Ceviche with Avocado and Mango Salsa and Tortilla Chips (and my entry into a competition to win a foodie adventure to Sri Lanka)

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Since starting this blog a couple of years ago, I’m quite surpised at how far I’ve come, and how much I have learnt, all through the process of trial and error. I always strive for something better, new ideas, and inspiration. I don’t have a studio, or special lights, or a set of props, each place I cook in I use what is available to me, look for the best natural light and battle it out with the flies. Being on the road has been very beneficial, as I am constantly meeting new people, discovering new produce and being introduced to new opportunities. I’ve come to realise that there is no point in planning or worrying too much about what the future holds, or whether I am making the right decisions. Everything folds out the way it is meant to. And luckily enough for me, lately, it’s been folding out pretty nicely.
Opportunities have been popping up left, right and centre, from being part of the upcoming annual Darwin Banana Festival this weekend, where I have been hired as a ‘banana stylist’, to writing recipes and styling shots for a new Australian foodie mag, and, to the point of this blog post; my entry into a competition to win a trip to discover and document, the food, culture and experience of Sri Lanka.
I’m so grateful to all of my supporting friends, who are constantly letting me know of little competitions and advertisements they see on social media, that they think I might be interested in. I would have missed half of them, including this competition, if it wasn’t for them. It’s such a lovely feeling, getting older, and realising how lucky I am to have these beautiful, supportive, creative and genuine people in my life.
Regardless of whether I win a position in the Sri Lanka trip, it’s been a fantastic experience completing the entry. As with each blog post I do, I try to push myself for a new angle, and this one really got me out of my comfort zone. If you told me ten years ago that I would have the confidence to ask a bunch of near strangers (except you Mel), to sit on the beach and share a meal while I take photos of them, I would have said, no way! But, despite the very unfortunately times spurt of rain, everything went perfectly and we had a great time, not to mention the delicious food! It gives me confidence, and makes me excited, to know that, unlike my first trip overseas five years ago (where I was too shy), I will be able to photograph more and speak to the locals more about their traditions, culture, recipes, ingredients, etc.
I’ve included my short essays here that were part of the application. It was so hard to stay within the word limits!
Also, if you have a spare couple of minutes and would like to nominate my blog in the upcoming Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards, it would be hugely appreciated, if you think it deserves a nomination that is! http://www.saveur.com/article/contests/blog-awards-2015-nominate

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Competition entry essays:

The Story Behind the recipe.

After a month in central Columbia, I was full to the brim with carbohydrate laden meals of rice, beans, potatoes, bread and meat. Thank goodness for the obligatory bowl of Aji on every table at even the smallest of roadside eateries, I drenched all my meals in this delicious homemade chilli salsa. I was itching to get to the coast.
So, with one last bowl of steaming, chicken feet soup at the bus station, we were on our way to Quito and then to a tiny coastal town called Canoa. We knew nothing about the place apart from the fact that it was a small surf town, famous for it’s slow paced, relaxed vibe.
After a rough overnight bus trip from Quito, we were finally approaching the coast. Morning rituals were getting underway, people riding to work, roadside stalls selling delicious treats and smiling school kids jumping on and off our bus.
We were exhausted, and starving, by the time we arrived in the main street of Canoa (a dirt road running the length of the beach). The beach was lined with little food shacks, shaded by Coco-Cola and Pilsner tarps. Each had a blackboard touting Ceviche, which we knew very little about. As far as I knew, maybe, it was some form of raw fish dish. But, as we had experienced so far on our trip, anything could be eaten at breakfast time, and we were too hungry to care. So, we picked one shack at random and sat down at the plastic table on the sand. Without having to order anything, we were brought two bowls of ceviche and some fried plantain. With a squeeze of fresh lime, and a tad of hesitation, we dug in. WOW! What a fresh and flavoursome bowl of food we had in front of us. The fish so soft and the lime so tangy, paired with a kick from some chilli sauce and the crunchy plantain chips. What a dish!
After that, we ate it at least twice a day for the week that we were there, but, as hard as we tried, we just couldn’t find that one shack where we had eaten our first. It was like it had disappeared, and no other could match it.

About me and why I should be chosen for the gig.

