Rueben’s Rubies

I know that’s a bit of a corny heading, but with the ruby colour these quince turned out it just seemed to fit. It still amazes me how such ordinary fruit can become so beautiful and tasty after cooking.

A couple of months ago we had the pleasure of joining some friends at a degustation dinner at a great eating establishment in Mt Evelyn. Billy Goat Hill Brasserie is well worth a visit if ever you are in the area (even if you’re not, go for a drive!). Along with some great menu choices, Reuben the chef and other staff are great hosts and go out of their way to make your experience a positive one. There is an obvious passion and commitment to good wholesome food and sustainability which is evident from before you even enter. Part of our dinner included some sensational quince and I cheekily asked Reuben of he would share his secret and he very graciously obliged. Just have a look at these beauties!

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These were Reuben’s instructions-Peel and core into 8, bring the peelings, cores and some lemon rind to boil with about 20% sugar to quince (that’s around one cup to every five quinces), simmer for about 10 minutes then strain the liquid over the peeled quince in a baking tray. The water should cover the quince, give them some room… put foil over the top and place in a low oven until soft (about two hours). Take the foil off, bring the heat up and get some colour on to them. After another hour or so, give them a shake once or twice and yum! Good luck!

Served with Annabel Langbein’s 3 ingredient chocolate mousse and some pure cream it was an extremely rich dessert but heavenly. The sweetness of the quinces syrupy juice with the strong chocolate meant I had to virtually lick my plate clean! Thanks Reuben! Can’t wait till we are back down that way again.

Quince RecipeChilli Jam-not so chilly!

Our harvest of chillies, both jalapeño and rocoto is starting to reach it’s peak, so yesterday I thought I’d make some chilli jam for using as a marinade, dips and all sorts of things. These jalapeño are from just one bush and I have another 3 to go! Any tips as to good preserving recipes much appreciated.

ChilliesI used Annabel Langbein’s (yes, again!) Chilli Jam recipe as a base and all went according to plan. Her recipe uses 8 long red chillies so I had to have a guess at how many of our chillies were the equivalent. I also cut the sugar back a bit and when the paste was processed I weighed it and used the equivalent weight of sugar. Cooked up really well but boy it has a kick to it!

IMG_3381Slow Cooker Roast Chicken-Asian Style

I had planned on doing a plain, normal old roast chicken in the slow cooker but was keen to try the new chilli jam on something so I reconfigured my plans.  The chicken went into the slow cooker with some sliced ginger, a chilli and some coriander. I rubbed the outside with sesame oil and cooked on high for 3 hours then turned down to low, basted with the juices.

I soaked some rice noodles so they would be ready at serving time, prepared some vegetables for stir frying, broccoli, carrot, snow peas, bok choy, green capsicum and spring onions. I microwaved these for 1 minute and left covered until serving time when I tossed them into the wok with some ginger, sesame oil and a small amount of stock. I shredded the chicken and had kept it hot by wrapping it in foil and leaving in the slow cooker until serving time. All of this worked well as it meant everything was ready to go when our son arrived and there were no deadlines to worry about.

To serve I placed some rice noodles onto the plate, topped with the stir fried vegetables then the shredded chicken. Garnished with spring onions and added the chilli jam on the side so we could use as desired or not. I was a bit nervous about the jam being too hot so also served a bowl of plain chilli sauce for those not quite as partial to hot flavours. The heat intensity actually diminished quite a bit when eaten with the other ingredients. All in all very nice.

IMG_3400Thanks to Mirboo Pastured Poultry for such flavoursome chicken once again it was so juicy and tasty. Need to restock now, that was the last of it.

 

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Preparing for the onslaught.

Very soon, all of these leaves will hit the ground with no concerns about me wanting to maintain some level of order.Oak leavesAdd to this the dropping leaves  from the ‘Faraway Tree’ size Pin Oak in the front yard and we will be smothered. Not complaining, I do love them but there are so many it can be overwhelming. Relentless! Last year we decided not to try to keep the yard orderly and wait until all had fallen and then do a major clean up. This worked pretty well but there were areas where leaves seemed to naturally congregate, so rather than collect and move them to the far end of the yard into awaiting compost bins (should say leaf mold bins) I am locating bins strategically so we can just mow and toss right into the bin. All part of sustainable design!

