Summer Cocktails: Elena’s Spicy Gin Gimlet

ginlet 3I love cocktails.  I covet them.  And despite my obsession with attempting to master the art of cooking everything, for many years I simply couldn’t figure out how to make a drinkable one.  I knew from watching the talented bartenders at my place of work, that they involved alcohol,  juice and something sweet.  But every time I tried to squeeze limes, boil sugar and water into a syrup and mix it all together with whatever poison was in my freezer, it always came out terribly tart, sickly sweet, or disturbingly boozy.

“Cocktails are the next frontier for me.” I announced to my  boss Matt one day in the office. “I’m going to learn how to make delicious cocktails.” It was kind of an embarrassing thing to announce. After all, I had been watching our famous bar chef Christiaan Rollich create masterpieces for years. I knew what was in them and I knew how they tasted.

“It’s very simple.” He explained. “You should think of a cocktail as four parts.” A person with normal patience probably would have just ignored my stupidity and continued with their work. But Matt turned to me at his desk and explained in great detail the science of making a cocktail. “Take the classic gin and tonic, for example. It’s two parts gin and two parts tonic.” I hung on his every word. “A gimlet is two parts gin, one part lime juice and one part simple syrup. However, you have to be aware of  the concentration of your simple syrup.”  As he spoke I imagined myself in a mid-century modern living room, mingling with friends, laughing while sipping perfect gimlets out of vintage coupe glasses. It had finally clicked. Thanks to the most patient and knowledgeable restaurant general manager on the planet, I would finally be able to put the lovely silver bar set I had received as a wedding gift to good use.

So when my dear friend Elena came over for a Himalayan salt block pork chop dinner last week, I couldn’t wait to offer her a classic gimlet upon arrival. We sipped them as I cooked Peach and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Summer Corn Salad.  But when we sat down to eat I noticed green bits floating in her drink.

“Did you add jalapeño and cilantro to your gimlet?” I asked, confused. “It’s not guacamole.” I reminded her.

“Yeah.” She said. “It’s so good.”

I had finally mastered the classic beverage and Elena added a hint of her heritage, making it even better.

Enjoy!

Heather

 

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Adventures in Himalayan Salt Block Cooking: Peach and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Summer Corn Salad

Peach and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Summer Corn Salad. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Peach and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Summer Corn Salad. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

A few years ago, on Christmas morning, my sister handed me a rather heavy gift. Inside was a beautiful pink slab of what looked like marble. This is embarrassing, but I had no idea what it was. “It’s a Himalayan salt block!” Naturally. My sister announced, proud of her creative yet relevant gift idea.   And as much as I loved the look and idea of this gorgeous pink block, I’m ashamed to say, it has been sitting in my pantry the ever since. Every so often she would ask, “Have you used that salt block we gave you?” Wide eyed and so excited to hear how it had worked out.  I would shamefully promise, “Not yet. But I will!”

The truth is that I have been intimidated. I consider myself well-versed on the subject of kitchen equipment. I thought from my experience in restaurants that I knew  all there is to know about what an ambitious home cook should have or covet for their own kitchen.  But sure enough, my over-achieving, brilliant, multitasking, genius-of-a-sister had to find the one cooking tool I’d never heard of. The other problem was that, at the time, there wasn’t much information on salt blocks out there. I couldn’t even find a recipe on the internet. More recently, they seem to be growing in popularity and cookbooks are being published on how to use the stunning pink blocks. Not to mention that, a few weeks ago, my sister sent me an email with dozens of links to salt block recipes. God she’s good. I no longer had an excuse. It was time to break in this beauty. I should have done it sooner because the results have been marvelous.

I started out with shrimp, which was incredible! And then moved on to the beloved pork chop. The block gave the chops a beautiful dark crust and a moist, perfectly tender middle. If you don’t have a salt block, don’t worry, you can still make the below pork recipe using a grill or cast-iron skillet. I recommend serving it with a simple summer corn salad and gin gimlets to drink!

Enjoy!