After years of studying art, architecture and teaching, feeling lost and unfulfilled, I finally saved enough money to travel overseas. I started with the Americas, backpacking and having my mind blown by the amazing traditions, landscapes, and people. It was on this trip, whilst working in a bar on the beach in a small fishing village in Peru (famous for it’s amazing tuna), that I came to the realisation that all I wanted to do for the rest of my life was cook. To never stop discovering ingredients, recipes and methods from all over the world, to cook meals that bring people together and make time stand still for a little while, whilst we all enjoy the fruits of the land and the labour of the people who love to cook with them.
Upon returning to Aus I was lucky enough to gain a position in a small cafe, that, over the two years that I helped to run the kitchen, has now turned into one of the most well known cafes in the Hunter.
With only a short stint in Europe in those two years, I decided that it was time to really hit the road. I sold most of what I owned, and have been travelling through Australia in a 4WD ever since, with an overseas ticket booked for April.
My foodblog has been an amazing creative outlet for me also. Something that has been forcing me to learn and discover new things about food and cooking, almost daily. Every meal I create, and every photo shoot I do, creates a new challenge for me. I never do the same thing twice. Discovery is my passion!

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Recipe

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Ceviche
1kg white, firm fleshed fish, I used Robinson Bream
Juice from about 5 limes
1 cup coconut cream
1 tsp caster sugar
1 long red chilli, finley diced
Handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper
Salsa
2 ripe but still firm avocados
1 large mango
1 long red chilli
1 spanish onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbs olive oil
Handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Tortilla chips (or plantain chips if you can get them), lime wedges, sliced chilli, chilli sauce, and salad leaves, to serve

Method
Make sure there are no bones in the fish. Slice fish into pieces about 3cm long and 5mm thick and place in a large, non-reactive bowl. In another bowl place the lime juice, coconut cream, caster sugar, chilli, and coriander. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Add to the bowl with the fish and stir well to combine. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours, but no longer than 10 hours.
When nearly ready to serve dice the avocados and mango into 5mm pieces. Combine in a bowl with the other salsa ingredients and stir to combine, being careful not to mash the avocado too much.
Serve ceviche with the salsa, tortilla chips, lime wedges, chilli, chilli sauce and salad leaves.
Enjoy!

Oysters with Pickled Cucumber (and a note on how to make a ‘Japanese Slipper’)

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I understand the appeal of oysters, there is something wild and exciting about eating a creature like this, freshly shucked and still alive, smelling of the ocean as you tip it up to your lips…..

and then…
salty snot.

I’m sorry. I really am. I feel terrible that I can’t fully appreciate them yet. I’m getting there though. A friend recently introduced me to what she called the “Japanese Slipper”, consisting of soy, wasabi, pickled ginger and lime. I loved the flavour at first but it’s that creaminess towards the end that i’m still getting used too. Apparently this is the most sought after part!
So, after having the Japanese Slipper, and not totally hating it, I also tried a bit of a pickled cucumber dressing as well. The dressing is delicious and according to my guests, the oysters were as well.
After all, I love the ocean and appreciate everything that comes from it. I’m sure I will love oysters one day. I will never stop trying that’s for sure!
I haven’t included a recipe here for the Japanese Slipper oysters, but they are really easy, just mix some soy sauce and wasabi together, pour about a teaspoon on each oyster, top with some pickled ginger and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Note; they also pair nicely with an icy cold glass of Frangelico and Lime.

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Recipe

Makes 12

Ingredients

12 freshly shucked oysters
130g cucumber, de-seeded, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1/4 spanish onion, very finely chopped
Juice of 2 limes
1 tbs coconut vinegar
1 tbs caster sugar
Pinch dried chilli flakes
salt and pepper

Method

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients, except for the oysters. Stir well and leave to pickle in the fridge for at least an hour.
When ready to serve, place about a tbs of pickled cucumber dressing on each oyster. Serve with extra lime wedges, if desired.

Lemongrass Beef Rice Paper Rolls with Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

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I will not be defeated! Not by bad moods, heat, humidity, self-doubt, flies, loneliness, crap job, or, floppy, ugly un-photogenic rice paper rolls. This was my second attempt at photographing these delicious, but oh-so un-cooperative, little morsels, and I think I’ve managed to semi succeed in making them look good. Sometimes, the styling part of this blog is quite a big challenge, I never really have a plan and just look around at the last minute for something textural and interesting that suits my mood. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But, I figure it’s really good practice for one day when I work in a really high end magazine and get to cook and style delicious food with an endless array of beautiful props. Haha!!

This was the first time I had cooked with red meat since baking a big ol’ ham at Christmas time and man, was it satisfying. Just this little bit of red meat, beautifully marinated and cooked perfectly, was just what I was craving. I’m definitely not one to enjoy a big thick steak but something like this is right up my ally. It’s a great way to make meat stretch between lots of people too, making it much more cost effective.

