Popcorn Balls-The Episode

Kids are fickle, ya know that? For almost a year now, every month or so Kaylea has been asking me to make popcorn balls with her, because she’s never made them before, and they sounded fun. I dislike making popcorn balls, but if I have to make them, I prefer to make them in the fall for some reason, so I finally caved and planned the popcorn ball-making for this weekend. I figured it a perfect use of those marshmallows we made last weekend, and I was right (the recipe called for 5 cups of marshmallows, exactly the amount we had made-cool huh?). So I round up the crew after church this morning, and we proceeded to start the recipe. About halfway through (and it’s NOT a long process mind you), I can tell K’s interest is waning. When asked, she informs me that it wasn’t exactly as fun as she thought it would be…go figure, lol. Anyway, I did get some funny pics, so here they are for your viewing pleasure:
Bryan making popcorn.
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The popped popcorn (which Bryan was fairly impressed with, said it was his best batch ever!)
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K mixing the marshmallows and butter. Don’t you just love how her hat seems to be hiding her eyes?
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Marshmallows melting:
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K mixing, mixing, and more mixing. Oh, and getting red food coloring all over herself in the process, hehe. (She decided she wanted pink popcorn balls!)
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K realizing she forgot to BUTTER her hands like the recipe calls for her to do…silly girl!
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And finally, the smushing of the popcorn mixture to make popcorn balls!
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Published in: on September 30, 2007 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cut Noodle Photos

Okay, I know I said I would wait till tomorrow to post more pics, but seriously, I’m so impressed…I’ve never made homemade noodles before, and despite some SERIOUS flaws in the recipe (missing directions and such), they look pretty cute sitting on my table drying, so I thought I’d show y’all my dear stepdaughter’s first homemade egg noodles! When I agreed to help her make the noodles, I was under the impression that since they had noodles with dinner all the time at her other home, that she had at least seen them made on a regular basis. About 1/2way through the recipe, I realized she hadn’t a clue how to make these, andupon further questioning I realized that they BUY their noodles most of the time and apparently she hasn’t seen them homemade since she was like 8, and even then it was a rare occasion, so depending on her memory didn’t help much, lol, but with a few phone calls here and there and a little common sense, we muddled through and they turned out pretty good.  Tomorrow will be the true test, though, when they hit the chicken broth and really cook.
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Published in: on September 29, 2007 at 9:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Cookies and Noodles and Veggies, Oh my!

So I promised y’all pictures of the veggie tray, and here they are, along with a few pics of the other various items K and I made for our cooking contest at church this weekend. Tomorrow, I’ll have pics of the completed noodles and pepperoni chicken, but for now, here are a few of our other entries:

The Veggie Tray from K’s cooking class, which I helped her with, being entered as my side dish:
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Chocolate Kiss Cookies-One of my recipes that K made for her dessert entry:
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Chicken and Noodles-My recipe, my main dish entry:
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Homemade Noodles-K’s mom’s recipe, K’s side dish entry, before they are cut, still drying:
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Another batch of hm noodles:
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Pepperoni Chicken-Sandra Lee’s Cookbook, K’s Main Dish entry, cooking:
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That’s a lot of cooking, and we still have popcorn balls to make on Sunday, too, using those marshmallows we made last weekend, plus we have to cut the noodles and cook them for her side dish and top and bake the pepperoni chicken. My, what a busy weekend! Did I mention I’m still battling the cold/sinus thing? I may actually have to cave and visit the doctor on Monday!

Published in: on September 29, 2007 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just had to share my almost perfect homemade cake!

Cakes are not my thing, but this one I can handle. Usually, shamefully, my cakes come from boxes (though the icing is homemade!), but we are having a cooking contest at our church this weekend and I immediately knew what cake to make if I wanted a chance at winning. I didn’t get y’all pics of K doing her Veggie Tray for class this weekend, but I will get pics of the veg tray before we eat any of it, lol. In the meantime, here is my near-perfect cake:

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Published in: on September 29, 2007 at 1:35 am  Comments (2)  

Autumn Decorating

This past weekend, we did our fall decorating. I really wanted to do it last Monday, ’cause I was just in the mood to do some cleaning and decorating, but I was nice and waited for K to help us. Why? Because decorating is family stuff, of course!

Anyway, I snapped a few pics today, and thought I would share:

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My personal favorite is the table, I got the tablecloth at Joann’s Fabrics using a 40% off coupon, and I love it! And the turkey is a Hallmark classic that my mom and I bought when I was in highschool and worked for Hallmark, so I got those on discount, too. See, decorations can be cheap AND pretty!
I’m already in the mood to do Christmas decorating…I think it’s because last year my husband and I hit the after-Christmas sales and got a whole new look for this year. I can’t wait to try it all out.