I’ve put the first bin in the little space where what used to be the visiting dentist’s room is. You can see there already some leaves settling in.IMG_3326I can get the mower in, mulch all the leaves up and chuck straight into the bin. The leaves take forever to breakdown if they are not chopped up first. Mixed with lawn clippings and other greens it helps hasten the process.IMG_3328

My first ever kale experience.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have never tried kale before and had no idea really on what to do with it. Decided to just pretend it was like spinach and wing it. This is the result and it looks darn good if I must say. Kale, potato and feta rolls.Kale, Potato & Feta rollsKale, 2 large potatoes, 1 onion, our first rocoto chilli to go into a meal, some feta cheese, 1/3 tspn of both cumin and coriander powders, S&P (not much salt because the feta is salty), 1 egg and 3 sheets of puff pastry (only because that’s what was to hand).IMG_3331Peeled and diced the potatoes and microwaved for about 6 minutes, soft but still firm. Chopped/sliced onion, rocoto chilli, removed spine from kale, chopped it into fine shreds and cooked all together in pan in a smidge of olive oil. When soft I added the cumin and coriander and cooked it out for about 2 minutes. Threw the lot into a mixing bowl that already had the potatoes and crumbled feta in it, mixed all together and added an egg to bind. IMG_3340Divided into thirds and placed a third on each sheet of pastry, folded pastry over, glazed with milk cause I’m too lousy to waste an egg on this sort of casual meal. Into the ‘toy oven’ for about 40 minutes (probably wouldn’t take this long in a real oven!).

Served with some lovely tomato pickles and home made tomato sauce. Tick to eating kale, happy to do so again. Yep, just like spinach in this dish.

PS: The rocoto chilli was a pleasant surprise, I would describe it as a red capsicum with attitude. Not too hot, in fact if you love chilli flavour I think you’d be disappointed. As a crop that is likely to supply a large harvest I prefer this it stays on this side of the scales. Rocoto Chilli

 

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I’m in love with a pig!

Last week when we went to Farmworld at Lardner Park (which is like a big field days mixed with a lifestyle expo) we stumbled across a little unit called an Ozpig. Being passionate about cooking on fire, loving cast iron cookware and a sucker for sitting beside real fire for warmth and comfort this little beauty seemed too good to pass up. Basically it’s a small pot belly stove that can be used for heating and ambiance as well as being a campers (and people without kitchens!) dream for being able to cook on a safe fire off the ground. You only need a very small fire to generate heat which means it is ideal for us to get rid of all the scrap timber we are accumulating with the reno.

This photo is of my Ozpig fired up to the hilt. The camp oven on right has a loin of pork cooking in juniper berry, apple cider, apple and rosemary concoction. The Red unit has shredded cabbage which I have just thrown on to cook quickly before serving. The saucepan on left has the potatoes cooking. Don’t worry, it looks a bit wonky but it is very secure and in no danger of falling or going anywhere. Very impressed by the quality and integrity of the unit.OzpigThe meal I served was beautiful, loin of pork which I had butterflied, I removed the fat to cook separately as crackling crunched over the top.  A rub of juniper berries and rosemary was  applied with some seasoning and oil to the loin of pork.

Juniper berry rub

I sliced an onion and put the pork with the onion into the camp oven to brown before adding the cooking liquid of apple cider, my home made stock, some chopped apples, a few more juniper berries and rosemary sprigs.

Pork loin in camp oven

On went the lid and I cooked it on high fire for about 30 minutes then stirred it through and transferred the camp oven to a side cooking plate so it would simmer. Boy it was smelling soooo good!