Heather

 

Peach and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Summer Corn Salad. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Peach and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Summer Corn Salad. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

My beautiful friend Elena capturing the moment. Photo Credit:  Heather Platt

My beautiful friend Elena capturing the moment. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Peach and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Summer Corn Salad
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Perfect Pantry: Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

I was heavier in college. Or as my mom would say, “you look healthy!” Her sweet voice going up one octave as she tried to be honest and sensitive at the same time. The pitch of one’s voice always rises while stretching the truth.

It’s a common phenomenon, the so-called “freshman fifteen.” Or in my case, the freshman twenty-five. It makes perfect sense now. I had left the comfort of my home to be nourished only by strangely globular and flavorless cafeteria food followed by a tall sugar cone filled with sugary soft serve with sprinkles. Gross, I know.

Another contributing factor to the college chub was my chocolate addiction.  Addiction seems like a strong word but that’s really exactly what it was. I often walked many New York City blocks out of my way to purchase the high-end German milk chocolate bars with hazelnuts at the  specialty corner markets. I was hooked. And though I have loved hazelnuts for many years, this was my only association with them; those damn chocolate bars that made me fat at NYU.

But in recent years, I have discovered that these wonderful little brown nuts have a place in a lot of  healthier  fare. I love them roasted and sprinkled on salads of beets and goat cheese, on chicken like Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula and Hazelnuts. and most recently on Seared Scallops with Chickpea Couscous, Warm Summer Tomatoes, Hazelnuts and Tarragon Aioli. And yes, once in awhile I still enjoy those delicious milk chocolate and hazelnut bars…just not every day.

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

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Summer Seafood: Seared Scallops with Chickpea Couscous, Warm Summer Tomatoes, Hazelnuts and Tarragon Aioli

Seared Scallops with Chickpea Couscous, Warm Summer Tomatoes, Hazelnuts and Tarragon Aioli. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Seared Scallops with Chickpea Couscous, Warm Summer Tomatoes, Hazelnuts and Tarragon Aioli. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

I ate too many snails once. I don’t regret it. They were delicious. It was 2003. I was a young, naive étudiante américaine  living in Paris and traveling with an utterly fabulous group of cooler-than-I-will-ever-be French bohemians to a man named Nico’s  oceanfront house in Bretagne. It’s a long story. And  it’s  also called Brittany if you’re American, but I like to pretend that I’m French. America had just begun the guerre en Iraq (war) and I had spent the winter in Paris bundled in French-looking jackets and a blue beret (no joke) that matched the color of my eyes in an attempt to blend in so as to avoid the angry questioning that many Parisians had for Americans at that time.

Nico and his girlfriend Celine were the kind of people who I simultaneously did not understand and yet totally admired. They spent half of their time in Madagascar. They did not want to live in the U.S. because it was not enough of a “bordel” (translation: whorehouse) for them. When asked what she does for work replied “we work with oils,” and one time handed me a plate of the most delicious ratatouille I have ever tasted in my life which we ate while watching the sunset on the balcony of her Paris apartment. Needless to say, a weekend in Bretagne with them was a privilege. And as I quickly learned, Bretagne is like the Vermont and Maine of France, speckled with cows, delicious cheese, cider and fresh seafood all-in-one. Did I mention that Nico was a chef?

On our first morning there, he woke everyone up and insisted that we walk down to the water because the tide was low. Using the given tools we dug up  treasures from the sea. Coquilles St-Jacques (sea scallops), Les huîtres (oysters) and my favorite of all; bulots (sea snails) were caught  for lunch. Bulots are different than the escargot you’ll find at your neighborhood French restaurant. Bulots are meatier, tougher and chewier. We ate the oysters raw and Nico steamed everything else and made a simple homemade aioli for dipping. On that beautiful sunny day in Bretagne, I ate more than my fair share of bulots mayonnaise.