Published in: on September 26, 2007 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Country-Fried Breakfast Tutorial

Okay, so I thought it sure would’ve been nice if someone would’ve given me a tutorial that included the basics of frying bacon and hashbrowns (two of the easiest things to mess up in my opinion), but no one did that for me, so I thought I’d do it for others.

My original goal was to include homemade from-scratch buttermilk pancakes in this tutorial, but truth be told, I got tired, so that will have to wait for another day.  In the meantime, I will take you through the rest of the breakfast.

First, we start with the bacon, because it cooks the longest (doing several batches). Good bacon starts at the grocery store. When looking for a good package of bacon, look for a solid string of meat from one to the other on most pieces. This will help you not pick those super-fatty bacon strips that shrink up to little nubbins that only slightly resemble bacon. Please don’t hesitate to look on the BACK of the package because they always put their prettiest side out front so you’ll buy it. Most bacon manufacturers either put a clear backing on their bacon or provide a little cardboard “window” that can be popped open to give you a view inside without damaging the packaging of the bacon. Make use of this, because no matter how pretty it looks on the front, if the back is all fat and no meat, your bacon will shrink terribly. Here’s an example of “good bacon”…it should look like this on both sides.

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This picture shows not only the little “windows” I spoke of, but also the tongs that I use to flip my bacon. I find tongs are much more useful than a spatula because they grab hold of the bacon and it doesn’t slip off like it does with a spatula. Any kind of tongs will work, these are just the ones I chose for today.
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Your first step is to heat your skillet. I’m using a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, so I don’t need any oil, but if your pan is prone to sticking, you may want to coat the bottom of the pan with some cooking spray for the FIRST batch only. Heat your skillet on medium heat for a couple minutes or until a droplet of water thrown at the pan sizzles a bit. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and carefully add bacon to the skillet. I’m using a 12 inch skillet and I can fit about 4 slices of bacon per batch. Why only four? Because you want to leave a little space between each piece of bacon for even heating, like this:
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You will want to fry the bacon for about 2 minutes, then use your tongs to flip each piece of bacon to the other side. Cook for 2 more minutes, and flip back to the original side. Finally, cook for about 1 more minute, and your bacon should look like this:
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It is important to note when that much grease is in your pan, it’s time to drain the grease off a little so that the popping of the bacon doesn’t get out of control and burn you. In this case, we plan on making hashbrowns, so draining the grease into my hashbrown pan works well. Others may wish to save their bacon grease in a coffee can for later use in giving green beans or other veggies more flavor.
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Our first batch of bacon:
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While putting the hashbrown pan with the grease in it on medium heat on a seperate burner, I finish up the bacon batches. I think it took me 5 batches, but I forget. Anyway, here’s the finished bacon (in the back are the semi-burnt ones that I made for myself, b/c I love burnt bacon, call me weird!) Now is a great time to throw the bacon in the oven (doesn’t have to be turned on) so that it retains its heat while working with the rest of the meal:
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Now that the oil for the hasbrowns has reached temperature (using the water droplet measurement just like with the bacon pan), I add the hashbrowns, being careful to spread them out as evenly and thinly as possible:
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Oh, and I’m just using storebought frozen potatoes, like these:
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Six minutes have passed and I check the bottom of my hashbrowns, but they aren’t browning as evenly as I’d like, so I switch them to the now-empty bacon pan, because cast iron heats more evenly than regular pans. It is very important to remember that you do NOT STIR hashbrowns. You just DON’T! The best way to “flip” hashbrowns after they have browned on one side is to cut a section of them with your spatula, scoot the spatula underneath the section, and flip. Repeat with the rest of the hashbrowns, and you’ll end up with much more evenly browned hashbrowns than if you try to stir them. Anyway, as you can see from this photo, the browning wasn’t even, so as I said, I switched to the better pan:
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I cooked for another 6 minutes on the second side, then flipped one last time to get as even of a brownness as I could, cooking them for another 2 minutes on the first side. Here the hashbrowns are in their serving bowl. Not perfect, but certainly not burnt or mushy either:
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And finally, after the hashbrowns are done and have been added to the oven with the bacon, I make the eggs. I still haven’t mastered these as well as I’d like, but I’ll show you what they look like frying, anyway. Yes, the ones in the back-over easy are peppered (for me) and the ones in the front are for hubby, so no pepper and a broken yolk, b/c he doesn’t like runny eggs, lol.
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And as a bonus, I thought I’d show you my Autumn tablescape:
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Published in: on September 26, 2007 at 6:57 pm  Comments (4)  

PB & J Banana Wafflewiches and a sweet stepdaughter!

