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August 21, 2013 / Pete

For the love of gelato

Some say I am addicted, I say that I just enjoy the odd gelato from time to time.

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But first I need to get one thing straight, Gelato and Ice Cream are not the same thing. Most notably gelato does not contain eggs and has far less fat and sugar than your conventional ice cream. Gelato, if made properly, will contain no artificial additives.

Ice Cream is the product of profit maximization by manufacturers. It is more air and sugar than proper ingredients and flavour. Gelato on the other hand is slowly churned to give it its creamy texture. This more loving process means gelato does not have to be stored at such a low temperature compared to ice cream, and thus does not give you that ice cream headache eagerly consumed. Temperature is definitely the key, even a brilliantly made gelato can be ruined if stored at the same temperature of ice cream.

As far as the ingredients go, gelato generally just contains milk; a little bit of sugar and an accompanying ingredient. Ice cream on the other hand requires a lot more to help keep its shape once whipped full of air. All that extra fat and sugar is required to stop the milk crystallizing in to a block of frozen milk.

When it comes taste, nothing beats the creaminess that lingers after a gelato. Ice Cream is more of a lick and you miss it, all you are left with is a cold tongue and the feeling of disappointment.

My addiction…errrr…appreciation properly started during my year in Italy. Before then gelato and ice cream were just one of those occasional treats, not part of my balanced diet it is now. My favourite place in Bra specialised in seasonal flavours and local ingredients. You could definitely taste the difference when compared most other places.

Now in London I have the much harder task of tracking down the stores and decide which is best. Slowly but surely I am getting through the places, but as soon as I tick one of the list another few will appear.

For now, here is a list of places to try if you find yourself craving gelato in London. Once we finally move in to our flat I will have to turn my hand at making my own.

Some of the best

Zucono

Amazing flavour! My first time here and I was taken back to the flavours of Italy. Having the banana gelato I could have shut my eyes and thought I was back sitting outside Gelato IGP. Their Amarena (my current all-round favourite) was the definition of bliss.

Gelato Mio

Unlike some of the other London chains, Gelato Mio have managed to keep true to the gelato manifesto. Along with Zucono probably is at the top, so far, of Gelato places I have found in London. Perfect Pistacchio, light Limoni and awesome Amareno. They even get the big thumbs up for their pistacchio from an Italian friend of mine, one who is notoriously fussy when it comes to gelato.

Gelateria Danieli

This is my local. They have the south-west market cornered with stores in Richmond, Twickenham and Teddington. Stay away from the Kingston outlet in the Bentalls centre though, they manage to ruin the experience there. For the rest of the stores, there is a good range or different flavours they rotate and do a pretty decent Pistacchio.

La Gelateria

A small little store tucked away on a side street near Leicester Square with small selection of sorbets and gelatos. Another little gelateria run by a native Italian and speaking rapid Italians with the other Italians in the store. A mix of the standard seasonal flavours alongside some stranger ones, like Dark Ale Sorbet.

Oddono’s

A true Italian establishment. Lining up out the door I was probably one of the few people not speaking Italian and once ready to order everybody around me ordering in rapid Italian.

With so many Italians around you know the Pistacchio and Stracciatela were perfect. It was an excellent treat to what was a very hot [for London] sunny summer’s day. It was also wonderful to hear all the rapid-fire Italian being banded around the place again.

Gelupo

This is where my London gelato journey started. It is a personal favourite of an Italian I work with so the expectations were pretty high. They do an excellent Pistacchio and Amareno. Although I remember it was pretty good it has been a while since my original visit so will need to go back for another review and compare against all the places I have tried since then.

Salt & Straw, Portland

During a recent work trip to Portland I was able to take my gelato discovery tour on the road. Portland is known as a foodies capital so it there was always going to be promising prospects. Salt & Straw was recommended by several places and has a reputation for the weird and wacky flavours. Pear and Blue Cheese, Strawberry and Balsamic, Olive Oil. Exciting, strange and delicious.

The 20 minute queue out the door increased the anticipation of what lay inside. The friendly staff letting people try as many flavours as you wanted added to the great experience.

Not technically gelato but they are still worth a mention. If you are in Portland and want something different, then come here.