I haven’t eaten bulots since then, been back to Bretagne or spoken to anyone on that holiday in about ten years. It was one of those trips where the only souvenir I have of it are the memories and the occasional really strong craving for homemade aioli with my seafood. So a few nights ago while preparing to make scallops with summer tomatoes and hazelnuts, I just couldn’t stop thinking about those bulots and Nico’s delicious aioli. So this quick summer dish of pan-seared sea scallops gets a special flourish at the end. A dollop of fresh made aioli as a tribute to Bretagne.

Enjoy!

Heather

 

Seared Scallops with Chickpea Couscous, Warm Summer Tomatoes, Hazelnuts and Tarragon Aioli

Serves 4

for aioli:

  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup grape seed oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup tarragon leaves

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and salt to a paste. In a cold metal bowl place the egg yolk. Gradually whisk in the oil one drop at a time whisking constantly to make the mayonnaise.  As the mayonnaise becomes thick you may whisk in the remaining oil in a slow steady stream. If the mayonnaise becomes too thick, you may add a drop of cold water. Fold in the garlic paste, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Set aside and refrigerate if necessary.

 

for couscous

  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 3 large carrots, julienned
  • 1 cup whole wheat couscous
  • kosher salt

In a medium saucepan, bring the half of the vegetable broth to a boil. Add the chickpeas and cook until softened, about 30 minutes. Add the remaining vegetable broth and return to a bowl. Add the couscous and carrots, remove from heat and cover. Let stand while you make the scallops.

for scallops

  • 1/3 cup coarsely  skin-on hazelnuts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pound large sea scallops, side muscle removed, patted dry
  • 1 pint mixed colored mini heirloom tomatoes
  •   2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast until fragrant and  golden brown, about  8 minutes. Remove from oven and coarsely chop. Toss them with 1 teaspoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Season scallops with salt and pepper and, using tongs, place in the pan. Sear on until golden brown and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

Add tomatoes and shallot to the pan , season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 6 minutes. Mix in the red wine vinegar.

Place a large spoonful of the chickpea couscous on the center of each plate. Spoon the tomatoes and shallots over the couscous. Place the scallops on top of the couscous, sprinkle with hazelnuts and finish with a dollop of aioli and tarragon leaves.

 

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Remembering Michael’s on the Hill: Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula and Hazelnuts

 Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula & Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula & Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

 

I have recently returned to Los Angeles after spending almost two weeks in the green mountain state. And like any vacation I take, I tend to dwell on the  food. I don’t want to waste a single meal eating anything that’s less than delicious, sit at any table that is less than atmospheric or eat a cheese that wasn’t produced from a local cow or goat. Okay, I know that last part sounds like a lot to ask, but by Vermont standards, it’s really just reasonable. Achieving culinary perfection three times a day while traveling, is of course, easier said than done.  But it’s always good to aim high. And  seeing as this recent trip was for the purpose of our wedding and gathering all of our favorite people in the world to one magnificently green (and unfortunately chilly) place,  the pressure was particularly high to provide the tastiest of grub.

No matter how much good food I eat on a trip, I find that there’s always one thing that sticks out in my mind above the rest. For example, the berliners from Grüner in Portland, Oregon circa March, 2011. I ate a lot of remarkably delicious food on that very rainy two-day trip. But those warm marionberry jam-filled  sugared donuts were pretty much all I thought about for a month. This time, I can’t stop thinking about the skillet chicken with heirloom tomatoes, foraged mushrooms, arugula and hazelnuts from Michael’s on the Hill in Waterbury, Vermont. The night before our wedding, we brought our bridesmaids and groomsmen  to dinner at the converted farmhouse on the hill. I have no idea how chef Michael Kloeti made this chicken. All I know it that everyone in the wedding was talking to me about it for days. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it for two weeks. So now, back home in Los Angeles, with a pile of brand new pots and pans, I thought what better way to break these bad boys in than to try and recreate the tastiest of Vermont chicken. Although I encourage you to truly forage delicious wild mushrooms, I foraged mine from Trader Joe’s.  Needless to say, the results were blog-worthy.

Enjoy!

