I’m interrupting my own busy cookie decorating day to show you a new technique that I just invented. I’m calling it “My Amazing and Foolproof Puffy Cloud” technique. And, please forgive the hurried iPhone photographs. Normally the photographs I post here are carefully and meticulously styled, then shot with my iPhone. But, this just couldn’t wait!
Whenver you have a puffy shape that you’re outlining, like a cloud, for instance, you can really keep it puffy by piping your outlines like this:
That’s all there is to it! Loop, loop, loop and loop.
This sounded so much better in my head, really.
Maybe I’m just loopy from all the white icing?
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It began, as it always does, with a simple email from this client.
“You up for Sacred Heart of Jesus cookies?”
“You bet I am! What’s a Sacred Heart of Jesus?”
A few links later, I said yes, and I was off googling Sacred Hearts. The religious significance didn’t really matter. But the powerful image of that burning heart with the thorny vine around it, dripping blood ,that not only spoke to the cookie decorator in me, but to my childhood.
When I was 11 years old, I announced to my parents that when I grew up I would become a Roman Catholic, then take my vows to become Sister Mary Stewart. While it wasn’t “The Flying Nun” who inspired me, she didn’t exactly squash my desire, either. It was more likely the little girls on my block who I played with almost every day after school. Kathleen and Maura wore fabulous (in my mind) plaid uniforms to their parochial schools. They went to catechism, which I thought would be much more fun than Hebrew school. They were from big families that grew bigger each year, and I was so jealous that I begged and pleaded with my mother to have another baby (preferably a girl). These girls had rosaries. I wanted a rosary. They had pictures of Jesus, and Pope Paul XI and John F. Kennedy lined up on their walls. We didn’t have religious people or presidents on our walls, but my Bible stories book had an illustration of Moses with long eyebrows that pointed up to the sky. He wasn’t nearly as young and beautiful as Jesus. I wanted no part of him. Through not fault of its own, Judiasm just couldn’t hold a candle to everything that sparkled so brightly in the Catholic church. Judiasm just didn’t have enough glamour.
My mother tried to dissuade me. She told me to read Kathryn Hulme’s “The Nun’s Story”. For some reason, the melodramatic story of the life-altering choice Sister Luke had to make enthralled me, and the idea of cropping or shaving off my hair and wearing the habit, taking communion, doing penance and, of course, entering the confessional booth assured me that my decision was the right one. Religious teachings never entered my mind. I was pretty sure I could get on board with anything they asked of me.
I never converted, much less enter the convent. But, there’s still a huge streak of curiosity in me. I can’t tour a European church without first looking for the confessional booth. On our first visit to Rome, I found this shop right near our hotel. A papal conclave? I’m glued to the TV looking for the white smoke.
And, not so long ago, Tonya gave me the honor of making the cake for her daughter’s first holy communion.
And now, these beautiful Sacred Hearts of Jesus.
1 heart cutter
1 teardrop cutter
No. 2 & 3 decorating tips
15-20 second icings in red, pale yellow, yellow-orange, orange, darker red
brown and black stiff or piping icing
Start with a heart cookie and an appropriately sized tear drop cookie.
Cut the teardrop with the heart cutter so the two can fit together.
Fit the cut tear drop into the top of the heart and bake as you normally would.
First, fill the hearts. These are a very ‘healthy’ sized cookie, so I outlined first, filled one half of the heart, then the other.
In the span of one week my projects can really run the gamut of subject matter. Even within one job, as I talked about in my last post, the images are so different from one another, that I barely had time to sit back and take a short breather after finishing one before moving on to another. I’m talking about starting off with rabbits being pulled from magic top hats (no photos due to time constraints), then onto chess pieces, running shoes, political party symbol, dogs and culminating with “The Titanic”.
Before you start thinking this project is about that movie, or that theme song, let me stop you. Not even close.
But these cookies are a gift to someone whose birthday happens to fall on the anniversary of R.M.S. Titanic’s maiden and only voyage. Someone whose avocation is that of a Titanic scholar. So, thankfully, there’s no mention of “I’m King of the World”, no blue glass necklace, no theme song that seemed to go on longer than that interminable movie, and lastly, no Billy Zane.
