Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

Baking my favorite banana bread November 8, 2017

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 9:00 am
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bananabread

Delicious smells and tastes with this banana bread!

There’s something about the drop in temperature and the clock falling back that jump starts my cooking interest. Maybe it’s something to keep me busy while stuck inside. It sort of amuses me to suddenly want to cook only because I swear I should be super skinny for how often I forget to eat (thankfully my stomach growls pretty loudly!).

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But alas, I walked past some quickly ripening bananas several times today before finally stopping at my cupboard where I store recipe books. One binder holds many recipes I’ve collected over the years. Among my favorites is a delicious banana bread recipe. Amazingly, all of the ingredients were in my cupboards and refrigerator. This rarely happens so I’m going to chalk this up to kicking off a great week!

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I originally found this recipe on the Weight Watchers website years ago when I was looking for a semi-healthy version of banana bread (the recipe used the old points system so I’m not going to share any of that information). Sometimes I swap the egg substitute for shell eggs (like today because I’m out of egg substitute), the cranberries for dark chocolate morsels (no judging; dark chocolate is the healthy version!), once added nuts (didn’t really like) and another time left out the cinnamon (I forgot it, oops). My point is, as with most recipes, you can make it what you want. Here’s the recipe:

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp light salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 cup fat free egg substitute (or 2 eggs)
  • 3 medium ripe, peeled and mashed bananas
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, dark chocolate chips, nuts or any ingredient
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INSTRUCTIONS:
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 9×5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

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Combine both flours, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Stir and set aside.

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In separate large bowl, beat sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed until sugar begins to dissolve, about 2-3 minutes.

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Beat eggs in to large bowl mixture. Beat in mashed bananas.Don’t forget to scrape down sides of the bowl. Remove beaters. Stir in flour mixture and cranberries (and/or other ingredients) with rubber spatula. Be sure to scrape sides of bowl to moisten everything.

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Pour batter into sprayed loaf pan, smoothing top. I lightly tap the pan on the counter to ensure batter is evenly distributed. Bake approximately 45 minutes or until browned – a toothpick inserted in center of loaf should come out with only a few moist crumbs. Place pan on wire cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then transfer loaf from pan to directly on rack to continue cooling.

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Cooled loaf can be sliced to enjoy and stored in plastic wrap at room temperature.

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Another idea is baking the batter in multiple small loaf pans (see my picture). I like these smaller, individual loaves as you can freeze for later, and this size is great for giving to family and friends. The cook time is a little shorter (usually 30 minutes for my oven) so keep an eye on them.

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Wine and food fest offers taste of California wines April 27, 2017

HH_Calistogawinefest

Cheers to wine country!

Sunshine, blue skies and warm temps greeted us on our second day in San Francisco. After an awesome first day of exploring, I woke happy and ready to see more. And I was not to be disappointed. My friend and I enjoyed a brisk walk through the streets of SOMA (South of Market), then a quick breakfast at a local coffee shop (the restaurants were crazy busy this morning!). It was time to get the car from the parking garage and head north…..to Napa Valley. Our destination was Calistoga.

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While San Francisco is a busy, condensed city, the land north opens up to rolling hills and mountains as you cross the Bay Bridge (or Golden Gate Bridge if you come from the coastal area) to Napa. Northern California has experienced a lot of rain (terrible flooding at times) so the scenery was green and blooming for us. And while I loved wandering the city streets of downtown San Francisco, I also melted at the sight of the mountains and open space greeting us as we drove. Not much soothes my soul more than time in nature. The beauty just makes me smile and relax.

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We arrived in downtown Napa by late morning. It was busy but we scored a parking spot

Napawinecheese

Yummy mimosas and snacks.

by the Oxbow Public Market. I love this place! It’s an indoor market lined with small shops selling natural products, baked goods, spices, books, flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, plus several restaurants and more. The energy of the crowd was addicting. I’m pretty sure I smiled like a silly fool the entire time we wandered through. Something about the place just struck me. I enjoyed it. We of course worked up an appetite and thirst after walking through the shops so grabbed a spot at the bar at the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Market. They were serving blood orange mimosas so we ordered two along with an amazing cheese, nut and fruit tray. It was a great place to enjoy our snacks and drinks while taking in the ambiance and energy of the place.