Okay, so Saturday mornings I don’t just pop out of bed at 5 am like my dh does, nor do I stumble out of bed at 7 am like my dsd does…I usually meander my way out of bed around 10ish on Saturdays, more than willing to miss a few cartoons to get a few zzz’s. That means that while I may plan the breakfast on Saturday mornings and leave instructions for my hubby, I’m not the breakfast-maker on Saturdays (or Sundays, actually). It just makes more sense for Mr. I Love Mornings to throw something together and I take my rightful place in the kitchen beginning with the noon meal, when I have a tad more caffiene in my body and am MUCH more cheerful.

So this last Saturday morning, I left a note on the fridge letting hubby know what breakfast meat had been thawed and what his options were for breakfast for him and the munchkin as usual, but much to my suprise, as I stumble down the stairs, there’s no bacon frying, no hasbrowns sizzling, nothing…but there was the smell of freshly made waffles and as I sniffed closer, peanut butter! What in the world do waffles have to do with peanut butter you ask? Plenty, if you’re making PB & J Banana Wafflewiches like these:

http://recipes.kaboose.com/peanut-butter-and-jam-wafflewiches.html

Okay, so they sound a bit strange, but they were SERIOUSLY yummy! My dear sweet stepdaughter (and up and coming chef of the year, hehe) decided she wanted to make a recipe out of one of her kid’s cookbooks (Sandra Lee’s Kids Cooking) for breakfast to suprise me! And even my hubby who hates peanut butter and banana sandwiches loved them!

The bonus was of course that Daddy and Daughter got in some fun kitchen time together before I awoke for the morning, plus they made the waffles from scratch as opposed to using frozen ones, so of course it was way yummier that way and showed initiative on their part to go beyond the call of duty with the recipe, which means they are gaining confidence in the kitchen…which of course makes me very happy!
Here’s a photo of my sandwich that I managed to catch before scarfing it down, hehe:
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Published in: on September 25, 2007 at 10:38 pm  Comments (1)  

How to make hamburger stew…

I started my hamburger stew today while talking on the phone with one of my friends, and we all got quite a chuckle when I got distracted by the computer and my friend and forgot that I had the hamburger cooking, and almost burned it. If it weren’t for the fact that I had the meat in my super-sturdy cast iron skillet, it would’ve been burnt to the core, but since the cast iron conducts heat more slowly and evenly than a regular skillet, the meal was saved, and here’s a quick tutorial on the making of a fairly frugal hamburger stew:

You should note that I made a very large batch today b/c I didn’t feel like cooking much, so I thought it would carry us through a couple of days if dh and I don’t pop back from our sinus troubles as quickly as we’d like, but you can easily cut this recipe in half for a smaller family or freeze the leftovers. Here’s the recipe:

2 lbs. hamburger

A LARGE pot filled about 1/3 of the way with water 

1Tbl. onion powder

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

5 beef boullion cubes

1/2 pkg. frozen peas (you can use 2 cans, but frozen don’t get as mushy)

1 pkg. frozen corn (same thing)

2 cans sliced carrots

1 can green beans (of course you can add two cans of this also, but we prefer the majority of our stew to be carrots and corn, with the peas and green beans taking a smaller role)

1/2 c. corn starch

1/3 c. COLD water

First, brown the hamburger. I lightly season with salt and pepper while browning.
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Next, drain the hamburger in a colander, but don’t run water over it unless you feel you have to for health reasons, because you’ll lose a little flavor that way.
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Now add the water to the large pot, put on high and add the boullion cubes as shown.
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As the beef base comes to a boil, you can add the salt, pepper, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and garlic.
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Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the FROZEN veggies and let boil for 3 minutes. After the 3 minute mark, you may add the canned veggies and their juices. Adding the frozen veggies first is important because they need to actually cook for a little while to heat up properly, whereas overcooking the canned veggies just ends in mush.
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Now you may re-add the hamburger to the mixture, and it should look something like this:
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Once the mixture has returned to a boil, you may reduce the heat to medium on the pot. In the meantime, we’re going to use cornstarch as our thickening agent for this stew.
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Why cornstarch and not flour you ask? Simple. Cornstarch thickens without deadening the flavor like flour often does, plus, when added correctly, it’s a lot easier to mix into a broth than flour (no clumping), and finally, cornstarch allows you to retain a certain clarity to the final sauce, gravy, or soup, whereas flour will give it a lighter, cloudier final appearance.
In a small container, place the cornstarch at the bottom, then add the cold water on top. Using a fork, mix the cornstarch with the COLD water. At first it will seem nearly impossible to stir, but as you continue to mix it, it will become smooth and milk-like in consistancy. Be sure to mix all the way to the bottom incorporating all the cornstarch into the water. It should look something like this:
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The next step is adding the cornstarch to the stew, which should be done over medium-low heat at first (until you are sure of yourself when working with thickening agents), stirring QUICKLY with a wire whisk. Once you’ve added the cornstarch, you will want to make sure that you are stirring quickly, evenly, and ALL the way to the bottom, because if you don’t stir it properly, this is when your stew will stick and burn to the bottom of the pan. Obviously, I didn’t get a picture of the stew while I was furiously stirring it, lol. The important thing to understand if you are unfamiliar with thickening agents is that you won’t truly know how thick your sauce, soup, or gravy will be until it comes to a FULL boil, so don’t judge too quickly that it’s not working. If it does, however, come to a full boil and still doesn’t seem to be thickening the way you would like, try mixing up another couple Tablespoons of cornstarch with a touch of water, mix, and add it, bringing again to a full boil before deciding whether you need to add more thickening agent.