Ruby Jewel Scoops, Portland

Again not technically gelato but, they do such a good job they are definitely worth a mention.

In the two weeks I was in Portland I managed to grab the Foursquare mayorship (an app that tells you when you go somewhere too often) and it took a few weeks for somebody else to steal it back off me.

Compared with Salt & Straw, these guys are closer to your standard flavours. They do have fun with other flavours though, ones like Salted Caramel, which always goes down a treat. It was also fun to introduce some work mates to the joys of proper ice cream.

Some of the rest

Scoop – A bit lack-lustre on the flavour front. The pistacchio was very light on the pistacchio.
Veneticus, Clerkenwell Road – Although the closest to my work and part of a proper Italian deli with native Italians, their Pistacchio tasted like Amaretto. An immediate fail. On the plus side they make a decent Amareno (source cherry).
3Bis, Borough Market – This is the only place that gave you a biscotto, Italian styles. Flavour was a bit lacking. Sadly this place was tainted by my bicycle getting stolen so I fear any review might not be entirely fair.
Lick, Soho – Rather expensive, unfriendly service and an average gelato. I would avoid this one at all costs.

June 23, 2013 / Pete

Our Italian Family

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For our time in Bra we couldn’t have asked for nicer landlords. Sandro and Antonia were a wonderfully welcoming couple who wanted to make sure we were comfortably set up in our new accommodation.

All the flats in Bra we looked at came part-furnished, but our landlord happily brought over even more stuff so we would have all the things we would need to cook up a storm. It wasn’t until a later visit to their home that we realised it was literally from their own kitchen.

Technically their daughter, Simona, owned the flat but, as seems the case in Italy, parents will buy their children apartments which they will end up using later on in life. It is probably a way to encourage their children to stay close to home once they are ready to leave the nest.

A few days after moving in to our new apartment we were invited over to Sando and Antonia’s for dinner, pizza and pasta. Still the eager beavers to try out our Italian we pushed the nerves aside. We were treated to a fantastic, yummy, meal. With assistance from a dictionary and lots of hand gestures we even managed a fair bit of communication. We left with the promise of more gatherings over the year to come, at the very least to try Sandro’s famous Spaghetti Vongole.

Being a small town I would often bump into Sandro; he was always out and about. On one occasion I met Sandro in town for a coffee, and to pick up a bill, and he mentioned that he had started making his own bread. We had previously talked about bread making and how I had made my own sourdough starter. He insisted I come over so we could compare starters and so I could review his bread.

When I got there I was quickly invited to stay for lunch. Their son and partner were due to arrive from Bolzano so it was going to be a big family gathering. In true Italian fashion plenty of yummy dishes came rolling out and plenty of boisterous conversation ensued. My Italian had improved to the point that I was able to carry out most of the conversations in Italian. At the end it was just me and Sandro chatting about New Zealand. It was a fun experience I’ll never forget.

Sadly between holidays, work and study we never got to have too many other gatherings until our final week. A farewell lunch was arranged. Emma, not having had the same opportunity to pick up Italian like I had, was quite apprehensive, worried that she would be sitting there not being able to understand anything and would have to rely on me to translate.

She needn’t have worried, she had picked up more than she had thought and we ended up have a wonderful long lunch with many delicious dishes. I was accused by Sandro of letting my Italian slip in the two months we had been in London but I was still able to hold my own in a conversation. The meal was a wonderful mix of Napolean and Piedmontese cuisines as an indication of the family heritage. All I can say is that everybody needs to have Mozzerella in Carrozze at least once in their life.

It was especially sad to say bye to Sandro. He is such a lovely person and constantly went out of his way to make our start in Bra as easy as possible. We were told if we are ever back in Piedmont there is always a place to stay with them.

Thank you Sandro, Antonia and Simona for your wonderful hospitality. Ciao

June 15, 2013 / Pete

MIA: James Brown

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Confusion, worry, shock, anger, sadness, self-blame. All the emotions I went through from the time I discovered that my bike had been stolen.

Why? Why me? The unique build of my bike had always added to the fact that my bike would not get nicked. Or so I thought.

James Brown was his name, came about after a comment from my step-mother when I mentioned I couldn’t get the song “I feel good” out of my head when ever out for a ride. It was the perfect name.