The dipping sauce that accompanies a rice paper roll is always a big factor in the end result. Classic sweet chilli is always a winner, but by adding a few little things, you can step it up a little and impress you’re guests with a ‘home-made’ dipping sauce. Cheeky.

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Recipe

Serves 4 as a starter

Ingredients

250g beef minute steaks

1 lemongrass stalk, white and pale green part, finely grated

1 tsp finely grated ginger

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs dark soy

1 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp pepper

peanut oil, to cook

1/4 small green papaya, grated

50g bean sprouts

1/4 red onion, finely sliced

80g vermicelli, cooked to packet instructions, rinsed under cold water

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 cup roasted, chopped peanuts

1/2 cup each of, loosely packed, mint and thai basil leaves, torn

1 tbs sesame oil

1/2 continental cucumber, thinly sliced

12 small rice paper rounds

Dipping Sauce

6 tbs sweet chilli sauce

2 tsp fish sauce

2 tbs tahini

1 spring onion, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lime

Method

In a medium bowl, combine the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, soy, brown sugar and pepper and stir to combine. Add the beef, use your hands to really mix well and coat the meat in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To make the dipping sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Set aside.

Heat a griddle pan, frying pan or barbecue to very hot. Add the peanut oil, and cook the beef, for about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside to rest and cool. When cool, thinly slice arose the grain.

In a bowl combine the papaya, bean sprouts, red onion, noodles, lime juice, peanuts, mint, thai basil and sesame oil.

Half fill a large dish with tap water, one large enough to fit the rice papers.

Working with one at a time, put the rice paper in the water for about 20 seconds, or until slightly softened. Place on a clean work surface. In the middle place 2 pieces of cucumber, a few strips of beef, and about 2tbs of the papaya mixture. Fold the bottom end over the mixture, fold the ends in, and roll up to secure. Repeat with remaining rice papers and mixture.

Serve with the dipping sauce. Enjoy!

Tip: To make them look a little bit pretty, instead of mixing the herbs through with the papaya mixture, keep them whole and lay them out on the rice paper before filling and rolling.

 

 

Kick up the Kaffir

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One of the first cocktails I ever tried making at home was a ‘Yule Mule’, a Christmas spin on the classic Moscow Mule; a cocktail made of vodka, ginger ale or ginger beer and lime juice. I still love this cocktail so much and so decided to try and do my own spin on it. There is no shortage of limes, ginger and kaffir lime up here, some of my favourite flavours. It’s thanks to these fantastic aspects of Darwin that keep me sane while I’m sitting here at 10.30pm in thirty five degree heat, getting eaten by mosquitoes….

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name…think about a mule or donkey and what they are famous for…kicking right? Then add the kick of the ginger and a little bit of alliteration…I think it’s pretty clever, if I do say so myself.

Happy New Year everybody! It’s going to be a cracker!

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Recipe

Ginger and Kaffir Lime Syrup

Ingredients

150g ginger, thinly sliced (no need to peel)

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced

juice of 1/2 lemon

Method

In a medium saucepan, on medium heat, combine the water and the sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer, on low/medium for about 45mins to an hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain.

Keep in the fridge in a sealed jar.

Kick up the Kaffir

Serves 1

Ingredients

30ml vodka

45ml ginger and kaffir lime syrup

1/2 lime juiced

slice of lime, to serve

ice

soda water

Method

Place the ice in a tall glass. Pour over the vodka, syrup and lime juice. Top with soda water and garnish with the slice of lime. Stir.

Cheers!

 

Pink Snapper Ceviche with Butter Bean Salad and Corn Chips

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I feel so lucky right now, all of my hard work over the last couple of years is definitely paying off. I am writing this post from my camping chair, under palm trees, next to the ocean, sipping a glass of wine and enjoying this delicious ceviche.

I have wanted to write a recipe for ceviche ever since I started this blog over a year ago. It was one of my most memorable and favourite meals during my time in South America. The first time I tried it was in Ecuador, in a tiny beach town that I can’t even recall the name of right now. The beach was lined with tiny huts, each selling ceviche and beer. We didn’t know which would be the best, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be very nice anyway, I was new to the culinary world and didn’t like the sound of fish ‘cooked’ in lime juice. Little did I know….

So, we sat down at the nearest hut, in white plastic chairs branded with coca cola signs and plastic tables covered with bright, floral, plastic tablecloths. One thing I was happy about straight away was the familiar bowl of Aji in the middle of the table; at least I knew if the meal tasted bad I could cover it in chilli salsa.