Therapeutic Sour Dough

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with trying to keep up with everything – work, the reno, not being able to sell the property that we need to sell to fund the reno, feeling a bit like we are living in a bomb site, knowing just how much work we have to do to make a difference, managing cello learning etc, etc, etc. I felt a bit like I hadn’t done anything I really loved doing (apart from cello but that’s hard work because I am learning) for ages. I mean something that I am confident with that I can just do and enjoy from the bottom of my cotton socks. The garden is one thing, but for people who enjoy craft you probably get it. My craft is bread and cheese making and I hadn’t done any for ages. A whole range of excuses came into play, no kitchen, kids have left home-no one will eat it, blah, blah, blah. ENOUGH! A couple of weeks ago I started a sour dough culture which has progressed really well so today I made the first loaf of ‘real’ bread that I’ve made in a very long time. No machine, no dried yeast, no additives. Flour, water and salt.  Let me tell you I had a ball!

Starter I began 3-4 weeks ago.

Starter

1 cup of starter into a bowl, add 2 cups of flour, handful of rye flour, 360ml ish warm water, 14 g salt. Mix all together, then. Let the therapy begin!

Dough

Once mixed, onto the table for some kneading. Once kneaded I formed a boule and let it IMG_3269

rest/rise in a covered mixing bowl. Bit nervous about if it was going to work, so I put the bowl scraper in as a marker and went shopping. This is when I left,

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This is when I returned. YAY, it was working. I was really happy indeed.IMG_3274

Divided the dough in half,IMG_3275

Shaped half to prove in a tin that fits in the large camp oven

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Shaped the other half to have a shot at making a loaf in my ‘toy oven’. Didn’t expect this to work at all but as you can see, I needn’t have worried. I’m a happy girl!IMG_3289

The camp oven loaf and the toy oven loaf. Both good but the ‘toy oven’ wins by a mile.   IMG_3299My son and his partner came for tea to enjoy the feast, not too much bread left now! It was beautiful to mop up the apple and juniper gravy from the roast with.

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Floorboards are looking good. Finally over the doldrums I hope!

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Red!

Finally after weeks of waiting, the first ripe Rocoto chillies can be seen in the lower part of the bush. IMG_3238 These chillies are a perennial variety that can keep producing for years. I planted a cutting in early spring and the bush is now about 5ft high and masses of flowers appear continually. I have been hand pollinating with a tiny paintbrush to ensure good fruit set. Even with our bee attracting plants we aren’t seeing many around. If this goes well I don’t think I will bother planting other varieties to save using precious bed space Plantings this week have been parsnip, succession broccoli, garlic, strawberry runners separated from main plant and potted up. I did try and prestart some parsnip seed quite a few weeks ago and although I used ‘guaranteed’ fresh seed, nothing has appeared. For the last few seasons Ive been getting garlic from Simon at garlic world  and I am so impressed by the quality of his bulbs I just can’t stop myself. I don’t really need to buy planting stock anymore, I could use my own, but I just love his reasoning as to why he does what he does so I like to support his ethical business. Californian and Italian garlic. IMG_3237 Harvests this week have been tomatoes (the last few growing in the green house), basil, spring onions, beans, eggplant, jalapeños, lettuce, kale, strawberries, thyme, silver beet and a couple of lonely asparagus spears. I used the last of last seasons compost to fill the garlic bed and desperately wish I had more. Think I will be calling on locals with horses for some stable manure! IMG_3253 I had to trim the thyme in the patch that is planted near the water feature so into an exclusion bag went the trimmings, hung up to dry in the shed. It shall not be wasted! I just love these exclusion bags. Drying thyme We are still working on the floor boards and with luck we can ‘move back in’ next weekend.

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I’ve got good news & bad news. Which first?