We were together for only a relatively short time. He was a replacement for my old Silver Sovereign after she lost an argument with a car door.

James was built with remnants of Silver Sovereign and a selection of new ones. As my all-round bike I was always tweaking the setup with different parts. It was initially a singlespeed, but while in Italy I had a internal-geard wheel built so I could do my little tour in the Alps.

Normally I only ever lock James in the secure storage at work or briefly outside the supermarket on the way home. I have 2 locks, a heavy-duty chain lock and a standard (read: crap) cable lock. Recently I had been lazy and only using the heavy-duty one at home to lock the bike up overnight. Now I was blaming myself for somebody taking James from me.

On the fateful day James was taken from me I decided to go to Borough Market for lunch, and instead of Boris I’d take my own bike. While Boris is handy he is no substitute for ones own ride. Looking back on the situation I now realise the area is a bit of a hot spot for bicycle thief’s. The next mistake was to think I’d be ok with just the cable lock. I wasn’t going to be long, just a quick bite and a gelato and then back to work. The gelato wasn’t even that good, soured slightly by the events.

I have created all the online auctions alerts I can; registered with a handful of stolen bike registries; and rung the Police. The Met Police have actually been surprisingly efficient. Their bicycle theft squad rang me back in a matter of minutes of registering James as stolen. Despite their efficiency I am not very hopeful in getting him back. He is probably already been stripped for parts.

I am still in the self-blame and sad stages. Why didn’t I take my good lock? Why didn’t I take Boris? I find myself checking out the bike racks as I pass on the street for the off-chance he is just playing a game of hide-and-seek. I look at people who don’t match the bike they are riding with deep suspicion.

It’s happened now and I have to move on. It is too depressing looking at Gumtree and eBay at all the obviously stolen bikes for sale.

Now it is the tough decision to find a replacement. I probably have enough parts to start building up a new steed from scratch. I know if I went for an off-the-shelf number I just wouldn’t be happy, constantly replacing the parts. I have picky bicycle needs.

James Brown, I know we always didn’t get on perfectly. Where ever you are, I miss you.

May 19, 2013 / Pete

We come to the end

After two months in London arriving in Italy was a much different experience than the first time around. As it happened we arrived back on exactly the same weekend.

Bra

When we first arrived there was a lot of anxiousness about what would be in store. How would we manage? How would we make it from the airport, in Milan, to the small town of Bra, in Piemonte. Even with our year of Italian lessons, there was still an element of worry over whether we would actually be understood and not freeze when it came to asking for something.

This time around it was a much different feeling. Armed with the last 12 months experience in Italian life, we were much more confident about what it takes to get by in Italy. Even a train strike didn’t seem to faze us too much. Having learnt from previous experiences, there is no point worrying. In Italy they roll with the punches and always find a way to get around a problem. Sure enough, we did make it back to the apartment. Everything was fine.

Back in Bra it all seemed so familiar. A few things had changed, a derelict building that had been sitting in ruins for the last 12 months had finally disappeared, and a few shops had shut down or been replaced. But for the most part Bra was right as we left it; the same neighbourhood dogs still constantly barking; Mateo’s parents still constantly calling him to come in; but best of all the same wonderful smells that emanate around the neighbourhood as the nonnas start cooking their next batch of deliciousness for the week ahead.

In London we had been staying in a short-term studio apartment while looking for a flat for when we came back. London was its usual familiar chaotic self. We slotted right back in to the daily grind that it is to live in London. But then coming back to Bra, to our apartment, it felt more like home, for now. All our stuff, the pictures of family and friends, the cookbooks, it was all still here.

Venturing back into all the same shops as before, I wondered if the shopkeepers would remember me. Of course they would, especially the gelato store. I was probably their best customer. That foursquare mayorship is still firmly mine! Each store I went back into would follow the same pattern, “Ciao Peter”, “How’ve you been”, “When’d you get back”, “How long are you back for” – all in Italian of course. I was surprised that I had lost very little of my Italian after the two months away.

It is now our final two weeks here. Emma has been stressed out practicing and fine tuning her thesis presentation. I was the considerate listener and tried not get the giggles while coming up with sensible questions to ask at the end. I knew she was going to ace it but she will always put more pressure on herself than I think she needs to.

