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Chasing Pineapples

an English girl tasting her way around the world

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Food and Wine Tour

Food and Wine Tour Comes to an End: Merci, Gracias, TA!

The food and wine tour of France and Spain has come to an end. Kicking off the trail in Tarifa back in July seems like an eternity ago, with so many memories along the way. These include (deep breath…) fresh hand-caught seafood dinners with local friends in Tarifa, meeting the ham man and blind nuns in Ronda, a sherry winery tour in Jerez, a home-cooked Spanish Sunday lunch in Valencia, the two-hour visit for suckling pig, playing families in Galicia, cider and farmyard fun in Asturias, dancing chefs in Logrono, molecular gastronomy and pinchos in the North of Spain, Michelin Star chef Ferran Adria’s fairground tapas in Barcelona, hunting Paris for macarons, wine tasting along the Loire, cooking mussels roadside during a storm in Cognac, stuffing ourselves with duck in the Dordogne, a midnight tour of a restaurant in the Basque Country, market exploring in Toulouse, the bouchon experience in Lyon, a secret wine room and restaurant in Burgundy, an international gastronomic festival in Dijon and not to forget the potato farm in Franche Comté… (pause for breath!!!)

Back in Tarifa for lift-off!
Back in Tarifa for lift-off!
'We love our luggage' on the road again!
‘We love our luggage’ on the road again!

The list goes on and on and just goes to show the vast amount of experience that we have packed in to two months. Travelling up Spain by bus (with many a near miss due to ‘I love my luggage’ disasters!) and then around France in the little GB-stickered car, which also provided our home and shelter for nine nights along the way, we have certainly come a long way. My favourite travel companion will be greatly missed: the pet pig.. no, just kidding; the creative cook that is my friend Gala! We have managed to do all of the above, living in each other’s pockets 24/7 for the past 3 months with not so much as a single cross word.. I think that’s pretty impressive! Thank you for being your weird little easy-going self, constantly putting a smile on my face and putting up with my cringe iPad moments!

'Cheers!'
‘Cheers!’

So many people have helped us along our way.. our fellow language students at the University of Bath who directed us towards their favourite year abroad haunts, university lecturers sharing their wisdom on local culinary traditions, and even a supermarket product developer. Our fabulous hosts have also shown us things we would never have found without their local insight. So thank you to Lara, Flekki, Loren, Sergio, Chris, Francisco, Churro, Beto, Sonia, Angelina y familias, Pedro, Clovis, Nathan, Arthur, Johan, Béatrice, Romain, Jordane, Zoe and David. Each one of you made our journey that bit more special adding that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to our experience!

Our local guide and friend in Valencia
Our local guide and friend in Valencia
Galicia family dining
Galicia family dining

So all good things come to an end. And come to an end has this chapter, but my culinary journey of exploration through the world certainly has not. As one door closes, another one opens, and I am privileged to at some point in the near future be moving to one of the most culinary diverse cities in the world: London! Other journeys of discovery are also beckoning, next projects including the likes of Italy and Central America. Bring it on!!

Thank you for following my journey so far. Your comments, recommendations and accompaniment are all valued highly and i hope that you will continue to travel with me, wherever I may go,

Alex

Franche Comté: Local Hearty Produce and POTATOES!

Franche Comté is the region where Britain’s most famous French chef, Raymond Blanc, was born. Here, the focus is on hearty mountain food and Raymond’s saying that you ‘don’t have to be rich to dine like kings’ is certainly true in the local area, with most dishes we came across consisting of the same regional products:

Champcomtoise Potatoes
During our exploration of Besancon and the Franche Comté countryside, our duo became a trio thanks to our American friend Zoe. She kindly showed us around the local area and took us to a cosy little café and in return we took her to a very glamorous, very luxurious… potato farm. Afraid that someone outside of our little foodie bubble would consider us completely bizarre, we were pleasantly surprised that Zoe embraced the farm experience! We drove off the beaten track to a warehouse full of crates and crates of potatoes. The farmer, used to selling large quantities wholesale, thought it was rather charming that three young girls had come all this way to buy one sack of potatoes and thus stopped his heavy chores to have a chat. We then went exploring the potato maze and hopped back into the car in search of the rest of our ingredients.

Chatting to the Potato Man
Chatting to the Potato Man
Getting Lost Amongst the Potatoes
Getting Lost Amongst the Potatoes

Comté Cheese
This delicious mild and slightly sweet cheese first produced in 12th century forms the heart of the region’s cuisine. The Montbéliarde cows from which it is produced have a minimum space of one hectare to graze in and they are fed fresh and natural food- very happy cows! However, this AOC product is taken very seriously with an affineur (a cheese man!) regularly ‘ringing’ the cheese to understand the texture and each one is graded according to appearance, rind quality, texture and taste. Those with a bell symbol are the most sought after in all the land! We were guided to a cheese shop in the city centre to choose our slice from a huge round wheel… rather exciting!