Every image I sent to the gift giver was rejected. Too juvenile, too cartoony. My heart didn’t go on, it sank. No matter how I do a cookie, it’s cartoony. It wasn’t the art that was being rejected, but the feeling. Instead of looking at sinking ships, I started looking at commemorative stamps. The direction and feeling is totally different. So I scribbled a little sketch and sent it off.
“That’s great, can you add an iceberg in there somewhere?
I started here:
Outlined in black. The ocean is turquoisey-teal with just a smidge of black to somber it up a bit. I’m using my boo boo stick swirl the lighter ‘highlight’ into the ocean. Blue sky (again, with a dab of black) went in after that.
Then, the fill in began.
Letters on, details finished.
The best news is that I’ll be doing another set next year for this occasion.
But I’m not listening to that damned song!
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will may make me very unpopular with those of you planning birthday cakes in the near future, but I’m willing to take that chance. Biography cakes give me a headache.
You know what biography cakes are, right? Cakes that are festooned with the birthday person’s favorite things in world, regardless of the fact that one image, invariably, has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the others. No connecting thread whatsoever, be it color, vegetable, animal or mineral. Oh, it’s wonderful for he or she who is being celebrated by all the friends and family familiar with what all the inside quirks and jokes. I’d probably love it, too, if I walked into a dark room suddenly coming alive with light and friends popping up screaming “SURPRISE”, and seeing a big cake celebrating me and my disdain for broccoli, my love of certain show tunes,tap dancing and, of course, Mitzi.
But for now, my eyes are crossed and are glazing over as I study this list before me. The beads of sweat spring up on my upper lip because my need for symmetry is not just being thwarted, but smashed to smithereens, and that makes me anxious, very anxious. Oh, the colors I’ll have to make, so many colors that aren’t a scheme or a palate, just colors. The joy I normally feel for my job is being sucked out of me before I even turn on the mixer.
I am not happy. There’s nothing here to keep me entertained for the time I have to invest in this project. And, if Mama ain’t entertained, NOBODY’S entertained.
And then, like a breakthrough after years in therapy, I look at my page of notes and have a breakthrough.
That’s right. Lobster roll. Apparently, the birthday boy is crazy about lobster rolls. What took me so long to think of this? I couldn’t see the rebus word puzzle right in front of my nose because I was so paralyzed with fear over how to make a cookie look like that iconic seafood salad in a buttered bun not look like sushi or something worse.
And so simple to do, too. With so many different ideas to get onto one cake, each cookie can’t be too detailed or involved, or else the party will be over with by the time I finish everything I need to do for this cake.
So, I found a nice image of a lobster and scaled it down to a size that would work on the cake. I cut it out and sketched what I think a hot dog bun would look with this lobster sunk into its middle. The cookie was cut and baked. With some red royal icing in a squeeze bottle fit with a No. 2 tip, and my rendering stuffed into my projector*, I started the cookie.
After a couple of hours drying time, I outlined the ‘roll’ with ivory icing, then filled the rest of the roll in with a toasty brown hot dog bun color.
After all that dried, I added a few lobstery details, such as the black outlining and a few ‘grilled bun marks’. These cookies are small and I want to make sure people can see them without having to nose up to the cake to figure out what they are.
Are they perfect? No, but they’ll make their point perfectly when they make this birthday boy and his guests smile.
*You didn’t think I was going to freehand this, I hope.
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#CookieNo.2 pays homage to Scrivani’s photo “Grand and Mulberry”, posted on February 11. For the uninitiated, Grand Street and Mulberry Street intersect smack dab in the heart of Little Italy. Famous for its annual epic street fair, an unfortunate ending for one patron of this restaurant, with more ‘heavy on the red sauce’ restaurants than one can even fathom, the streets of Little Italy are a photographer’s dream, a mecca for tourists, and a shopper’s paradise for residents of this richly diverse city.
No wonder the colors I mixed for this cookie were noted as a ‘faux bois of gianduja brown on squid ink black’, letters the color of ’penne alla vodka’ sauce. No wonder I’m craving a big bowl of spaghetti alla marinara
Now, I’m fully aware that this post should really be a step-by-step tutorial. But, let’s be honest, there’s no real technical flair employed here. If you’re a cookie decorator, you’re already well acquainted with how to apply flood icing thanks to the posts of many, many talented cookie artists from all over the world. And, I think it’s safe to say, I just march to a different beat over here.
