Confiteria San Blas: the Inflation Stumper Bakery (for now)

We just moved offices. We used to be on a nice, although too residential building on the corner of Malabia and Charcas. Its a nice neighborhood, close to other places I guess. But I wont miss it too much. In the immediate area there wasn’t much to write home about. But if there is one thing that I will miss about that neighborhood it would be Confiteria San Blas. 

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The neighborhood was residential enough, with a couple of panaderias, some small supermarkets, a rotisserie or two and a dietetica. Prices were generally in the mid range–neither cheap nor too expensive. Now that we are in the beautiful Palermo Botanico, I know just what expensive smells like: AR 32 for a small coffee and two bad medialunas at Pick Market. Disgraceful.

Confiteria San Blas had always piqued my interested when I walked by it on my way to the subte. It was very unassuming and looked quite old. I went in once to buy an empanada after working straight through lunch one day. I remember thinking that it was surprisingly good, but would be better warm.

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But what really got me and my work mates hooked on it was when prices started shooting up in January due to inflation. Our favorite panaderia raised their prices for tartas from 14 pesos to 17 pesos. That might not sound like a lot, but with our salary staying steady with no raise in sight, we started searching out other options. Remembering my initial interest in San Blas, I finally took the plunge. It should have been my first stop. 

My favorite tarta has been “tarta de calabaza”, or butternut squash quiche. I have a serious love affair with the stuff. I eat butternut squash in ALL forms and have been cautioned more than once that my hands could turn orange if I don’t limit my intake.

That didn’t stop me from trying all the neighborhood options, settling on my three favorites, one of them being from Anita Bakery. But since trying the calabaza creation (better described as a pastel) from San Blas I have been hooked. My freezer is even full of them.

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The pastel de calabaza y pollo has a magically addictive quality that, when I asked the baker, turned out to be the fault of butter. She said good quality chicken breast–I still say butter. The pastry isn’t anything special but the filling is hearty, filling and comfort-food quality. At AR 16 with two rolls (brown or white bread), I see few deals in the city having the potential to trump this one.

Since this discovery, everyone in my office began to get their cheap lunches at my favorite place down the street. We discovered that, although sometimes a little burnt on the bottom, the facturas were tasty and cheap at the frozen-in-time price of AR 2/each. The cookie and homemade cracker selection was also quite nice and I was able to get about 16 pretty cookies (special shout-out to the mini alfajores de maicena) for around 18 pesos. The other tartas (carrot and eggplant; jam and cheese; corn, tomato and swiss chard; butternut squash and carrot etc) were just as cheap and came with bread, but varied in quality; it was really the butternut squash and chicken tart that stole my heart.

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And then we moved. I think I’ll still be making the trek to get my favorite tarta for lunch. Or maybe just to bring them home and stick them in the fridge. I just want to say, thank you San Blas for keeping my belly full and helping me fight inflation when no one else will. I’ll be back very soon. 

Confiteria San Blas, Malabia, between Santa Fe and Guemes
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Homemade Peanut Butter and Nutella

Last week I went a little overboard on the purchases when I was shopping at one of my favorite cheap health food stores, Dietetica Tony. Thankfully the place is so cheap that the damge was minimal; double thankfully, I was inspired by the 600 grams of unsalted, untoasted peanuts that I impulse-bought.

And that is how I decided for the first time in my life to make my own peanut butter.

At university in Burlington, Vermont freshly ground peanut butter was a mainstay in my fridge due to the local Co-Op, Citymarket’s nut-butter grinder (almonds included !!). I never once had to think about the possibility of a) expensive and b) uncommon peanut butter supplies. And even if I couldn’t get the fresh stuff, Jiff was at every gas station in the country.

Argentina has a completely different relationship with peanuts. They don’t come with bananas and sliced bread, in milkshakes, on pancakes or covered in chocolate and wrapped in orange plastic –they come salted and with beer, cheese, and chorizo.

And that is 100%+ ok.

I swear I am not complaining. Its just that sometimes I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hold the meat. You know?

But I didn’t stop there. I decided to try my hand at making nutella too. I could have probably found it in some specialty shop surrounded by 50 peso bags of dried italian pasta (I think I’ll buy the 8-15 peso variety instead, thanks), but I was inspired by the prospect of making peanut butter. So I decided that my Oscars night snacks didn’t have to be quite so expensive (banana nutella emapandas 4lyfe).