Morteau sausage
This is a sausage that is smoked for 48 hours using wood fires in Tuyé chimneys. These smoking houses of the region contain a large wood fire beneath hundreds of hanging sausages. Due to this process, each authentic Morteau sausage has a tiny piece of wood and a ring attached. We went to fetch our fat sausages from a local specialist boutique called Doubs Direct. We even met a cow!

Meeting a Cow on our Produce Hunt
Meeting a Cow on our Produce Hunt

Cancoillotte
Cancoillotte is a liquidy cheese that is a key part of the local culture. Traditionally the cheese of the poor mountain folk, this concoction has made its way into the restaurants of Besancon and can be found in a variety of flavours including garlic- delicious poured over potatoes to slightly warm and melt!

Vin Jaune
The nearby Joura countryside is a wine growing area, with its most renowned product being their unique Vin Jaune which uses a process similar to that of Sherry production with the formation of yeast. This is a very rich wine which is paired with Comté cheeses (try mixing them to create a regional take on the traditional fondue!).

We added all of these ingredients together to create a warm version of a Comtoise salad recipe. It was very easy, using the ‘shove it all in’ method and it was everything a dish from the region should be… warming, hearty and FILLING!

Here is another regional recipe to try for Crispy Franche Comté Potatoes

Ingredients (serves 4):
– 1 kg Champcomtoise potatoes
– 250g Tomme cheese
– 50g butter
– 1 chicken stock cube
– Mixed pepper (3g Sichaun, 2 cloves cardamom, 2g green pepper, 1g coriander)

Recipe:
– Peel the potatoes and slice
– Preheat the oven to 180°C
– Butter a dish and arrange a layer of potatoes, 80g Tomme goats cheese in fine slices, 15g thinly sliced butter, season and repeat twice.
– Baste from a bowl of chicken stock and bake for 45 minutes until golden and tender.

(They should look similiar to Dauphinoise potatoes!)

 

Pinching Tasters and Recipes at Dijon Gastro Fair!

I could claim that our one day in Dijon magically coincided with its International Gastronomic Fair, but this would be a lie. When getting an itinerary together back in July, I had planned for us to travel France clockwise from Paris with our first destination as Burgundy and ending up in the Loire. However, when I discovered that this unmissable foodie gathering was happening for this particular week only, I completely turned the route on its head to end up in Burgundy and thus Dijon on this date. A bit drastic you may say, but it was definitely worth it! This renowned event attracts a quarter of a million foodie fanatics of all kinds… chefs, artisans, entrepreneurs, and those who just love to eat! Its presence completely dominates the city, with posters and road layout changes managing the flock that turns this already gastronomic city into a flurry of food!

The event takes place in a huge warehouse, with 3 exhibition halls. Safe to say that as we entered this gastronomic oblivion, we were overwhelmed by the maze of stalls before us, chefs calling out their recipes, producers promoting their goods and individuals indulging on the offerings… a sheer wonder for the senses!

Getting Involved with Choccie Mousse Samples
Getting Involved with Choccie Mousse Samples

We were lucky enough to see two demonstrations (and consequently sample the delicious results!) for one of which I have translated the recipe for Anglophones to try out. We saw the dishes being created in front of our very eyes (ever the keen beans with a front row close up) therefore I have included some tips that are not included in the recipe but are essential to replicate the true dish!

Suprême de Volaille à l’Époisses (Chicken Supreme with Époisses Sauce)

Ingredients (serves 6):
– 6 supremes (boneless and skinless chicken breasts)
– 250g Époisses cheese
– 250 ml crème fraiche (this doesn’t need translating!)
– 400 ml brown stock
– Salt, pepper, olive oil and butter

Recipe:
– Whip the cream until thick and store in the fridge.
– In a saucepan, fry the chicken with olive oil and a knob of butter on a low heat until  golden. Pour away any fat.
– Break the époisses into pieces (not too small!) and add to the chicken with the stock, allow to simmer and reduce.
– When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan.
– Add the whipped cream to the sauce, gently fold and then gently whisk until consistent.
– Pour the sauce over the chicken, and dress with a sprig of rosemary.

Happy Chefs!
Happy Chefs!