The tutorial takes a backseat to the real message that I hope is being conveyed. Open your eyes to everything around you. Don’t follow the [cookie] herd. Make your own art. Look at something you’ve seen your whole life, but never really stopped to examine. Interpret it your own way, using techniques you’ve mastered. Develop your own style, whether it be in a technical form, or by way of what you interpret.
On with the cookie.
I made my version of what I think wood grain looks like.
Yes, there’s a little smudged line on the cookie, but how else would I decide where to place the text, I ask you?
With an exacto knife, I, rather crudely,
butchered carved out a stencil, not dissimilar to what the construction worker probably slapped up on the wall to paint his sign.
After a practice run, it became evident that this wasn’t the best idea I ever had. Without hesitating, plan B was instituted, and within seconds the 3 words were piped onto the cookie, stencil-style.
Allow me to present #PostNoBill #CookieNo.2
Gritty, rushed, far from perfect, but screaming its message in its own individual snowflake kind of way.
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Instagram is my lullaby. I climb into my bed at night and begin scrolling through my stream while my eyelids get heavy with sleep. It’s like having a custom-made, techy bedtime story book. As I flick through the unending images of food, architecture, babies, cats and dogs, I never know what’s next in line to delight me, make me giggle, or just beg me to stop and see the beauty in an otherwise ordinary object.
So, a few months ago, when a series of professional food photographer Andrew Scrivani’s photos began to appear in his feed (and copied to twitter), I sat up and took notice. The series carries the hashtag #PostNoBills and the pictures posted are a complete departure from the images I normally expect to see from this ‘New York Times’ food photographer.
In no time I became obsessed with #PostNoBills. The concept is so simple: photos of boards, presumably at construction sites, plastered with those three words. Painted instructions, uniquely different from one to the next, depending on font, color and background texture of their canvases. These ubiquitous banners, which we pass by every day without so much as a glance or a nod, teach us that art is in everything around us, and it only takes one little movement, like this one, to open our eyes to that beauty.
One of the photos was so striking, that before I could even put the brakes on my fingers, I tweeted:
And, almost instantly, this came back:
While I piped away on Valentine’s Day orders, #PostNoBills kept photo-bombing my mind. Maybe I’d do one cookie, just as a goof. Making one cookie for a blog post? Eh…big deal. Maybe I’d do four or five. No, that’s it, either. Then, after a session in my think tank*, I had it.
A series. A series of #PostNoBills: The Cookie. Each post a riff on one of the photos where I show you different bell and cookie whistles, while I interpret the sign’s style. A tutorial series where I show you different piping and flooding tricks that you can use for any cookie design. There’s no right or wrong, it’s all about style and technique. Which is exactly what each #PostNoBills sign painter has done.
So, as the debut post, I thought it appropriate to begin with the above photo that propelled a tweet into a project. It’s called ’29th Street & 6th Ave’ after its location.
I began by flooding a square cookie with thick-ish (consistency of white glue) royal blue icing in a squeeze bottle fit with a No. 3 tip. Mine’s made with a few drops of royal Americolor gel and a few drops of Regal Purple. I wanted to go for that ‘denim-y’ blue color. Then I let it dry overnight.
With the background drying, I printed the sign’s photo. It’s very font-specific, and I want to make sure I do it justice. I didn’t want to drag out the KopyKake projector, which is what I use to ensure font continuity from cookie to cookie in big projects. I wanted to just make runouts or plaques, as I was taught. But there are a few fragile stems on some of the letters that would
probably undoubtedly break, so I shlepped out the projector.
Now, I could have just used the blue background as is, and applied the letters. But, upon closer examination the wood looked like blue was painted over ivory, and there’s even some black striating through. To do this, I fished a fan brush out of my tool drawer so I could lightly paint subtle ivory lines over the blue to mimic the grain of that particular board.
I dripped a scant drop of ivory into an even scanter drop of white gel color, and mixed it all up with some water for a washed effect. The lines aren’t 100% straight, but that’s the caffeines fault, not mine. It also always helps to have a backup cookie, especially when experimenting.