Well the really good news is the floor sander turned up when he said he would! The interesting rather than good news, is that our original floorboards are apparently ‘rose’ Baltic pine which gives them a pinkish centre. This according to Mr Sandman is quite rare, so rare in fact that the boards we replaced damaged ones with are the normal Baltic pine because it doesn’t happen often enough for anyone to check.  He was quite concerned that it will look odd once complete and wondered if we wanted to continue or replace all the floor (yeah right!). Upon inspection most of the replaced boards are in the master bedroom, so the bed will cover a fair bit, then when you add rugs, bedside tables and dressing tables and wardrobes etc it is unlikely that it will jump out too much. We really don’t mind too much, the house is almost 100 years old so it is important to us to keep as much of original content as possible.

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The other not so good news was that he uncovered some more borer damaged boards that needed to be replaced. Sanding/finishing job was put on hold until work to replace boards was done,  poor Mr ATMT spent the entire weekend going to Melbourne to buy more reclaimed boards, then removing the damaged boards and refitting the replacements. I don’t think he got a minutes break at all. We (I really did help by staying away from the works in progress as it was better for all parties concerned!) went back and removed a couple of the already replaced boards in the hall and replaced them with boards removed from the kitchen to make the colour variation less noticeable. The spare room at the front has also been put onto semi-permanent hold as there are a few too many boards that need replacing and we won’t be able to fix them in a hurry. We know we will get a few spots of colour difference throughout the floors but hey, it gives character so they say.

IMG_3204Outside action.

While I was doing my bit by staying out of Mr ATMT’s way, I hit the back yard getting a lot of jobs ticked off, namely:

  • Moved potato bed and compost containers that held last years fallen leaves and lawn clippings to a new spot. We are hoping to plant this area out shortly, so the contents were spread to add to the fertility of the bed. This will be repeated again this year in a new spot.

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  • Fed all the citrus trees, camellias, and roses
  • Planted a few new garden shrubs
  • Mowed the grass
  • Planted a stack of seed for spring annuals and perennials
  • Tidied up the asparagus bed
  • Once again tackled the espalier pear,

Espalier Pear March 2014this is growing so fast I can hardly keep up with it. I also topped up its bed with a load of goodies that came from the old composted leaves.  I planted this tree on 10th July 2012 and it is doing its job well.

  • I also cleaned out the gutters along the back of the house, not sure why when they are about to be avalanched by oak tree leaves!

In the Tunnel of Love!

I  played in my therapy pit, the vegetable garden for a while. It is quite impressive how well things are doing underneath the netting that I have turned into a protective tunnel. There is kale, beetroot, broccoli, carrots and shallots in here. I have never grown kale before and had never heard of it when I was growing up. It seems to have hit the road running in the popularity stakes over the last couple of years. Later in the week I will be harvesting my first crop and think something along the lines of a hunza pie might be good. Any good recipe ideas you can pass on would be appreciated!

Kale

Fingers crossed for me that the floor sanding and waxing treatment will now proceed with no more glitches. Got enough of them, don’t need anymore!

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Decision making-fors and againsts!

Mr ATMT and I have different views, opinions and attitudes  when it comes to making decisions.  The outcome of whether or not to proceed is based on very different sets of processes undertaken in the mind. It is usually me who is hesitant to quickly jump in, I need time to process and visualise stages that will be undertaken to get to the final point. Having said that, the final point is NEVER as I visualise it. I just cannot, as much as I try imagine how something will look once its been completed. We have been deliberating the pros and cons of having the floor boards done now rather than wait until the rest of the reno is done.

My againsts doing the floors now:

  • Fearful that we will slop, drop, splash paint etc on the finished surface. We don’t have a very good track record of being neat and clean decorators!
  • I have imagined the floors being done after everything else has been done, like putting the crown on the king or the veil on the bride. Ties everything together and make it all shine. Bit like when you sweep the path or wash the windows.
  • Worried we will not get a sense of accomplishment, that this big job will just disappear into the murkiness of all the other jobs we have to face.

Mr ATMT’s fors:

  • Wants to feel like something has been finished (understandable) and that it will be a quick fix hit that we are moving forward.
  • Will help decide what to do with dealing with the cedar trim in relation to paint or renovate the natural timber.
  • Just wants too see it happen!