The result was absolutely divine and not the heavy cheese sauce you would expect with so many rich components! We wanted a whole portion, but high demand of the mini tasters meant we had to wander elsewhere to satisfy our appetites. We did pretty well, pinching samples of duck with blackcurrant coulis, caramelised waffles, macaroons, chocolate mousse and a big bow of Gaulois soup from a huge brewing cauldron. The icing on the cake was a tasting of an array of exotic varieties of Dijon mustard along with the classics (being in its birthplace it would be rude not to really!). We were also delighted to find that this particular producer supplies “bahhh do you know zee English shop Sainsbury’s?” so we can stock up back in England!

Mustards of Dijon stand to Attention! (Get Involved at Sainsbury's)
Mustards of Dijon stand to Attention! (Get Involved at Sainsbury’s)

We left extremely satisfied with our morning of tasting, all for £3 entrance! I think a trip to the 2013 fair may be necessary…

Quintessential Burgundy… The Secret Wine Room of Volnay!

… Once upon a time, there were two young girls with a passion for food and wine. One beautiful day the girls were exploring the region of Burgundy and decided to make a stop in the tiny village of Volnay, which they heard produced the most beautifully poetic wine in all of the land. They pulled up in their little car which also provided their home for the month, to find the most idyllic little village centred around a tiny church. Ever inquisitive and always in search of adventure, the two girls explored the village and came across a courtyard with a wooden door. After knocking lightly, they were told to ‘entrez‘, so they timidly pushed the door open. The two girls couldn’t quite believe what lay before their eyes… a treasure chest of a room crammed full with wine bottles, receipts, candlesticks, antiques and old fashioned wine memorabilia. In the middle of the clutter was a table, around which were gathered four French ladies, chatting and tasting away. Upon finishing their business, they looked towards the two girls with warming smiles, and asked how they could be of assistance. One of the girls said she was on a quest to find the best wine of the land. The oldest lady took the girls through a number of light and perfumed concoctions which they tasted freely. Upon deciding on their favourite bottle, the two girls went on their way, giddy with joy at what they had witnessed (and with the effects of the potions). What’s more, the kind lady told them of a cosy shelter where they could feast on the finest food in the kingdom, a secret kept between only those in the know. They left feeling extremely satisfied, and continued on their quest, tummies filled and hearts happy…

Very happy with my find
Very happy with my find
The Treasure Chest Wine Room of Volnay
The Treasure Chest Wine Room of Volnay

This fairy tale is a sequence of events that panned out on our trip to Volnay to buy my dad a bottle of his favourite wine for Christmas. When opening that wooden door we were speechless at the pure cliché of the place, yet it was very much real! The wine merchant allowed us to try an array of bottles including a beautiful honied Volnay Santenots and she also directed us to a restaurant in a nearby village where we could experience authentic Burgundy cooking. This local haunt (Auberge de Vieux Vigneron) is usually booked up well in advance, yet she had just cancelled a table for two so told us to snap up the reservation. We ate like Kings, sharing classic jambon persillé and Burgundy snails that bubbled away in a little terracotta pot. To follow was the chefs twist on Boeuf Bourgignon, combining the classic local Charolais beef (grown slowly and given spring water and white shamrock for fattening) with Burgundy snails added to rich Cabernet Sauvignon to create a warming tender stew full of local flavour. We were surrounded by local Burgundy folk, not a mutter of a tourist in earshot, huddled around the burning fire. As we were leaving, we were definitely singing the song for happy Burgundy people ‘Bon Bourgignon‘. What a day!!

Our Wine Friend at the Restaurant
Our Wine Friend at the Restaurant
Bubbling Burgundy Snails
Bubbling Burgundy Snails

Quintessential Burgundy… ‘My Mate has a Vineyard’

Burgundy has to be the region that most perfectly sums up typical French cooking… every town nestled between those unmistakably coloured vines is bound to have a pot of coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon bubbling away on a hidden stove. Our experience here was certainly on a par with the cooking… classically quintessential! We could hardly believe how many clichés we stumbled across during our short two day exploration of the region’s terroir.

PART 1, “MY MATE HAS A VINEYARD”… THE BEAUNE EXPERIENCE.

Our first experience was a visit to the vineyard of a friend of a friend. Back at the beginning of our journey, whilst enjoying a coffee in a Parisian brasserie, we excitedly discussed plans for our trip with a friend. He casually mentioned that his friend had a vineyard in Auxey-Duresses near Beaune and asked if we would like to visit. We jumped at the opportunity, expecting a small cluster of vines that the friend nurtured as a hobby. Nothing prepared us for where the GPS directed us to. A bit temperamental at times, we presumed that the Sat Nav was having a ‘spazz attack’ as we like to call it. However after re-entering the information we realised that in fact we were at the right place! ‘A friend’s vineyard’ turned out to be the Moulin Aux Moines winery that produced 45,000 bottles per year from 10 hectares of vineyards. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the beauty and charm of the property; a thousand year old stone house surrounded by a sea of Burgundy vines.