It will be sad to leave Bra for the last time. It has been a great change to the normal pace of life. But at the same time, it will be exciting to see what is in store for us next.

Flashbacks to Devon and Cornwall

April 27, 2013 / Pete

A tale of two Italy’s

Arriving back in London was an interesting shock to the system. Compared to the slow pace of Bra it is a hectic melting pot of crazy. The first week, despite it being familiar, I felt very much like a tourist taking in all the sights. There was so much going on and my brain no longer knew what to make of it all.

When I would mention to people I had been in Italy for the last year the normal reaction would be something along the lines of “Wow, it must have been an amazing experience”. While my answer is usually Yes, it is a reserved Yes.

Italy is a fantastic place, especially when on holiday, but living there is definitely not like an extended holiday. And it all boils down to Italian Time. It is appreciated while relaxing at the beach or enjoying an afternoon aperitivo. A long summer lunch, perfect.

Fly my pretty

Then there is the reality of trying to register with town hall so you can then find somewhere to work and live. Here Italian Time is not so much appreciated. All I can say is it took 3 weeks of back-and-forth with “so, now you need this form”.

Italy is well-known for its rules and red-tape but you quickly learn that the locals have a way of adapting to the rules to fit their schedule. They know what they can and can’t get away with. Waiting in line anywhere official you get a number and have to wait your turn patiently. Without this number system I would imagine only the most assertive would ever get served. Then you get the individuals who managed to adapt to the situation. In the gap between serving one person and calling out the next person, it is not unusual to get a newly arrived person sidling up to “innocently” ask a quick question. This quick question will then turn into getting served, and effectively leap-frogging the dozen or so people already waiting.

Then there is the food. I absolutely love Italian food. Italian is known around the world as having some of the best dishes. But in Italy locals really only eat Italian food and in particular only dishes from their region. You would never see somebody from Piemonte eating a canoli from Sicily or somebody from Napoli tucking into a dish of fried polenta. It’s just not done.

Having lived in several places where you could effectively eat your way around the world cuisines this can be tough. You find yourself having cravings for things you can’t have. Even when cooking a non-Italian dish they will still come out tasting like an Italian dish because of all the ingredient substitutes you have to use. That is if there is a substitute in the first place.

Again I come back to the people. This is where it is reversed. On holiday you get the pushy waiters and tourist guides trying to sell you stuff. Living here you get to experience real Italy, you get to make friends with the locals. On the news we would be away for a couple of months many of the friends I had made would proclaim “Non mi piace!” (I don’t like!). On the day we left I dropped off our leftover food to one of our neighbours, she gave me a big Italian Mamma hug and looked so sad. We would no longer be having our daily pseudo-chats by the balcony.

There have been many ups-and-downs along the way this last year. The highs of all the amazing experiences have definitely been greater than the lows. I would say to anybody moving to Italy, don’t expect it to be anything like the holidays.

And least of all, nothing like the movies.

The Neighbours

The Neighbours

February 13, 2013 / Pete

My People of Bra

As my time in Italy is quickly coming to an end I have started to reflect upon all the people I’ve met in the various stores around town. The supermarket isn’t as dominant as it is in other countries so you still have the luxury of going to speciality stores for all of your shopping needs. There are probably more butchers in this little town than in the entire Wellington region back home.

Bra would classify as a small town. It isn’t so small that you feel like you are on the set of Coronation Street but, at the same time, it’s big enough to have all the shops and services you might need. If not, the hustle and bustle of Turin is just a short train ride away.

 

Bottega delle Delzie

Bottega delle Delzie

Entering this store you are greeted with the lovely aroma of chocolate mixed with the faint smell of freshly ground coffee. And as that sinks in the owner Paolo and his mother will always cheerfully greet you no matter how busy they are.

Their speciality is chocolate, sweets and coffee but they also have a nice selection of Italian craft beer. I once had a rather one-sided conversation about the differences in the beers Paolo had and then he pulled out his bible of beers of the world. The NZ entries consisted of Moa, Monteiths and Macs. A pretty good representation if you ask me.

The real reason I come here is for the coffee. It is the only place in town that does ground coffee that is not the potent and rather tasteless Robusta bean. And while I wait I can ogle the latest new chocolates they always have on display.