I think we both have legitimate opinions, I like the fact that we will actually be able to finish the bedroom completely once the floors are done. Bottom line is, what have we got to lose? We are going to use a Whittle Wax product due its more natural components and its much lower environmental impact. Some friends had this treatment applied to their floors a couple of years ago and we have been watching to see how they stood up to it  (the floors!). Quite impressed really! The biggest problem is that we said yes to the floor man on Saturday and he starts on Tuesday and yes, we have to have everything out of the house for him by Tuesday. We also discovered another couple of rotten boards when moving furniture so they needed attention. How do we get into these situations?

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This the front bedroom where we found a board that needed replacement so we robbed Peter to pay Paul and used boards from the kitchen. The whole kitchen floor will be replaced so it is recycling before it even been cast out!

IMG_3173This is where we ‘raided’ some floor boards from. The brickwork is the original cheese cellar that you can access from the cupboard above it. I’m trying to work out how to incorporate using this into the new kitchen design, possibly as a ‘cool cupboard’. We are just going to cover this hole with particle flooring for the short term.

Some before shots.

This is the main passage, baltic pine boards but some with old stain and glue from where  black and white vinyl tiles had been laid in the doctors waiting room and front entry.

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This is the main bedroom we have created by knocking out a wall. The floor boards in here are a blend of original and reclaimed ones we purchased.

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I decided it would be good thing to stay away from Mr ATMT and our son as they moved the furniture out into the garage. I did a fair amount of the small stuff like all the crystal cabinet and things from the sideboard. Fortunately we should be able to stay in the house, the room we are using, the bathroom, a spare bedroom where most stuff is stored and the kitchen are not targeted areas. We have an outside loo available,  cooking isn’t a problem as we’ve been managing that for over a year anyway. May mean a step ladder into the bathroom for a shower from outside if necessary. I’m sure we will work it out!

Outside

Busy, busy, busy! Summer clearing out, autumn planting, winter planning and some very welcome rain to boot. The old pumpkin vines and tomato plants have been pulled and tossed into an area that we will be planting as a new garden bed. Doesn’t look too pretty at this stage but when the area is top filled with soil they will break down and be a source of nutrient to the plants.

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Not too many pumpkins harvested this year. Tried a new variety (can’t remember what) but I think I’ll go back to good old butternut which are  a good cropping and excellent keeping variety. I still have 2 from last season.IMG_3187 In go the broad beans and brussel sprouts!IMG_3181

The last of the tomatoes, loads of beans and chillies. Blanched and froze most of the beans for use in curries and casseroles throughout the winter.IMG_3159

Divided up the lemon grass and now have four really good size clumps. 2 in a bath tub and 2 in pots. You can see here the new shoots coming out from where I have previously harvested stalks.IMG_3177

Cleaned out the greenhouse and set up some trellis for snow peas to climb on. Any ideas what else I can put in here?IMG_3183Seed sown this weekend is brown onion, broccoli and lettuce. Spring onion, brussel sprout, silver beet and seedlings all in. Lots of jobs done but as always so many more to do.

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Living without a kitchen tips.

It is now just over a year since we moved into this ‘new old house’ and everyone seems quite surprised that we have coped so well with little to no dedicated kitchen. This is what we faced, not too bad you think? The old burnt out oven was taken out so we could fit in a fridge. The cupboards absolutely stank (still do to some degree) of old timber, damp and smoke and I wasn’t going to put anything in them! The original lino flooring was taken up and I literally brought in a gurney and pressure washed the room. That was fun!

Kitchen

We bought a couple of sets of shed type shelving for storing most things and  I use an old wardrobe in a spare bedroom as a pantry. So this old kitchen room now only has a fridge, a table and chairs and a camping table with my toy oven on it. The microwave and the toaster I was brave enough to put on the existing bench,  a sink that does have hot water available but if we  need to get cold that has to come from the bathroom. Not sure if I’d follow the same colour scheme when we redo either (bright pillar box red inside the cupboard doors)! What do you think?