A young, round, solemn faced ecuadorian girl took our orders, and was back five mins later with bowls of ceviche served with extra limes and fried plantain chips (YES!)

I was still hesitant, but dove in. Wow, what a surprise! Delicious, melt in the mouth pieces of fish in a tangy, perfectly seasoned juice that I finished every sip of once the fish was gone. (Peruvians call this liquid, ‘Leche de Tigre’, Tiger’s Milk, and it is said to be very good at curing a hangover)

My version here is quite simple, as I was lucky enough to score some freshly caught local Pink Snapper and I didn’t want to hide its flavour with too many others. All countries in South America make their ceviche differently. Peru is the most famous for theirs, which is generally made with lime juice, chillies, red onion, coriander and salt and pepper; and is usually only cured for about 10 mins before it is eaten. But I preferred the Ecuadorian ceviche, with it’s punchy lime flavour and the way that they leave it for longer so that the fish is fully cooked.

I recently ate ceviche in a Mexican restaurant and they had also used some coconut milk which I thought was a great addition. So here, I’ve mixed all of the things that I like about all the different ceviches that I’ve tried. You can serve it in so many different ways; in lettuce cups as a canapé, on tostadas with guacamole as a party food, in a wrap for lunch, etc. The possibilities are endless and whats more is that you don’t need any electricity to do it!

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Recipe

Serves 1 as a main meal or 2 as a light meal

Ingredients

Ceviche

1 fillet of pink snapper, about 250g-300g, thinly sliced (or any other type of fresh fish)

Juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, chopped, plus extra to serve

1/4 cup coconut milk

Big pinch of salt

Sliced red chilli to serve

Salad

400g can butter beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 red capsicum, thinly sliced

1/4 cup coriander leaves

1/2 an avocado, sliced

Drizzle of lemon oil and white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

To serve

Plain corn chips

Extra limes

Hot chilli sauce

Lettuce or cabbage leaves (to use as cups)

Method

In a non-reactive dish (glass is best), combine the fish, lime juice, coriander, coconut milk, and salt. Stir to combine, cover and refridgerate for 2-3hrs.

Meanwhile, combine all the salad ingredients.

To serve, top the ceviche with extra coriander and fresh chilli. Serve with the salad, corn chips, lettuce leaves, hot sauce and extra limes.

Enjoy!

Pineapple Upside-down Cake (Gluten and Dairy Free)

DSC_0224When i was little, every easter, my brother and I would travel with our Dad and Step-Mum to Queensland to visit our Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles and Cousins. The myriad of cars we travelled in over the years always makes me laugh, from a mini green one called Kermit (similar to Mr Bean’s car), to a soft-top, black VW Bug that we loved to wave to our friends from when Dad picked us up rom school. The trips were no doubt an arduous task for our Dad and Step-mum, but they were very good at hiding their stress and making the trip fun for us with ham sandwiches and Mc-Flurrys. Not to mention the countless games we played on that 12 hour trip, my favourites being eye-spy or the hilarious task of sounding out all our friends and families names backwards (try it, it’s pretty funny).

Plus, there was always the exciting promise of fresh, sweet, locally grown pineapples from the Glass-house Mountains where my grandparents lived. I swear we were more interested in this healthy treat rather than the countless number of easter eggs the Easter Bunny would be leaving for us. I probably spent the majority of those two-week holidays with either a stomach-ache from too much chocolate or a numb tongue from too much pineapple.

Last week I was lucky enough to be given one of these delicious Glass-House Mountain grown pineapples by my boss, from her father’s farm. It was so big I decided to use half of it to make this cake, and, as delicious and pretty as it is, you wouldn’t think it was gluten and dairy free. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not allergic to dairy or gluten but I enjoy the challenge of creating foods that are free of these elements, and so allowing everyone to enjoy a wider selection of yummy treats.

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Recipe

Ingredients

350g fresh pineapple, about half a large pineapple, peeled, quartered vertically, core cut out, and cut vertically in 5mm slices.

180g coconut oil, softened

200g coconut sugar, plus 2 tablespoons extra

3 eggs

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g gluten free plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

40g desiccated coconut

125g crystallised ginger, chopped

1 lime, cut in half and grilled, cut side down, until brown and caramelised

Whipped cream or coconut ice-cream/yoghurt, to serve

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease and line a round 20cm springform tin, it must be lined with a whole piece of baking paper as opposed to cut pieces, to prevent the juices from running out.