 

Sardo e Quaglia

Sardo E Quaglia

This place has a wonderful array of spices, grains and nuts; alway fresh, always tasty. As with many shops around town, it is almost impossible to know what is inside without going in. I only realised what this shop was after walking by one day while the door was open and catching a glimpse of the bounty that lay inside.

The owner, Teresa, is a wonderfully friendly lady. She is the person locals go to when they need a cure for any ailment. Her help has been useful in finding substitutes for ingredients we were unable to find in Italy. And when you ask for something she doesn’t have, she is always deeply apologetic that it isn’t in stock.

I appreciate her patience with my Italian regardless of how busy it is. We often have short chats about what I have been up to or what I was going to be making that day. She always commends me on the fact that I, as a male, do the cooking; something that is rare in Italy.

I will definitely miss this shop. The smells and sights of all the spices are always a delight.

 

Corto in Bra

Corto in Bra

Corto is my local. When we first moved in to our apartment we had the choice of two cafe, this one looked the friendlier of the two. I come here quite regularly, often as I return from my morning dash to the shops. They know that I like a cafe Macchiato and have a soft spot for their delicious apple cake. I am an easy customer to up-sell to, the mere mention of Torta di Mele and the brioche is quickly forgotten.

Before we learnt that Italians just take their brioche straight from the cabinet we would always ask for them. It has continued to the point where when I try to do the Italian thing, the lady behind the counter will insist on bringing it to me with my Macchiato.

 

Salumeria Pochettino Giuseppe

Salumeria

This place is a true family affair. From Granddad, who proudly makes the pancetta, to Mum and Dad who are in charge, down to Son and Daughter who are being primed to take over one day. They all help out. They have a wonderful selection of Salami’s and, in my opinion, do the best Salsicca di Bra in town.

I like going here because they are so friendly to me. Mum and Daughter always like making fun of my Italian pronunciation and will never let me forget the time I asked for Capri (the island) instead of Capra (the cheese).

Despite the laughs at my expense, I find myself going back for more. If they are not busy we end up having a chat. They are always asking about New Zealand and about what our plans are after we are finished Bra. Being as cheeky as they are they love to ask, in their words, “Are there little Peters on the way? You must bring them back to visit us in Bra one day”. They never fail to make me laugh.

 

Peraltro Bio

Peraltro Mercato

This supermarket is on the edge of town and was a bit of a late discovery. I had heard there was an organic supermarket in town but never could find it. Then one day while out for a bike ride I spotted it.

The staff are always really friendly and will say hi to everybody who comes through the door. A couple of them even greet me by name. The best thing about this store is it has many ingredients that are not available anywhere else. Most importantly crème fraîche which opened up a whole range of recipes and works as a good substitute for sour cream.

When it was established I wasn’t going away, the typical conversation of where I was from and how I liked it in Bra was had. I have had this conversation so many times, I was well versed in what to say. And, as usual, their knowledge of New Zealand was limited to Lord of the Rings and the All Blacks.

 

Verde Idea

Verde

The fruit and veggie store is always a wonderful place to go into. From a week to week you never know what they might have in stock. When it comes to produce, Italy is still very seasonal. Even the big supermarkets tend to follow the seasons. They only non-seasonal produce you find year round are the banana and pineapple, things which are not grown in Italy in the first place.

Caterina, on the left, loves to tell other customers that I am from New Zealand and will always call out “Ciao Peter” when I come in to the store. They are often quite busy so I usually get the stare down from customers at the counter.

In a similar vein to the Salumeria, I once effectively asked for honey juice instead of apple juice (the words being very similar in gringo pronunciation). Once the laughter died down it took a few weeks for them to let me forget the mistake.

They always provide wonderful service and will arrange to get things in that are in season but don’t have. If I am a little short in small change, they will just say “Domani” instead of having to change a larger note. It is this kind of service that has me, and much of the town, always coming back.

 

Giolito Formaggi

Giolito Gang

Where would we be with out the beauty of cheese. Giolito is the local cheese shop and it has a wonderful array of cheeses from Italy and the rest of Europe. But most importantly he sells the most delicious Greek Yoghurt. We (and by that I mean Emma) go through so much that sometimes when I go in for cheese they make sure I don’t want some more Yoghurt too.

