oil

140g (1 cup) palm sugar or dark muscovado sugar

1 vanilla pod, cut into smaller pieces (or just the seeds if you are not using a high-speed blender)

130g (1 cup) wholemeal spelt or buckwheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of sea salt

165g (1 1/2 cups) grated peeled butternut squash

150g red currants, stripped from the stalks

8 small apricots, halved and stone removed

Toasted macadamias, optional

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/360°F, and grease a 20cm spring form.
  2. In a blender, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla pod pieces (or vanilla seeds, if not using a strong blender).
  3. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the centre and add the egg mix. Stir until just combined.
  4. Stir in the butternut and half the red currants, then scrape into prepared tin.
  5. Place the apricot halves, cut sides down, onto the cake batter and scatter the rest of the currants on top. Use the back of a large spoon to gently press the fruit into the batter.
  6. Bake for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs.  It may need a little longer, depending on your oven.
  7. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
  8. Serve with whipped cream and toasted macadamia nuts.

 

 

 



Puffed quinoa squares

A relative unknown a few years ago, South American-born Quinoa has since crept into our hearts and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. This little pseudo-grain is very nutritious, rich in protein and gluten-free to boot, making it an ideal addition to any meal. It is most often cooked and prepared in the same way as rice, but I love grinding and making a delicious breakfast porridge with it. You can also make puffed quinoa as if you were making popcorn. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot (cast iron ones work best) and add about half a cup of quinoa. Keep shaking the pot until most of the seeds have popped. If your pot is deep enough, you won’t need a lid to keep the little nippers at bay.  Tip them out onto a baking sheet to cool and use in muesli, as a topping on yoghurt or in recipes such as these squares below.

Puffed quinoa squares (1)

Puffed quinoa squares

The squares make an excellent after-school snack, as they are a mini version of a complete meal.

Makes about 40

Ingredients

200g (1 1/2 loosely packed cups) soft, dried prunes

125ml coconut water, at room temperature and preferably raw (i.e. unpasteurised)

150ml (125g or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) liquid coconut oil

125ml (1/2 cup) raw honey

Pinch of sea salt

5 cups puffed quinoa (home-made or store-bought)

90g (1 cup) toasted desiccated coconut

70g (1/2 cup) shelled hemp seeds

70g (1/2 cup) shelled sunflower seeds

 

Method

  1. Soak the prunes in the coconut water whilst you get your other ingredients together.
  2. In a powerful blender, blend the prunes, coconut water and enough of the coconut oil to give you a smooth paste. Scrape into a bowl.
  3. Add the rest of the oil, honey, salt, quinoa, desiccated coconut and seeds, and stir until well combined. Your mixture needs to be sticky and hold together when pressed.
  4. Line a 34cm x 26cm (9” x 13”) tin or oven dish with greaseproof paper, then press the mixture into the tin and refrigerate until set (at least a couple of hours).
  5. Turn out onto a chopping board and cut into squares. They will keep a week or so in the fridge, and freeze really well.

 

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Red Velvet Ice Cream Sandwiches

If you have never tasted a slice of red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, you may not understand what all the fuss is about. Its intriguing name refers partly to its smooth and velvety texture, and partly to the sensual red colour, which is achieved in most modern recipes by adding (lots of) red food colouring to a chocolate cake batter.

Both these features were, however, originally due to the reaction of an acid (like vinegar or buttermilk) with the cocoa powder in the batter, which not only created bubbles and aeration, but also enhanced the red anthocyanin in the cocoa, a compound (also found in foods like red cabbage) that gets more red in the presence of strong acids. However, these days most cocoa powder undergoes Dutch processing, where an alkalizing agent is added to neutralise its acidity. Hence the need for (lots of) red colouring was created amongst bakers, and expertly fulfilled in the US by Adams Extract, a Texan company with good marketing sense.

But now for the really interesting bit. For our purposes today, at least. During the Second World War, bakers used reduced beet juice to enhance the colour (and texture) of their cakes, including the infamous Red Velvet cake, and give otherwise cheap bakes a dramatic appearance. Ah ha! As you know, adding vegetables to any kind of dish is my forte, so I present to you: the very beet-y red velvet ice cream sandwich.