So I bought some hazelnuts, powdered sugar and cocoa powder too.

And you know what? It was shamefully easy.

That being said, you need a food processor. So find a friend who has one and take full advantage. Don’t forget to reward them with a little bit of nut butter too!

Homemade Peanut Butter

Ingredients:

400 grams ra, un-salted peanuts

3-5 Tbsp. oil (not olive oil)

Salt, sugar, or honey to taste

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to around 350F/180C

Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and bake until golden. Watch them closely so they don’t burn.

Let the nuts cool completely (and display in a lovely jar until ready to use, for my fellow procrastinators).

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Place nuts in a food processor and process continuously.

First it will look just like chunky nuts. Then it will look a little less chunky, but still dry…

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And thats where you add in the first 3 Tbsp. of oil in a continuous stream. It will start to get creamy…

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Keep processing until you get your favorite texture. I doubt it will every be 100% smooth, but there is definitely some variation possible. This is also a good time to add in salt and/or sugar or honey !!

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Homemade Nutella

This is very similiar to the peanut butter. The only difference really is that the ingredients are added in sooner.

Ingredients:

1 cup (around 150 grams) peeled hazelnuts; if unpeeled, see below

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa power

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

4 Tbsp oil (again, not olive oil)

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to around 350F/180C

Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and bake until golden. Watch them closely so they don’t burn (which is what happened to me). If you could only find hazelnuts with the skins on them, place them in a dish towel and roll around vigourously. The skins should start to come off on their own. Its a pain though, so try to get them without skins in the first place.

Let the nuts cool completely.

Place the nuts in the food processor and process until they are as smooth as possible, around 3 minutes. They will be dry, so don’t worry if its still pretty chunky.

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Add the dry ingredients remaining ingredients and blend until combined.

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Add half of the first 2 Tbsp of the oil in, poured in a continuous stream. Process until smooth. If the nutella is too dry, add in another Tbsp and continue to process.

Note: I added too much oil in at once and the result was a very liquid-y nutella. Delicious–but not quite the right consistency. It does firm up in the fridge a tiny bit, though, so don’t worry too much.

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Then enjoy the hell out of your homemade and cheap versions of these nut butters. I have been eating my peanut butter with bananas and made some banana-nutella empanadas for the oscar festivities.

I still have a lot left! Any ideas?

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Feature of the Week-er: Dreams of Real French Pastries in Buenos Aires

NOTE: there is some serious food porn in here. If you are offended…go read a cookbook with out pictures. 

I found something akin to a real French bakery in Buenos Aires.

SO PUT DOWN THE MEDIALUNA. I am sure its delicious with its almibar coating and strangely yellow-ish tint, but that is not what I am here to discuss so please clear your mind of such thoughts (and your plate) !

We are here to talk french pastries. Flaky, buttery, fresh and ideally recently taken out of the oven. That is exactly what I found on a recent morning while walking to work. You know in movies when people literally stop in their tracks after being hit by the smell of fresh-baked whatever wafting out of a bakery? I did that lurch-to-a-halt move before deciding that I couldn’t take another step without a very important taste test.

That morning I was lucky enough to stumble onto La Patisserie Francaise.

And after being faced with this…

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I bought this…(for ARS 3.50)

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And I died. And dubbed this place the “Next Best Thing to a Ticket to Paris” (at least until I own my own airline…ha ha).

I, the queen of shovelling food into my mouth at a steady stream, actually ate this slowly. It was perfect–at least as far as my standards go. My French experience is relatively basic (a total of three weeks) but I made sure to make my French collegue try it. She said it was up to par. I say it goddamn SURPASSED it.

And so I went back and ate this…

At ARS 3.50 its a full peso more than the average factura (Argentine version) so I don’t know if you can spare it.

I AM SO KIDDING. You would be missing out on a daily weekly trip to France by not trying these babies. Did I mention that the French Embassy apparently orders from here? And anyway, lets SAY that the ARS 6.27 pesos per euro was accurate (hem, inflation makes it more like ARS 7.75), then your French style pastry here would be at least half the price than the real thing. Now thats my kind of deal.

Oh, and this is what I saw when I finally turned away from the pastries…

For more details check out 2XTango’s review.