Heather

Nice mountain views make happy Vermont chickens. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Nice mountain views make happy Vermont chickens. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula and Hazelnuts.

by Heather Platt (inspired by Michael’s on the Hill, Waterbury, VT)

Serves 4

  • 2 lbs skinless and boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 pint assorted mini heirloom tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 large shallots
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil
  • 2 cups foraged mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 4 cups organic baby arugula
  • 3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 pound asiago cheese
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a medium sauce pan filled with water over high heat and bring to a boil. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a bowl of ice water for blanching the hazelnuts. With a slotted spoon, place the hazelnuts in the boiling water for 1 minute. Using the same spoon remove from the boiling water and place in the ice water to stop the cooking. Remove from the water and place the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast the hazelnuts for 8 minutes until they smell nutty. Let them cool and chop them coarsely.

Dice one of the shallots and place it in a small bowl with the red wine vinegar, sherry and a pinch of salt. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then whisk in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.

Tear the mushrooms into 1-inch pieces. If the mushrooms are small, you may leave them whole.

Heat a large, non-stick sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the truffle oil and heat for one more minute. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and swirl it around until it foams. Add the mushrooms to the pan and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Sauté  the mushrooms about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until they are cooked and browned.

Meanwhile, place the chicken thighs between two pieces of clear plastic wrap and pound (I use a cast iron skillet) to a 1-inch thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in the cast iron skillet. When the pan is very hot, add the chicken and cook on each side until golden brown.

Place the arugula in a large salad bowl. Slice the second shallot and add it to the pan with cooked mushrooms. Spoon the hot mushrooms over the arugula. Return the pan to the stove and add half of the vinaigrette. Swirl the pan to heat it. When the dressing is warm pour half of it over the salad.  Cut the heirloom tomatoes into quarters and toss with arugula and mushrooms. Using your hands scoop the salad on to the center of four plates. Place the cooked chicken on top of each salad. Using a vegetable peeler, shave asiago cheese on to the chicken and salad. Spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the chicken and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.

 

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Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula & Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

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Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula & Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Vermont spring chickens. Photo credit: Heather Platt

Vermont spring chickens. Photo credit: Heather Platt

Michaels on the hill chicken 2

Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula & Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

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The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook: Kale Salad with Asian Peanut Dressing

The VT farm table cookbook 3mbb

Kale Salad with Asian Peanut Dressing. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Kale Salad with Asian Peanut Dressing. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Amee Farm Organic Kale. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Amee Farm Organic Kale. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Amee Farm. Pittsfield, Vermont. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Amee Farm. Pittsfield, Vermont. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

A few months ago, I received an exciting email from a woman named Tracey Medeiros. Tracey lives in Vermont and is a freelance food writer, food stylist,  recipe developer and tester. She is quite frankly, my dream job personified.  She had  found me  on the internet and, noticing that I’m a food-oriented person from Vermont, asked  if I would like a copy of her latest cookbook The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook.  Once my palpable envy of her career/life  subsided, I responded with an obvious and extremely grateful “YES and thank you!” The truth is that I already owned her first  wonderful cookbook Dishing up Vermont. It was one of those cookbooks that I’d flipped through over and over again. The charming pictures of Vermont farm animals, inns, restaurants and the beautiful dishes it’s chefs had created with the local and seasonal produce, cheese, eggs, meat and poultry would make me hungry and homesick all at once.  When I received The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook in the mail from Tracey’s publicist, it had the same effect on me.  With a strong urge to make hearty winter dishes like Vermont Cheddar Soup, Sauteed Sea Scallops in a Smoked Bacon and Maple Cream Sauce and Amber Ale-Braised Highland Chuck Beef Roast, I ignored the 90 degree weather and the palm trees swaying outside the window of my Los Angeles apartment and headed to my local farmers market. The results,  albeit weather-inappropriate were always delicious.