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Red velvet ice cream sandwiches

These sandwiches are a beguiling mix of earthy, sweet, cool and chewy. I used buckwheat flour to keep it gluten-free, but if you are not a fan of the taste,  use stoneground spelt flour instead. Be sure to freeze the sandwiches until firm, or else you will end up with more ice cream on your shirt than between your biscuits!

Makes 8 sandwiches

Ingredients for the ice cream

200g roasted beetroot (about 500g peeled, raw beetroot)

1 whole vanilla pod

1 can coconut milk, gently warmed to melt the fat

60ml (1/4 cup) raw honey, plus a little extra to taste

flesh of 1/2 ripe avocado (about 50g)

15g (2 tablespoons) organic unsweetened cocoa powder

7g (1 tablespoon) arrowroot powder, dissolved in 15ml (1 tablespoon) water

Ingredients for the cookies

1 tablespoon ground golden linseeds (flax seeds)

60ml (1/4 cup) milk of your choice

60ml (1/4 cup) melted coconut oil

60g (1/2 cup) coconut blossom sugar

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract

30g (1/4 cup) organic unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of sea salt

160g (1 cup) buckwheat flour

Method

  1. For the ice cream: put all the ingredients, except 2/3 of the coconut milk and the arrowroot powder slurry, in a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside. (If you do not have a high speed blender, scrape out the seeds of the vanilla pod and only use these – pop the pod in your coffee or sugar pot.)
  2. Whisk the arrowroot slurry into the rest of the gently warmed coconut milk. As soon as it thickens, remove from the heat, and once cooled, add the beetroot mix and whisk. Refrigerate until cold.
  3. For the cookies: whisk the ground linseeds and milk together. Set aside for a few minutes to allow it to swell.
  4. Whisk the oil and sugar together until light and frothy. Add the vanilla & linseed mix, then sift the dry ingredients into the wet. Mix together briefly until you have a ball of dough.
  5. Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop 16 dough balls onto a baking sheet (no need to grease) and flatten each ball (I use a small palette knife to do this).
  6. Bake for 10 minutes at 180°C/360°F. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a cooling rack.
  7. For the sandwiches: churn the refrigerated ice cream mixture in your ice cream maker.
  8. Transfer the soft ice cream to a shallow container that will yield a slab of ice cream 3 – 4 cm thick. Pop it in the freezer until almost solidly frozen, then use a cookie cutter the same size as your cookies to cut out ice cream rounds and place between two cooled cookies. You could also remove the ice cream slightly earlier and use an ice cream scoop to place one scoop between two cookies and press down lightly.
  9. If you would like to make these ahead of time, put the sandwiches in a container in the freezer and remember to take them out at least 5 – 10 minutes before eating.

Note:

To roast the beetroot, scrub clean, peel and cut into medium dice. Toss lightly in melted coconut oil and roast at 180°C/360°F until tender (about 1 hour), turning every so often. Be careful not to let them burn.

If you do not own an ice cream maker, you can make the ice cream by freezing the mixture and whisking it every 30 minutes or so, to prevent the formation of ice crystals.

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Chewy almond and fig thins

It doesn’t really matter when you make these, but you should! They are rather easy to throw together and definitely hit the spot when you need a little something to cheer up your darling (or yourself!). If you can’t find matcha powder, use a few drops of beetroot juice instead, to colour the chocolate pink.

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Chewy almond and fig thins

Ingredients

50g unsalted organic butter (or coconut oil)

50g coconut palm sugar (or you could use demarara sugar)

Pinch of sea salt

65g orange marmalade, very finely chopped

100g soft dried figs, finely chopped

80g flaked blanched almonds

30g shelled hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts)

25g brown rice flour

 

For the chocolate drizzle

100g organic white chocolate, broken into pieces

matcha powder (roughly 1 teaspoon)

freeze-dried raspberries or additional hemp hearts

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F and line two baking trays with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter and palm sugar in a small pan over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the salt, give it a stir and set aside.
  3. Put the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and using a tablespoon, press everything against the sides to mix thoroughly and evenly distribute the flour. Add the butter and sugar mix and repeat the process until you have a lovely dark golden ball of deliciousness.
  4. Place this ball between two large pieces of parchment paper and roll it out until it is quite thin (how thin will depend on your preference, but I have found that 4mm is just about perfect). Slide onto a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes before removing from the oven.
  5. Now cut out shapes with a cookie cutter (press any offcuts together and roll them out again) or for a lot less effort, use a large knife to cut the cookie dough into rectangles. Place on the lined baking trays and return to the oven for another 8 – 10 minutes, rotating the trays half-way. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  6. When cool, melt the white chocolate in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water!) and stir every now and then. As soon as the chocolate has melted, add enough matcha powder for a lovely green hue.
  7. Dip each cookie in the melted chocolate half-way and sprinkle with freeze-dried raspberries or additional hemp hearts. return to the cooling racks and store in an air-tight container when set. You could also spread chocolate on the underside of each cookie and let it cool upside down. You will need more than 100g of chocolate, but it is more traditional. And reeeeeally good.