La Pâtisserie Française

Malabia 2355, between Charcas and Guemes (Palermo Soho)
Update: The croissant is good, but its not great. Definitely less medialuna (none of the sweetness, in fact) but not all the way buttery croissant. I still have high hopes for the one with pastry cream in it…and the caracol with raisins is 100% worth it.

Free Pumpkin Pie (Recipe) !!

Making (and Eating) Pumpkin Pie in Buenos Aires has sort of become a tradition.

I realize that this post is geared to a certain group of people (the fatties of the USA!). But I couldn’t help myself because today is one of my favorite holidays !

Its Turkey Day, baby. 

I love that there is an actual holiday that is entirely organized around what and when you are going to eat. None of the usual holiday shenanigans–just food.

But living in Buenos Aires complicates this holiday. First, I am not with my family and missing a meal cooked by my mother is practically sacrilegious. And second, Argentina does not  celebrate the wonderful day when the pilgrims and the native (north)americans sat down at a lovely long table filled with gourds as decoration in order to share a meticulously thought out, warm meal and go around the table saying what they were thankful for (pilgrims mostly, because they didn’t die from hypothermia and instead got pumpkin pie). Believe me, this is all factual and accurate.

My first Thanksgiving here was actually a great success. It may have been because I was surrounded by people just as enthusiastic about this holiday as I am, but nonetheless it all worked! We even took a door off of its hinges to make an extra long table. It was glorious.

However, although fun and delicious, it was not easy. There are so many T-giving supplies you can’t get here for obvious reasons. We even had a visitor smuggle in bags of marshmellows and cans of cranberry sauce in his suitcase !

And I was determined to make a pumpkin pie even if it too me weeks. I started my quest two weeks in advance, researching recipes and looking for ingredients. I realized a couple of key things:

1) pumpkin puree in a can is uncommon and, if it even exsits, almost impossible to get a hold of.

2) evaporated milk is also uncommon and, though available, expensive (17 pesos for a can?!).

3) food processors make your life so much easier in pumpkin pie endevors.

Taking all of these things into account I patched together this “pumpkin” pie recipe that is actually incredibly good. It tasted like a traditional pumpkin pie, and a damn good one at that.

So in honor of this very, very special day and of not spending god knows how much on importing or actually buying the smuggled-in ingredients to take the easy route, I am giving you my special Argentina pumpkin pie recipe, dubbed “Pumpkin Pie Remix”. Take good care of it!

Pumpkin Pie Remix Recipe

Ingredients:

Pie Crust, makes top/bottom or two pies (from Smitten Kitchen):
315 grams (2 1/2 cups) All-purpose flour
225 grams (1 cup) butter (cut into 1/2 inch slices and left to chill in the fridge at least 15 minutes, up to an hour)
1 tsp salt, if your butter is unsalted, otherwise forget it (use a real teaspoon)
1 Tbsp sugar (again, use a real tablespoon)
6-8 Tbsp ice water (ditto)

Filling:
15 ounces (2-2.5 cups) fresh Butternut Squash, peeled and cubed
120 grams (little over 1/2 cup packed Brown Sugar or 3/4 cup White Sugar)
1 Tbsp (15 grams) Corn starch
1 egg
8 ounces evaporated milk (ie. 145 grams (a little less than a cup) dry milk and 170 grams of water)
Pumpkin pie spices (1 tsp. cinnamon, pinch each of allspice, nutmeg, clove, and ginger. Or just do cinnamon and grate some nutmeg; that should do it)

Crust:
1. In a food processor combine flour, (salt), and sugar. Pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times (until pea sized). Add ice water 1 Tbsp. at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump into fine sand like bits. Dump into plastic bag and squish into a ball in one or two movements. Do not over kead! Place in fridge for at least an hour and up to two days.

   If doing by hand, mix dry ingredients first and then use a force or fingers to work the finly chopped, cold butter  in until pea sized bits. Mix in 5 Tbsp ice water with a spatula until big lumps are formed and then quickly knead (no more than 3-4 times) into a ball. Do not over knead! Place in fridge for at least an hour and up to two days.

3. When ready to make the pie, cut the dough in half (recipe makes two pies or a top and bottom if you want to get fancy with a lattice) and begin to roll out. DO NOT OVER ROLL or the dough will be tough. Roll into a round-ish shape (no need to make it perfect) and lift carefully over the pie tin. Gently press into tin and cut off over-hanging edges with a knife. Fill a small bowl with cold water, dip a fork into the water, and press the edges of the dough onto the edge of the pan lightly.