When finished, your stew may look something like this (Note: it makes a huge batch, and I actually had to split it into two different pans to have enough room for all the ingredients, so this is the smaller pan pictured):
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And the final results in a bowl:
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And of course, you can’t have yummy hearty hamburger stew without some yummy, hearty homemade bread with butter, now can you?
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Published in: on September 24, 2007 at 6:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Amish White Bread Recipe and Pictures

So dsd is in her 2nd week of studying grains for the cooking class, and we attempted what some people would be horridly afraid of and yet happens to be a great passion of mine…homemade bread! Of course, as many of you know, my favorite “starter” recipe for bread is Amish White Bread, because of all the bread recipes I’ve tried (and I’ve tried more bread recipes than years I’ve spent on this earth-which would be almost 25 years for those who are counting), this recipe is the one almost foolproof recipe that I’ve found. It’s a very easy bread recipe, so I knew K could handle it for her first from-scratch (not out of a bread machine) bread.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 cups bread flour
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam.
  2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl, and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves, and place into two well oiled 9×5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes.

  This makes a sweet bread, but it’s quite tasty, if you haven’t made homemade bread (or every time you’ve tried it’s been a flop) give this recipe a shot.

This is the yeast, sugar, and water immediately after mixing it together.
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Ten to fifteen minutes later, here’s the same mixture, only foamy as the yeast has come alive and grown from feeding on the sugar.
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Here’s Little Miss measuring out her flour for the dough.
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Somehow, she managed to talk me into doing a little mixing with her…sneaky, I tell ya, sneaky!
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I missed pictures of the kneading, as I had to do some major instruction in this area. I think she’s got it now, and in the meantime, here’s a pic of the dough covered in oil before it rose for the first time.
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And here it sits with a warm damp towel over it while it begins to rise. Yes, the towel is clean, despite how the picture looks, lol.
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Here’s how the dough looked after it’s first rising. K seemed amazed at how much it had grown!
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This is the munchkin punching down the dough as instructed. (I think this was her favorite part, and one of my favorite pictures, hehe.)
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And here are the fully baked loaves of bread. Okay so one is a bit larger than the other, but other than that, they are pretty nice looking, don’tcha think?
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And here’s the “money shot” on one of the loaves.
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And finally, K cutting her bread…remember this loaf was still warm while being cut, so it was a little harder to cut, but she did pretty good. That warm bread went pretty quickly around here…we saved the other loaf for her to take to her other family to show them how well she did.
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What was YOUR first loaf of bread like?

Published in: on September 22, 2007 at 10:48 pm  Comments (21)  

The Making of a Marshmallow-Part II

Okay, so this morning we finished our marshmallows, and boy are they yummy…way better than the ones you buy at the store! We’ve learned a couple lessons along the way, though, and thought we would pass them along to y’all. One, when it says to let them cool and harden a bit, that doesn’t mean overnight, as they seem to form a bit of a crust on the tops if you do that-no real harm done, but they’d be better without the crusty tops, and Two, a smaller cookie sheet would’ve worked better than a larger one for a batch this size, because we would’ve liked for them to be a bit taller than they were. So, for this recipe, I’d suggest that you use a small sheet pan (1/2 sheet would work fine), and only let them harden for an hour or so. Anyway, here’s what they looked like last night:

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And here’s what we did with them today:
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K and Daddy working the assembly line.

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The cutting of the marshmallows.

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K and Jess working the assembly line after Daddy decided Jess was a bit better at getting the sticky marshmallows out of the pan than he was.

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K and Daddy making sure the marshmallows were coated in the cornstarch/powdered sugar mixture so that they didn’t stick to one another.

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And a photo of the final product. Not bad for a first attempt at making marshmallows from scratch…

Published in: on September 22, 2007 at 8:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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