Note: If you are not a fan of white chocolate, feel free to use dark chocolate instead.

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Cranberry and pomegranate ice cream cake

Hands up if you like the sound of “hassle-free entertaining”? Yeah, me too. Especially when you know there will be a lot of other things to worry about like last-minute gift wrapping, keeping an eye on the goose stuffed into your tiny oven or going into labour with your third child… This ice cream cake is the ideal make-ahead dessert and with its tart, refreshing coolness, will round off a heavy Christmas meal perfectly.

Koek 3 Koek 4

 

Cranberry and pomegranate ice cream cake

Makes one deep 6” or 15cm cake (3” or about 8cm high) and serves 8 – 10

 

Ingredients for the cranberry compote 

400g cranberries

165ml (2/3 cups) fresh pomegranate juice

65g (less than 1/2 cup loosely packed cup) unrefined dark brown moist sugar or coconut palm sugar

1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise

To assemble

1.25 litres vanilla ice cream of your choice (vegan or coconut is fine too)

desiccated coconut

To serve

fresh pomegranate seeds

Method

  1. Place the ingredients for the compote in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar, before turning up the heat and simmering gently for about 5 minutes, or until the cranberries are tender. Allow to cool slightly before blending everything until smooth. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, remove the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and return these to the cranberry mix. Discard the pod.
  2. Set aside to cool completely, preferably in the fridge.
  3. To start assembling the cake, allow 500ml of the ice cream to soften at room temperature.
  4. Mix 250ml (1 cup) of the cranberry puree with 450ml of the ice cream until well blended, spoon into a 15cm cake tin, smooth the top and place in the freezer for at least 10 – 15 minutes or until frozen. In the meantime, replace the left-over ice cream in the freezer and leave the next 500ml of ice cream at room temperature to soften.
  5. For the second layer, mix 125ml (1/2 cup) of the cranberry puree with 500ml ice cream until well blended. Spoon on top of the first layer, smooth the top and place in the freezer for 10 – 15 minutes.
  6. Finally, use as much of the remaining softened plain vanilla ice cream as is necessary to fill the tin to the top and return to the freezer. Leave for several hours or until solidly frozen.
  7. About 15 minutes before serving, remove from the freezer and allow to soften.
  8. Carefully remove the tin (you may want to run some hot water around the tin or use a blow torch if it is still solidly frozen) and place the cake on your serving plate with the vanilla layer on top. Sprinkle the coconut around the base and on top to create a snowy landscape.  Bring the cake to the table and wait until it is soft enough to cut into slices, before serving with fresh pomegranate seeds.

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Balsamic frozen yoghurt with strawberries

Traditionally fermented and aged balsamic vinegar from Modena or Reggio Emilia in Italy is a very special condiment indeed. Whole pressed late-harvested grapes complete with juice, skin, seeds and stems (also called grape must) are cooked over a direct flame until reduced by half, then left to ferment naturally for up to three weeks. The concentrate is then matured and further concentrated for a minimum of 12 years in a “batteria,” or a minimum of five successively smaller ageing barrels. The delicious complex and tangy sweet flavour might be ruined if the vinegar is heated and it is most likely also too special (and expensive!) to use in salad dressings. Try drizzling it on gorgeous fresh strawberries or in this refreshingly different ice cream.

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Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

500ml (2 cups) organic goat or sheep yoghurt

2 1/2 tablespoons good quality aged balsamic vinegar plus extra to serve

pinch of coarsely ground black pepper

45 – 60ml (3 – 4 tablespoons) raw honey, or to taste

a large handful of fragrant strawberries per person

Method

  1. Mix together the first four ingredients. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or place in the freezer and whisk (preferably with an electric whisk) ever half hour until firmly frozen.
  2. When the ice cream has reached the perfect consistency, serve with sweet strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

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