Filling:
1. Either boil the cubed squash in a pot or bake at 200C (400F), either way until tender. Cool. If you do not have a food processor, mash by hand until it is a very fine puree.
2. Preheat oven to 175C (350F).
3. Combine water and powdered milk by sprinkling a little powder into the water and whisking and repeating until incorporated without clumps. Whisk egg in a separate bowl.
4. In the food processor or large bowl combine squash, brown sugar, cornstarch, egg, milk, and spices. Process or stir until smooth. Pour into pie crust.
5. Bake for 50 minutes (or 40 minutes and 20 minutes at a lower temperature to avoid a burnt crust). (Watch this part! My oven was so hot it probably took a combined 40 minutes to cook, and all at the same around “350F” temperature. I also left it in the turned off oven for another 10 minutes for good measure).

Feria Masticar: Massive BA Food Party

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Not that you needed an excuse, but here is one to get out this weekend…to eat. And maybe shop for lovely produce and artisanal products (I’ve still never really been able to figure that word out) blah blah blah. But really its the eating that should always be center stage.

Which brings me to Feria Masticar, the new Buenos Aires festival dedicated to food and cooking and organized by the Argentine gastronomy elite. Its happening this weekend !

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Members of the group ACELGA (Asociación de Cocineros y Empresarios ligados a la Gastronomía Argentina and paradoxically sharing a name with a relatively unappetizing vegetable)  have joined forces to create a weekend of heaven on earth gastronomic delight including a market, food stands, cooking classes, and wine and possibly beer tastings. Even Narda Lepes (think young, hip Rachel Ray/Martha Stewart with an amazing BA grocery shopping guide) is going to be there teaching cooking classes.

The details that make me want to go NOW:

1. Narda Lepes, Francis Mallman, and Maru Bottana

2. One Stop Shopping: So many amazing products in one place at one time (L’epi bread, national sea salt, olive oil, micro greens…!!!)

3. A cocktail stand among the food stands brought to you by Bar 878!

4. Variety and reasonable prices at food stands, somewhere between $20-35 for meals (although who knows about sizes)

5. Wine tasting “tunnel” (anyone heard of Club Amerika’s touch tunnel? *shudder*)

6. Cooking classes and talks

At ARS $30 pesos this Feria is bound to be cheaper than a lunch out and, of course, is your activity for the day. Tack on a $25-35 peso sandwich and you’re still doing pretty well. Oh hell, how often to you get to go to a food festival for less than USD 6-4.50 (depending on exchange rate you work in) anyway? And if you were planning on paying that USD 60+ for the class to make empanadas and drink a glass of wine, please spare yourself. ITS NARDA LEPES FOR fu… FOODS SAKE.

So be there. Period.

Feria Masticar, “El Dorrego” at Zapiola 50, Colegiales (see google map here)

November 16, 17, 18

Friday & Saturday: 12 PM to 11 PM

Sunday: 12 PM to 10 PM

5 Ways to Use Vegetable Throwaways

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Annoyed when you end up paying for parts of fruit or veg you think you need to throw out? Your man/woman at the veg stand may be very nice, but it IS really annoying (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) when you walk out of there with unripe/overripe fruit or broccoli stalks longer than your arm. This is definitely something I have had to get used to in Buenos Aires.

The following are five ways to fill your belly with those bits you used to throw away. Here’s to living up to your true frugal-ness.