Heat 30g oil and extra coconut sugar in a fry pan over medium heat. Add the pineapple slices in a single layer and cook for about 5mins per side or until caramelised.

Arrange pineapple slices, overlapping, in a circular pattern, in the base of the cake tin.

Beat remaining oil and 150g coconut sugar for a good 5mins, or until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated. Then briefly beat in the lime juice and vanilla.

Add flour, baking powder and coconut and beat on low speed until incorporated.

Spoon into cake tin, over the pineapple, and smooth.

Bake for 45-50 mins, or until cake springs back when pressed in the middle.

Remove from oven, cool in tin. Can be served warm or cold.

Enjoy!

Chipotle Prawns with Adobo Mayonnaise and Capsicum Salsa

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I haven’t always liked prawns. I remember the first prawn I ever ate. It was at one of my parents’ work christmas parties in some garage somewhere. As is mandatory at every Australian Christmas party, adorning the plastic tablecloth covered trestle tables, were huge platters of prawns with Thousand Island sauce, ready for fingers to get filthy dirty and smelly, peeling those little morsels of apparent deliciousness.

I thought they looked like the most disgusting things I could imagine. The way all the adults were ripping off the heads and then the rest of the shell and then just popping the whole thing into their mouths! My brother and I were horrified!

But Mum wouldn’t let us say we didn’t like something unless we tried it (which I’m grateful for now!) This was a tough one though, a special occasion I suppose. Mum actually bribed us with $2 each just to try a prawn! ($2 back in the 90’s could get you a serious amount of lollies at the newsagent!) So, I went first, after watching Mum rip the head and skin off this gross little worm looking thing, I closed my eyes and popped it into my mouth. It was gross! A yucky salty tough bit of stuff that I chewed as fast as I could and swallowed with watery eyes. Next was my brothers turn (he had to now, seeing as he copied everything I did, haha). I don’t think the prawn lasted more than half a second in his mouth before he spat it across the room! Classic.

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I think I was scarred by this experience and only ate another one about five years ago. It was at another christmas bash and I only ate it because I didn’t want to be rude. It wasn’t that bad but I’m still not a fan of eating prawns in this way.

Thankfully I have discovered that they are actually delicious if cooked in the right way! Think squid ink pasta with lemon and chilli prawns, or greek prawn saganaki with feta, or prawn tempura with soy dipping sauce. YUM! I’m getting hungry now!

Winter here in Newcastle this year has been very nice to us, I even lay out in the backyard on the weekend and got a bit of a tan! This type of weather has been getting me excited for this summer to come, now that we live in a house with a backyard! I can’t wait to fix up the garden and get a nice little herb garden happening. I also can’t wait to get some furniture out the back, so many warm night, outdoor dinners to look forward to!

This dish will be on high rotation this summer I think! It’s so quick and easy and delicious, I think it’s probably the best way I have ever eaten prawns! Very simple but so full of fresh and punchy flavours!  The Chipotle chillies in Adobo sauce are a star here, but if you can’t find them, use regular chillies and up the amount of smoked paprika.

You can serve these prawns with any of your favourite South American or Spanish types of sides. We have had them with soft tortillas, guacamole and salad, or rice, sweet potato chips and sour cream. You can’t really go wrong.

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Chipotle Prawns (original recipe)

Ingredients

1kg green prawns, peeled, deveined, tails intact

3 chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika

zest of 1 lime

2 tbs lemon oil

salt and pepper

Capsicum salsa

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1 small red capsicum, finely chopped

1 long red chilli, de-seeded, finely chopped

2 kumatos, de-seeded, finely chopped

1 bunch coriander, leaves and tender stalks finely chopped

2-3 limes juiced

1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

To serve

Adobo mayonnaise (combine whole egg mayonnaise with some adobo sauce from the chillies as well as some salt and pepper, all to taste)

Tortilla chips (brush tortillas with lemon/ olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cut into wedges and bake until crisp)

Baby cos lettuce leaves

Method

If using wooden skewers soak in water until ready to use (at least and hour)

Combine prawns with remaining ingredients and leave to marinate for 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, for the salsa, combine ingredients and leave in the fridge, stirring often to combine flavours.

Make tortilla chips (if using), and prepare lettuce leaves.

To cook prawns, thread from head end to tail end onto skewers. Pre-heat grill or bbq, cook prawns on high for 1-2 mins per side, or until cooked.

Serve immediately with sides.

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