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We left Napa to journey along the Silverado Trail Road with our destination of Calistoga in mind. The drive was delightful as we passed winery after winery, each one’s vineyards filling rolling acres showcasing beautiful examples of architecture (serving as their tasting rooms, event locations, production facilities or other). The mountain landscape provided an inspiring backdrop and I was tickled to see so many cyclists pedaling along the bike lane.

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Calistogaspa

So relaxing.

Calistoga is a wonderfully quaint small town. The shops remind me of those small businesses you might find in Traverse City, Saugatuck and Grand Haven (for my Michigan readers). There were plenty of dining and drinking options and a small grocery store.

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We stayed at the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. The room had modern touches, along with a small kitchenette, space to unpack clothes and a spacious shower. The highlights are a lap pool, geothermal mineral pool, large adult only covered mineral spring hot tub and children’s pool. The outdoor area had plenty of lounge chairs, plus multiple lovely landscaped areas with small tables and chairs – perfect for enjoying drinks and food (which we did!).

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Our plan was to spend the rest of the day at the Calistoga Food and Wine event held at Solage Calistoga. It was a nice walk from our resort. The event was held under tents on the lawn and in the barn. The ambiance was fun and we met many great people, both from the wineries and restaurants as well as other patrons.

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More than 40 wineries were at the event, meaning we tasted some wonderful wine! Some of my favorites included Sebright Cellars, Twomey Cellars, Tom Eddy Winery, Next Door Wines, Olabisi, Jones Family Vineyards and Huge Bear Wines. The food was outstanding as well! We had salmon cakes, steaks, cheeses, fresh vegetables, chicken, and delicious desserts. Add in awesome jazz and beautiful artwork by Tim Howe placed throughout the event, it was a wonderful evening.

 

Trying the coffee craze February 8, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 11:00 am
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keurigbrewingIn a kick off to my best year ever, I decided to finally kick my pop habit (yes, that’s what we call the liquid in the Midwest).

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I didn’t drink coffee so Dr Pepper was my daily caffeine. I usually had one in the morning, at my work desk, while I caught up on email and prepared for the day’s meetings and projects. I’d drink one here and there on the weekend and vacation. But here’s the weird thing – I only drank Dr Pepper so if the store/restaurant didn’t carry that brand, I wouldn’t drink any pop. At any rate, I know that pop isn’t the best for you (even diet pop is bad) so I decided to kick it. And I did. I stopped drinking Dr Pepper over the holidays and have drank only two since then (and I didn’t really even enjoy it anymore so didn’t finish those!).

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I also needed to cut back on my Starbucks Chai latte, which is high in sugar. Not to mention adds up in cost. I didn’t drink these daily but enough to note that I needed to scale back. So I convinced myself to limit the crave to once per week. And I’ve been able to manage that since early January (and it’s a yummy indulgence when the one time arrives!).

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So as I removed both of these drinks from my regular routine, what could I add in place when I need a pick me up? I drink plenty of water and have enough tea. I suddenly found myself starting to drink…coffee! I haven’t had coffee since I was 10 when my mom let us drink a cup on Saturday mornings while watching cartoons (keeping in mind that cup was mostly milk, a dash of sugar and some coffee!).

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Some people ask why start drinking anything new? Why start drinking coffee at this point in life? Good questions….but I didn’t commit to cutting out caffeine and can drink only so much tea, so why not? On a funnier note, several cycling friends said that many cyclists drink beer and coffee. I guess I’ll fit into the cycling community a bit better this year (whew, because you know I was worried. Ha)!

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I’m still figuring out my tastes. Dark roasts are too strong. A few of the light roasts are too….well, light. I’m on the fence on flavored coffees, although I like a hazelnut flavored coffee, but vanilla is a little strong. I definitely need a creamer or splash of milk. I like some flavored creamers but nothing too sweet. I don’t even want to know about ‘fancy’ coffees until I get a bit more settled  – OMG do I sound like an adult or what?? Geesh. Although, now that I mention it, I do feel a bit more adult-like, getting my coffee in the morning, enjoying the aroma and warm taste!

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What’s your favorite brand, flavor, way to drink coffee? I need some suggestions!

 

**PS. Yes, I recycle my K-cups. 🙂

 

Warm up with delicious chili and soups January 15, 2017

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 7:54 pm
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Winter weather is still finding its way to Michigan. When the temps are low and cold, I enjoy a warm meal at the end of the day. I try to eat fairly healthy, which means trying to cook more at home.