The cookie looked good, but since I was feeling cocky and artsy, I’m added another layer of striation, but this time, in black.
It worked! I didn’t paint complete lines, but just a few lines in the corners and a little in the middle. It’s all about adding a bit more depth.
Next, I added the ivory letters with a not too stiff ivory icing, using a projector. After letting them dry, and examining the photo again, I noticed some blue shading coming through the ivory, as well as even more pronounced wood grain. Since this cookie is fairly small, and the letters even smaller, I opted out of that, and was glad the thick icing itself gave an interesting textural attitude. The blue tinting, though, was a must. Haphazard dry brush petal dusting was the answer.
See? Just a few minor details gave this cookie it’s street cred. Yes, I know the ‘Bills” is a little crooked. I did that intentionally to give it a hurried effect, as though the stencil wasn’t straight.
Always remember there are no mistakes in art. Especially if you can eat it.
*shower, of course. Doesn’t everyone do their best thinking there?
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It’s rare* that I’m invited to the same swanky party that my cookies are attending, but it happened. The wonderfully funny and sweet Julie Klam was co-hosting a party to celebrate her dear friend Ann Leary’s new book, “The Good House“. Julie and I started as twitter friends, but now, just as she described in her latest book “Friendkeeping“, our friendship jumped offline and into real life. So, I RSVP’d yes.
Naturally, great minds think alike when it comes to these matters, so Julie and I immediately decided that the favor would be a house cookie mimicking the book’s cover illustration. Not a direct imitation, mind you, but an inspired one.
Normally, I’m kind of a ‘wing’ it cookie decorator. My mind’s eye substitutes for paper and pencil (not always a wise move, I might add), mostly because my sketching skills are so non-existant, I’d frighten my own self away from any cookies if I had to base them solely on my own drawings.
But, this time I really applied myself.
See the first x’d out drawing? Not that long ago I would have crumpled that sheet of paper with the single unappealing drawing, stormed out of my chair and pronounced myself and the project a complete failure. I now know that neither Rome nor a house cookie is built in a day.
So, with a more complete idea mapped out on paper, I cut out and baked the houses. An extra cookie was baked as a sacrifice to decorating experimentation. A sketch? An extra cookie? I practically broke my arm patting myself on the back for such a pragmatic action plan. Without enough uncut dough remaining on this sheet, I made two partial cookie cuts and melded them together on the baking sheet. See? Depending on the size of the cookie, as well as what parts of the cookie are put together, the cookie can be structurally sound enough not to end up in the reject pile. But not this time.
When constructing a real house, the walls go up before the windows can be installed. Not so here. Shmearing a thin coating of icing on the cookie to act as the shaded windows, I depended on my projector to insure that from one cookie to the next, the windows would be exactly the same. This is such a great technique from Callye, the undisputed cookie queen, for eyes or windows, as is the case here.
Windows installed, it’s time to put up the walls. I stirred up a creamy, buttery yellow and more than once, I thought of the brilliant paint color scene from that marvelous old movie, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” You have no idea how many times that scene replays in my brain when I talk about cookie colors with clients.
Walls are dry, details need to be added. First, I played on paper, mumbling to myself all the while that getting it right on the first try isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In New England, where the story takes place, clapboard houses are pretty much the standard, as depicted in the illustration. I carefully piped on a few straight lines as a nod to that detail. Not too many as to make me or the ultimate cookie recipients dizzy, of course.
I thought about painting the lines a little to give them a more weathered look, but quickly decided that idea, frankly, stunk.
Cookies were finished, dried and all tied up with pretty ribbons in their cellophane bags. In other words, they were dressed up with someplace to go.
First, the cookies and I went to the reading at Barnes & Noble, with a reading from the book by the very accomplished actor (or actress, if you prefer gender specifics), Mary Beth Hurt. Ann Leary spoke, too, about how she came to write the book, and took questions from a packed house. She’s funny, whip smart and self-depricating, and I’m sure ‘suffers no fools’ (a characteristic she undoubtedly shares with the story’s main character).