Now, several months later, I am here in this magical moment in Vermont known as late June. The mountains are more verdant than ever, the buttercups are decorating the fields like yellow sprinkles on a bright green cake, the humid heat of summer has not yet arrived but the cold is long gone. The sun seems like it will never set and a cool breeze makes for restful nights. So what better time to continue cooking from my new favorite Vermont cookbook? And seeing as I was married last weekend here amidst the glory of the green mountains and proceeded to  happily indulge in food (I can’t seem seem to get enough cheese!!) and beverage, it seemed appropriate to eat a salad made of local kale.

Almost of the ingredients for this refreshing and nourishing salad were purchased at the East Warren Community Market in Warren, Vermont. This is my all-time favorite place to buy food. Everything on the shelves is made locally with love and the store is so perfectly curated that the manager once told me that she didn’t carry a certain kind of popcorn because she didn’t like the packaging. The feta I used is from Maplebrook Farms in Bennington, Vermont and I substituted pine nuts for the pepitas.

Enjoy!

Heather

 

Kale Salad with Asian Peanut Dressing. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Kale Salad with Asian Peanut Dressing. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Massaged Kale Salad with Asian Peanut Dressing

by Tracey Medeiros

serves 4

  • 1/3 cup pepitas (or walnuts or sunflower seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 bunch green kale, stemmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup Asian Peanut Dressing (recipe follows)
  • 2 small peaches, pitted and diced
  • 2 ounces Maplebrook Farm feta cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)

Place the pepitas, oil and salt in a medium skillet and toss to coat. Toast over medium heat until the pepitas turn light brown and start to pop, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside on paper towels.

In a large bowl, combine the kale and 1/2 of the dressing. Using your hands, massage the kale until it is bright green and slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes, adding more dressing to taste. Top with the pepitas, peaches and feta. Serve at once.

Asian Peanut Dressing

Makes 1 1/3 cups

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 4 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar

Whisk together all the ingredients until combined.

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maplebrook farm, feta

east warren community market

East Warren Community Market. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

East Warren Community Market. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

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Rose Gold and Cupcakes: My Bridal Shower by the Sea

 

rose gold and cupcakes 5.3.14

It has become a bit of a family tradition (whether she likes it or not) to have all of our important life-event celebrations at my Aunt Betsy’s stunning seaside house in Kittery, Maine.  My sister’s thirtieth surprise birthday weekend, various cousin’s bridal showers, baby showers, you name it. They always involve lots of freshly caught Maine lobster and they happen at Aunt Betsy’s. There is something about being at the remote seaside location, nestled right on the edge of a point in a quiet inlet of ocean water that always feels like a special occasion.  These events, though startling markers of how fast time is passing, are also comforting reminders that some things can stay the same.

So as the youngest of all of my female cousins, the last one to marry and my wedding date rapidly approaching, I couldn’t help but dream of having my bridal shower at the seaside location too.  My future husband proposed to me about a year ago with a rose gold ring and it’s pretty color has informed all of my visions for our wedding. My cousin Ty and my sister went with this idea and  created a beautiful rose-gold themed bridal shower for me. Everything from the gold sugar crusted flutes of pink champagne, to the caught-day-of  lobster, shrimp and delicious lemon butter cream cupcakes from Cote’s Cupcakes in Eliot, ME,  matched the theme.  I couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful and delicious day!

Fresh Maine Shrimp Cocktail

Fresh Maine Shrimp Cocktail

 

 

My sweet sister

My Sweet Sister

 

flowers and Liz 5.3.14

 

lobster salad for lobster rolls

lobster salad for lobster rolls

Fresh Maine Lobster Rolls

Fresh Maine Lobster Rolls

 Maine Lobster Rolls

serves 4

1/2 pound fully cooked lobster meat
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 New England-style hot dog bunsIn a large bowl, mix the lobster meat with the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper.  Stuff the buns with lobster meat and serve.

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pink sparkly 5.3.14

 

lemon cupcakes with rose-colored butter cream frosting

lemon cupcakes with rose-colored butter cream frosting from Cote’s Cakes in Eliot, ME

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