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I love using my slow cooker. It’s so easy to drop ingredients in it, go to work and come home to a great smelling home and food ready to eat. Something about cold winter weather makes soups and chili sound pretty appealing so those type of slow cooker recipes keep making their way out of my cookbook. These are a few of my favorites that I’ve made several times, with variations of my own.

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Chicken taco chili

I love tacos and chili so a combination of the two is a win for me. And this slow cooker chictacochilirecipe is a definite win in the taste and easy to make categories.

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Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) diced petite tomatoes
  • 10 oz frozen corn
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 package taco seasoning (I use low sodium)
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder

Place all ingredients, except chicken, in slow cooker and mix well. Place chicken breasts on top and gently press down so chicken is covered by liquid mixture. Cook on low for 10 hours or high for 6 hours. About 30 minutes before cook time ends, remove chicken breasts. Shred chicken and return to slow cooker and stir, then let sit for remaining time. Serve with whatever toppings you prefer (sour cream, tortilla strips, shredded cheese, cilantro, etc.).

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*Adapted originally from skinnytaste.com

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Chuck Wagon-Style Turkey Chili

I’ve made this Weight Watchers recipe many times and slowly have added my own adaptation of it to fit my tastes. It is delicious and filling. The only downside is that the original recipe makes only enough for one bowl for maybe four adults (and not really hungry men) so if I’m having company, I make a double recipe.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound uncooked lean ground turkey breast
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 15 1/2 oz canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 10 oz bag of frozen corn
  • 3/4 cup barbecue sauce (I’ve used hickory, honey or Sweet Baby Ray’s)
  • 1/3 cup canned tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Spray a large nonstick skillet with nonstick spray and set over medium high heat. Add the turkey, break it up, and cook thoroughly. Transfer the turkey and any juices to a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover and cook until vegetables are softened – usually 4-5 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low. Stir in additional water if chili appears dry.

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Vegetable soup

This soup is healthy and delicious (yes they can be both!). It’s easy to make and full of vegsoupgood things! You can increase or decrease the vegetables listed below, based on your preference. For instance, I like the shredded cabbage in this soup so sometimes add more.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium red pepper, diced
  • 1-2  celery stalk(s), diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 2-3 cups green cabbage, shredded
  • 10 oz frozen corn
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp table salt or to taste (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)

Add vegetables, broth and oregano into large pot. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to low heat, partly covered, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to your taste.

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You can also use a blend of frozen vegetables for the soup. If you want to add a meat, I sometimes add cooked, diced chicken or sliced chicken sausage.

 

Tomato/cucumber salad holds onto summer September 23, 2016

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 11:45 am
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tomatoesI know the first day of fall happened yesterday but I’m not quite ready to pull out the sweaters, boots and chili recipes. Instead, I’m wearing shorts and sandals today, and snacking on some refreshing summer vegetables.

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Believe it or not, I wasn’t a fan of tomatoes until about two years ago. Yes, I ate tomato-based foods (spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc.) but I politely declined any fresh tomato. Then I happened to try grape and cherry tomatoes and loved them. Now I buy containers of the mini tomatoes from the road side farm stand near me almost weekly since I love to snack on them. I even grew a small plant on my balcony, which produced some delicious cherry tomatoes. But, sadly, not enough to keep me fulfilled, thus I continue to support our local farmers.

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In case you’re wondering (as I did) about the difference between grape and cherry tomatoes – it mostly comes down to the shape. Cherry tomatoes are round and small, similar to cherries. Grape tomatoes are typically oblong, and a little hardier and smaller than cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes tend to be a little sweeter than their grape size counterpart.

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Anyway, I digress. With this love of the mini tomatoes, I started making a tomato and cucumber salad over the summer. Each time I made it, I added various ingredients to switch up the flavors based on my appetite.

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tomatocucumbersaladIt’s such an easy recipe. I slice a handful of grape tomatoes in half (length way). How many I use depends on the salad I’m making. Just for me? Maybe 10-12. To share? I add more. Then I slice a cucumber into small pieces and mix the vegetables together. Some other ingredient options:

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Fresh mozzarella balls, sliced

Bacon bits

Chopped hard boiled egg

Fresh spinach

Chopped chicken

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Then I add mix 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then drizzle onto the salad. Toss lightly and enjoy!

 

Summer pasta, bacon and vegetable salad September 7, 2016

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 4:00 pm
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pastasaladThe humidity finally slid out of Michigan, leaving wonderfully warm, yet relaxing weather. Despite the pumpkin seasoning and haunted houses appearing in retailers, it’s still the summer season so I’m still enjoying all things summertime! This means that I am not ready to turn the hot oven on to cook. I shared in a recent blog that I’m trying to make myself prep meals more often so I dug through some favorite recipes again.