Then it was off to the party to raise a glass to Ms. Leary! You know who was there? That’s right, one of my most favorite characters in NY, Mattie Smith Matthews . She and I obviously subscribe to the same fashion magazines, because we were dressed similarly in black tunics and leggings. And suprise, fellow ‘sweeties’ Jill Brack and Alejandra Ramos were there, too!
Here are Ann, Julie and Laura Zigman, otherwise known as the Hashhags. Do yourself a favor and listen to a podcast or two. The Hashags serve up platters of witty repartee on a regularly scheduled basis.
So much fun, so many more celebs in the same room, I felt like the AARP’s Cinderella in Uggs. And, like the endings to so many fairy tales, the clock struck 9:45 pm and it was time to say s’long, find my medallion’d carriage and call it a night.
But not before I show you these pix.
Currently, my copy of this book is in J’s hands. Every now and again, she raises her head and says “Oh boy, you are going to LOVE this book!”
Lisa Adams is a pushover for a cookie. And, she’s a great hugger and new dog owner.
Elizabeth Flock runs a close second to me in the race for who can be the most starstruck. Plus, she’s a riot.
Michael J. Fox, as cute as he is on TV, is downright handsome in person. Seriously.
Katie Holmes is a tall drink of water. And very very pretty.
*rare, as in never happens on this scale.
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Sometimes an idea seems so simple and so obvious to me, that I just assume everyone knows the same trick.
And that’s why this post has been collecting dust in my draft pile for months.
But last night, when I got an urgent DM from Cathy, I decided it might be time to edit and push publish.
If the woman who butchers, cures, preserves and cooks doesn’t know this trick, then maybe you don’t either? Especially when you’re in full Thanksgiving mode and like me, you’re making this seductive, 3 layer temptress, created by the pastry wunderkind, Stella.
No need for pencils, crayons or compasses, or rulers. No math formulas either. And by all means, no need to stockpile precut parchment circles in all sorts of sizes that you may or may not use.
Start with your cake pan, a pair of scissors, a sharp knife and a piece of parchment paper.
Fold the parchment in half lengthwise and slice it in two with your knife.
From the rectangle you’re going to fold one corner up to meet the top of the parchment sheets and form a sharp angle. (Layer both sheets and do cut two at once for additional time saving.)
Now, fold that rectangular piece of paper over the triangle and make a sharp crease.
Again, use your knife and slice through that excess flap.
Now, begin folding that triangle as though you were making a paper airplane.
After all the fold have been made, place the point of this folded paper at the center of the upturned pan.
Grab the scissors and cut the excess edge away, following the curve of your pan.
Now, unfold the triangle into the perfect circle and try it on for size. Give it a trim if it’s still a little too large.
The next thing you know, you’ll be making origami birds and grasshoppers.
But for now, go make cake.
Happy Thanksgiving!Read More »
These aren’t exactly words you’d expect to read in a post about cookies. Certainly, they’re de rigueur in posts about charcuterie or butchery. But not cookies.
And, that’s the point.
It’s the ‘I’ve never seen a cookie like that’ idea that is my Mt. Everest. What technique will I use to transform this idea into a cookie that, intellectually, you know you’re supposed to eat, but, emotionally, want to hold onto and save in a safe place forever? Will it be as funny to others as it is to me?
These are just a few of the questions I always ask myself when evaluating a project. And of course, nothing moves me forward faster to a swift resolution than knowing I’ve already said “yes” to the client and a completion date is on the horizon.
Such is this cookie. My sweet oncologist by day/food blogger by night friend presented me with my latest challenge. ”Can you make something in a blood cell for my hematologist friend?”, she asked as though a blood cookie was a best seller of mine. ”White blood cells are really beautiful, you know”.
I took the bait and googled away. The cell really is kind of pretty, particularly if you have no idea what you’re looking at. And, the idea is much better than any I pitched. I heard hematologist and thought ‘bloody vampire teeth after feeding, blood spatter, blood smear, knife dripping with blood.’ Too ordinary. Too ho hum. MJ couldn’t have been more right on with this idea.
The deep colored blob in the middle looks like some kind of polka dotted reptilian head, or one of those early 80′s PacMan video game that gobbles up everything in its path. Surrounding that blob are polka dots, or pomegranate arils, or …let me stop before Dr. Rorschach analyzes me.