Over the months I have tried to sample more than just the stock standard Bra Tenero, the local equivalent of Edam. They have cheese that has been aged wrapped in a variety of ingredients, spent grains from whiskey making, grape skins from the local harvest and even hay. The last one came about after the War when the farmers would hide their cheese from the tax inspectors. The practice continues on and results in a wonderful tasting cheese.

The owner Giolito is a funny character. His wonderful sense of humor is going to be missed.

 

Gelato IGP

Gelato IGP

Where to start with Gelato IGP? I have written about them before. Throughout the summer I was almost part of the furniture. It isn’t one of those ice cream places that do the same large selection of flavours all year round. They focus on a few flavours, done well, and change with the seasons. This variety adds to the excitement of going in.

There are a few different people working behind the counter but they all got know that I am a ‘cup with two scoops’ kind of guy. Some would mention new flavours they had introduced or remark when I would try one I hadn’t had before.

After Christmas they shut down for 2 months, it was a sad day indeed. But I was back on opening day to try their latest new flavour Blood Orange. It is the big in-season fruit at the moment. They still remembered their most regular customer. I have to squeeze in a couple of visits before we leave so I can try out their new flavours. But we will be back in May when there will be a whole new range of flavours and the weather will be more agreeable for consuming Gelato.

 

GoGo Barber

GoGo

When it came time for my second haircut the original barber was closed for the summer so I had to find somewhere else. I had ridden past GoGo several times and it was the only other place that sprung to mind. Bra has many many hairdressers for the ladies but not so many barbers for the men. The shop and its owner were hidden behind a frosted window and hanging curtain so I had to just go in and hope for the best.

Gogo, I assume, is short for Georgio but everybody who comes in calls him GoGo. He is perhaps the happiest person I have met in Italy, if not ever. He always responds with an excited “Sempre tutto bene!” or even “Fantastico!!” when I ask him how he’s been. He literally dances around the chair as he cuts your hair at great speed all while chatting with his friend, who appears to be a permanent fixture, about the footy. If I was every in a bad mood I’d definitely leave this place happy. His happiness is infectious.

 

Of all the things about my time here I think I will miss the people the most. They have all made a big difference to my time in Italy and have added something extra to our stay here.

February 13, 2013 / Pete

Who let the dogs out!?!

Attenti al Cane

If you look up the national animal of Italy you’ll find the wolf. The Italians have taken this and used the dog to show their admiration towards their national animal. And in great numbers.

Wherever you go there are people with their dogs. You just can’t escape them here. At home we are surrounded by noisy dogs who enjoy nothing better than to bark. They don’t respect quiet time during the Pranzo Pause. They don’t respect the apartment rules of no excessive noise after 10pm. To them, any time is a good time to bark. Hmmm, it is starting to sound like I might be a bit bitter about this.

At first I thought it might just be where we were living. But thinking back on our previous trips to Italy we have always had the company of a barking dog or three. One particular occasion was during a relaxing holiday in Tuscany. Relaxing, that is, until the evening arrived and the dogs at the kennel down the road decided to hold their choir practice.

The size of dogs here can be summed up in one word, small…no…make that tiny. The smaller the better. I sometimes think that the female owners must choose the size of their dog based on what would fit nicely in their handbag. Or maybe the Italian designers take this into account when designing their new range of handbags. And if not in their handbag, it is the boyfriend’s job to carry the dog in a specially designed carrier. If they are really lucky they get to ride shotgun in the front basket of their owner’s bicycle.

Part of the problem with these noisy dogs, I think, is that they barely get to leave the confinement of their balcony. Italy is dominated by apartment living so they don’t really have much choice. Unless you have lots of money, or own a farm, you are more than likely going to be living in an apartment. They can only watch and bark, with jealousy, from their balconies at the lucky few who get to regularly wander the streets below with their owners.

Despite the abundance of dogs there is never really an issue of feeling intimidated by them when out and about. Houses still have the usual warning sign ‘Attenti al Cane’ accompanied with a picture of an angry looking dog. In reality, the dog is more than likely going to be a little Schnauzer who wouldn’t even get his chops around your ankle.

As I said in my last post, there will be many things I will miss about Italy when I leave. The constantly barking dog is just not one of those things.

The Guard Dog

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