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This easy summer pasta salad came from a Kroger mailer! I’ve tweaked it a bit to add some variety for my taste. It’s such a simple, yet tasty salad that you can really make it any way that suits you.

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Here are the ingredients for this yummy salad:

  • Cooked pasta (I use approximately 6-8 oz uncooked)
  • 1-2 cups chopped romaine lettuce (you can also use spinach)
  • 1 cup sliced grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup bacon bits
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Dressing:

  • 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (sometimes I use flavored olive oil, like basil)
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Once the pasta is cooked, run under cold water to cool. Mix all ingredients together. Add the dressing – I add a little at a time, then toss the ingredients to determine if I need more dressing. You can also optionally add salt, pepper and seasonings to taste.

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To make this a heartier meal, I’ve added diced cooked chicken, fresh cut broccoli and cucumbers. I also switch up my pasta, at times using wheat, veggie or gluten-free pasta. It’s really an open recipe based on your palate!

 

Yoga, good food and great conversations August 27, 2016

My friend recently invited a few women to enjoy a relaxing day of yoga, food and friendship. I’m always up for that type of adventure so looked forward to the outing.

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She invited us to first meet at Namaste Yoga in Royal Oak. Some of the women had not previously practiced yoga so we opted for an essential hatha yoga class, which is gentle and relaxing. I enjoy taking yoga classes and probably should go more often. It’s a nice compliment to the strength training, hiking, biking, Zumba and other cardio that I participate in on a regular basis. Yoga helps me stretch tight muscles, strengthen my core, and relax my mind (or try to relax my mind as I can never quite shut the thoughts off! Can you?).

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yogamatblocksThis was my first visit to Namaste Yoga. It’s a small studio located on Troy Street, a block from the public parking lot adjacent to the farmer’s market building. That day, the meters and pay station were covered in the lot so I took it as a sign I was meant to be there and appreciated the free parking! Linda, the owner, was very welcoming when we arrived. I instantly felt like the entire ambiance of the studio is relaxed and friendly.

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Just past the lobby area is a large studio, with a smaller room attached to that. One of the walls is full of windows so lots of natural light flowed into the room. Some people prefer to practice yoga in a dimly lit setting but I actually liked the natural light. It was a beautiful, cool, sunny summer morning, which makes me appreciate nature even more. So a great setting for grounding myself in yoga! Namaste has yoga mats, blocks, bands, blankets and other accessories if needed. The instructor encouraged all of us to move at our own pace and modify when necessary. The class was a great way to start our morning.

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After yoga we were all hungry! My friend suggested a favorite place of hers – GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale. I love trying new places so was game. GreenSpace is a plant-based restaurant and bar. Their food contains no GMOs, preser­v­a­tives, processed foods or animal products, and they don’t use microwaves or fry­ers. They even serve “conscious cocktails” made with fruits and greens. The restaurant was founded by a local cardiologist and his family. I was pretty intrigued by this point.

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GreenSpace’s ambiance is natural, chic and relaxed. I’m a sucker for the natural wood/outdoorsy decor so I felt comfortable right away (don’t judge, I like the outdoors!). The cocktail menu was interesting – elderflower, carrot juice, watermelon juice, lemongrass-infused vodka, and lavender syrup are some of the ingredients that make up a fun list of tasty drinks.

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We started with the cheese board and farmer’s board. The ‘cheeses’ are made with cashews prepared several different ways (smoked, etc.). I definitely was curious as to what cashew cheese tasted like and will share that it was all very tasty. I ordered the quinoa lentil burger, which was delicious and filled me up! My friends ordered a variety of dishes – tomatillo gazpacho soup, caesar salad, sandwiches and bowls. We all declared our food choices as successes and decided we would return to try more of the menu!

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I’ve had so much happening in my life the past few months, a divorce, house hunting, work, health appointments and more, that I didn’t realize how much I needed some fun, relaxing girl time until I spread my yoga mat, sat down and looked at the girlfriends surrounding me. As we whispered and giggled before the start of class, I could feel the stress seep out of me. It made me remember that part of life is recognizing and embracing the wonderful, kind, loving people who show up exactly when you need them. I am blessed to have such people in my life and grateful for the opportunities to make memories with them.

 

 
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