After careful consideration, I determined that the best technique I could possibly employ is the ‘dot on a dot in a dot’, or what’s more commonly known as the ‘wet on wet’ technique. For the record, I prefer my name.
You may never make a white or red blood cell cookie, but you will definitely want to use this easy technique to add lots of dimension to your own creations.
I began by outlining the middle blob with fairly runny royal icing. I didn’t want it to set up before I was through adding my dots.
Then, I quickly filled the blob.
Next up, the first set of dots.
Here’s where I let you down. I screwed up the photo of the 3rd dot. But, it’s simple. I just went back with my original dark red color and dropped dots into the violet ones, resulting in what look like floating rings.
Let that dry over night so there’s no chance of unwanted bleeding.
Now, fill one small section of the cookie with loose flood icing. Immediately drop in the first dot.
Add another color into the first dot.
I then added just the tiniest dot of dark red to mimic what I saw in the illustration. Working swiftly, I maneuvered my way around the rest of the cookie to fill it completely.
Voilà! Behold the eosinophil! This Friday night, a group of doctors will be whooping and hollering over these cookies.
A sausage loving, wine-slurping neurosurgeon will be celebrated, too.
Today, blood n’ brains get added to my ‘that’s a cookie?’ category.
And, that’s not offal, is it?Read More »
The other day, finding myself in a bit of a pinch, I ran over to the cake decorating supply store on 22nd Street. It’s the store where all the pastry chefs, cake decorators, culinary school students and confectionary geeks resign themselves to going to at one time or another. It’s different from all other supply houses in the area in that in addition to selling every baking pan, tool and gizmo available on the market, they also sell edibles, like chocolate, cocoa powder, and fondant. And, their legendary service is fodder for urban folklore.*
As I maneuvered around the young mother intently studying the menu of available edible cartoon images for the top of a cake, I overheard two ladies asking about a particular cakebox that the store didn’t carry. Panic set in. ”OH NO! What will we do? How will we carry the cake?” Before I could even think, I heard the sound of my own voice. ”How big is the cake? How big is the base?” In a few sentences accompanied by sweeping arm gestures usually reserved for a rousing game of Charades, I described to these damsels in distress how to transform the boxes they already owned into one tent-like covering that would shelter the cake during its transport to its final destination.
As I explained the process, I watched the panic on their faces melt away, quickly replaced by relieved smiles. ”Thank you so much”, cooed the younger of the two women. ”You should be online”, said the other lady. I returned the smile, turned away and thought YES! BLOG POST!
If I could help these ladies with their packing dilemma, surely this post will help you, too, right?
Begin with 2 cake boxes the same size as your cake base. 10 inch base? 10 inch cake box. Grab a pair of scissors, too. And, have a roll of cellophane tape handy for sealing the sides as you’re finishing.
Line one box inside the other and cut off the front flaps of both boxes. I save these flaps to work out templates, as well as a bridge for the occasional gap on the finished top of the box.
Separate the two boxes and face them toward each other, their newly cut sides fitting one over the other. I’ve folded one of the box tops down, so I’m not showing a sea of muddy brown.
Turn the box around so you can identify the tabs on the side panels of the box. Insert them into their corresponding slots. Do one side only. You’ll want the other side open so you can slide the cake into the box easily.
You should now have something that resembles this:
Now with that one open side, you can slide your cake right into its temporary home. Yes, it’s a Halloween cake. And, yes, that’s how long I’ve been sitting on this post.
Once the cake is pushed inside the box as far as it can go (See why it’s always good to have a cake base larger than your actual cake? The base behaves like a protective bumper.), you can start closing up the box by inserting the two remaining tabs into their respective slots.
It’s beginning to look like a tent, right?
Now take those big flaps and bring them up together to form the pitched roof of the tent.
Fold the side flaps down and adjust them so the cake is fully shielded, but not so close that the box touches or rests upon the cake. Use a bit of cellophane tape to hold them in place. Swivel the box around and repeat on the other side.
You should have something that looks like this. A tent!!!
There. Snug as a bug in a rug.
Commandeering potholes along the way, of course, is another story entirely.
*Legendary is yours to define.
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