1. Broccoli Stalk Salad

I bet you weren’t aware of this ingenious use for broccoli stems. You can grate them and make a salad from them. Whoa. Who knew? Apparently everyone, though, because there are recipes all over the place! This is truly useful because broccoli in BA tends to come with a lotta stem and not so much top. I have gotten some truly ridiculous stems with my broccoli that made me weep large tears (overstatement).
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Try adding toasted sunflower seeds, raisins and a simple olive oil/balsamic dressing (thanks Chocolate & Zucchini! ). Maybe asian inspired or even pickled for your next toothpick soiree.
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2. Spinach Stems
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Oh the spinach stems. I think these may be the worst. Not only are they really long, but ninety-five percent of the time the part below the tie or rubber band that holds my leaves together is brown, wet, and gooey. Its gross. I know this is a “yanqui problem” but I am just not used to having to throw away a good portion of the veg that I just paid for. I often end up chopping off most of the stems to avoid having to touch, let alone eat, the bottom bit. I’ll get over it, but I think making a delicious looking indian curry like this one made specifically with the stems would help. Lots of stir-fried stems, too. But, uh, still cut off the brown bits.
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3. Unripe fruit
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They get you when you’re not looking. Your eyes are sweeping around the verdularia, deciding what you want to ask for next (your mind trying to figure out how to say it in Spanish, perhaps) and you get distracted. And right THERE is when they sneak in the rock-hard fruit that leaves bruises on your legs as you walk away. If you can’t stand to wait the days it can take for your peach pear whatever to ripen, poach it! Or at least that’s what they say. And with the deliciously priced wine you can often find here in the Arg, mmmmmmm.
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Oh, the worst is avocado. People say you can microwave it. I say set a booby trap for pigeons.
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4. Over-ripe fruit
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Overripe fruit is a bit disappointing, but not the worst because there are so many options. We all know to make banana bread (the moosewood recipe was the staple in my household); but what about the other fruits? You can bake them a la banana bread: This scone recipe for over-ripe strawberries looks great and Deb says you can use it with just about any fruit. Also try making smoothies if you have access to a blender. Or cook them on the stove with some sugar and eat over pancakes or ice cream, mash-up and cook INTO your pancakes, or layer with whipped cream, nuts and/or granola to make a decadent and semi-nutritious (ish) fool. Just remember to cut away the brown, bruised, or furry bits. Please.
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On the topic of avocados again, this time overripe, people say you can use it as a hair mask . Ew, but I’m down.
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5. Vegi Scraps
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All of those veg scraps you are so used to dumping could be your next vegi stock turned vegetarian soup. Take one of those million produce bags you have in the cupboard and start squirreling away bits from prep in your freezer. Avoid using cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, artichokes, beets and onion skins. These veggies will overpower your broth or turn it brown. Everything else is a goThese guys explain the process better. This leek and lemon soup sounds perfect for spring.
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So this is why your next beer can be on you. Any other ideas I should know about? You know I’d love them…

Feature of the Week-er: Okebon Cookies!

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WARNING: YOU MAY FIND THIS POST TO BE A COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT AND FRIVOLOUS DISTRACTION THAT CAUSES YOU TO LEAVE THE OFFICE ON A COOKIE RUN. SORRY.

Okebon’s Cookies are the oh-so-lucky winner of my first ever
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Feature of the Week-er !!
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I have now tried two types of this brand’s cookies (the sugar sprinkled Girotondo and the slightly orange flavored Panal) and I like them. They were also really cheap: ARS 6.25 at the chino around the corner. These two facts come together to make these cookies the “Most Delicious Bang for your Buck”.
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Dunk ’em, munch ’em, crumble them over your mate for all I care. The package is surprisingly large so its great for hoarding for yourself sharing with friends.
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I’m not saying that these cookies could pass for homemade (although they would be delicious as ddl (dulce de leche) cookie sammies) but for your basic snack cookie they do the trick. A little “oo!” even escaped from my mouth after my first taste (TMI?).
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So CONGRATULATIONS to Okebon for creating a cookie that I actually want to buy again.
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Anita Bakery: My Neighborhood Bakery Away from Home

When lunch hour strikes and I want something filling but not heavy, reasonably priced but not empanadas or veg from the stand next door, and free of the block of melted cheese that often accompanies lunch, I go to Anita Bakery. This doll house of a sweet shop has become my go to take-out spot for delicious tartas (quiche) with a side of salad with homemade dressing or oven-roasted potatoes. At $28 pesos this is a great option when last nights dinner just didn’t make it to the tupperware. They also do sandwiches on homemade bread for $30 and salads for $35, making this place one of my favorites in BA.  If you want to splurge for a key lime pie, Anna also has you covered.

Take-away if you want or sit in one of the three stools to chat with a friend while you eat, but know that this place is mini. Located right near the corner of Charcas and Armenia on the edge of Palermo Soho

UPDATE: four months later and I am still going back, even if its just for a chat (SHE IS SO NICE). Lunch continues to be delicious and reasonable and I have to absolutely give a shout out to Ana’s holiday pan dulce. Even a day later and after being squished in every direction on an overnight flight, it was perfect.

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