How it works

I think we have only used the barbecue about a dozen times and have  fired up the combustion oven twice. Reflecting on this I thought I’d share a tip every now and again for people who either don’t have or don’t need a fully decked out kitchen. This may be due to a whole multitude of reasons, camping, holidaying, touring, renovating, house sharing, faulty appliances and I’m sure there are so many more. I must admit I’ve been re-thinking about what I actually WILL need when designing the new kitchen. I definitely know the oven is a given, it has been driving me nuts with only the little Sunbeam Bake & Grill Benchtop unit, which I have been cheekily calling my ‘toy oven’. Don’t get me wrong I am quite amazed at how well this little unit has performed. It is just annoying that when I make something I have to do it in many small batches or find baking trays and tins that fit in, the standard ones are just too big. Now that I have a few that work well it is a lot better.

Mini Pavs in tin

This is the size tin I am limited to. Ok for just the two of us but when I have to ‘make to take’ it is a challenge.

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My list of absolute must haves to cope more easily are:

  • A little butane gas camping stove. Unbelievable how reliable, efficient and handy this has been. Bought it for $14.00 and refills can be bought at BIGW for $8-$10 for a box of 12. Great for cooking using the wok on, griddle, frying pan, saucepan if needed and anything you normally cook on a gas jet.

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  • Microwave-Don’t use it excessively but it has proven to be really handy for many short-cuts. See my recipe for fluffy microwaved scrambled eggs.
  • Slow cooker-This would be up the top of the list along with the gas stove. I have discovered so many uses for this that I’ve become a bit of an addict looking for new ways to extol its virtues! I actually have 2, a small and a large. Useful for making stock, soups, curries, roasts, quince paste, baked potatoes and pasta sauces.
  • Good basics of toaster, kettle and fridge.
  • Goes without saying that good knives and pots are essential too, I’ve changed my thinking completely with pots and mostly use cast iron ‘fake’ Le Crueset for large sizes and small camp ovens for small. Experience has demonstrated that you don’t get what you pay for all the time when it comes to kitchen ware. As for knives I get kiwi brand from asian supermarkets and they are rippers. I’ve never used knives that are so good, re-sharpen well and are so cheap it doesn’t matter if you lose one or leave it somewhere. Large cleaver style are about $10.00 at Springvale market and small paring and handy veg knives range from $2. I so rarely use my expensive knives now I feel guilty seeing them on the magnetic knife rack.

It is frustrating, it looks bad but it will make it all the sweeter when we eventually get to this part of the house and renovate. Meanwhile I’ll not complain too much about the state of affairs, I can still enjoy some favourites like my fluffy microwaved scrambled eggs. They really are delicious!

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How to make microwaved scrambled eggs.

Ingredients

  • Eggs (2 per person)
  • Milk -1/4 cup per egg
  • Salt & Pepper to season
  • Mustard (1/4 tspn per egg)
  • Parmesan cheese finely grated
  • Parsley finely chopped to garnish.
  • Crack eggs into microwaveable container.
  • Add milk, salt & pepper and mustard and whisk till blended.

Now, slow down a tad and listen:

Using a large spoon, gently turn the mixture working from around the side of bowl ONCE and then across the middle to complete a figure eight, only do this once. BE GENTLE!!!! The aim is to NOT break up the eggs, just to get the uncooked mix more exposed. You should see signs of egg coagulating (thickening/cooking) in some spots.

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Put container back into microwave on half power for 1 minute increments checking after each minute. Do the stirring once pattern again VERY GENTLY. Time will vary depending on number of eggs in bowl. I find for 4 eggs 2 minutes on high then 2 minutes on half power seems to work ok. When there is only a little mix uncooked and mix is still a bit on the wobbly side, let sit while you cook your toast, grate your cheese and chop your parsley. Serve onto toast, sprinkle with parmesan and garnish with the chopped parsley.

Can’t go wrong! These were served with freshly made tomato pickles and they tasted great too.

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