We Could Hardly Believe our Eyes
We Could Hardly Believe our Eyes

We were given a private tour of the vineyards, cellars (where we tried wines straight from the barrel), dove cote and all. Then onwards to the most quintessential tasting room one could ever imagine… a wall stacked from floor to ceiling with grands and premiers crus, a wooden bench with glasses and tasting vessels of all kinds, topped off with a burning fire and huge sofas that would most certainly swallow you up after a wine tasting… dangerous!!

The Tasting Room...
The Tasting Room…

Jordane was extremely passionate about Burgundy wine which he described, like many, as ‘the poetry of the wine world’. Bordeaux wines, he stated, are like novels, heavy and deep; whereas the lighter aromas of the Pinot Noir grape are read and appreciated differently by each individual, each person experiencing their individual appreciation of the Burgundy greats. Our favourite was the Pommard Premier Cru which was spicy yet elegant with hints of liquorice. Chassagne Montrachet came in at a close second with its dry yet succulent golden texture and aromas of flowers and hazelnut.

Creating Poetry of a Different Kind
Creating Poetry of a Different Kind

For our evening’s entertainment, Jordane directed us to Chez Maurice, a wine bar where we whiled away the hours drinking soft and mellow Beaune Premier Cru reflecting the ambience set by a live saxophonist. A wine merchant up front, the bar is only accessible by clambering through crates of wines to an inner courtyard offering excellent tarts (we shared a snail and a butternut squash tart) and cakes as well as their great selection of wines from the Cote d’Or and beyond. Bliss!

Topping off the quintessential experience in Beaune
Topping off the quintessential experience in Beaune

 

I Left my Heart in Lyon… Part 2, Mothers Market Meetings

‘Bernachon, the best chocolatier in France.’ This is an astonishing claim. However when researching foodie ‘must dos’, various sources (including Raymond Blanc) all seemed to agree. So, off we trotted to see what all the fuss was about. The beauty of this institution is that the chocolate is all made exclusively on the premises, from bean to box. They even individually wrap every single chocolate, a process that we saw being carried out by the ladies behind the counter whenever they had a spare minute and a free hand from serving customers. Fascinating for the consumer, but I expect rather tedious for the ladies involved! This triumph was founded by the grandson of the city’s celebrity chef Paul Bocuse. A master of his art, even the likes of Raymond Blanc are humbled by the pure skill of the greatest chef in France. His skill and dedication have gained him three Michelin stars every year since 1965. Our next venture took us to a gastronomic institution in his name, the Paul Bocuse Market. This wonderful place is also the haunt of some other stars of the city’s culinary scene, Les Mères de Lyon.

Gala Eyeing up the Chocolate Artwork
Attention to Detail at Bernachon

These ‘Mothers of Lyon’ are a community of female chefs who are pioneers of the city’s gastronomic reputation. The town had a heavily industrial history with a male dominated demographic and no aristocracy. Therefore the local mountain girls would bundle down to the big lights to even out the demographics a bit and provide food glorious food. Some of these women moved on to become Michelin star chefs, not least the first female chef to gain three Michelin stars, Eugenie Brazier. Their haunt, other than sharing their gourmet finds each other’s houses, is the Paul Bocuse Market. As you can imagine, I was keen to hunt down these ladies…

This upmarket market (and I emphasise the ‘up’) is like the food halls of Harrods and Fortnum & Masons, offering the best of quality which is on great demand in the local area. First stop was chez Mère Richard where we bought some Saint Marcellin cheese, a creamy and buttery variety with no chalk that was traditionally saved for special occasions. Then onwards to another ‘mother’, Colette Siblia, adopted by us as ‘the sausage lady’… another of our extremely original names! As we approached the stall, we caught sight of an eccentric lady (huge earrings and lipstick, hair done and all) running shop, peering over the shoulders of the staff serving customers and showing everyone who was boss! She was such a character and perfectly encaptured the market matron mould! We chose some delicately sliced Rosette sausage that is cured in the surrounding hills. The young man who served us even brought our purchases around to our side of the counter and personally handed them to us. This tiny gesture did wonders for our experience, making it that more personal.

Sausage Diva Colette Siblia
Our Friend the Sausage Man

For our finalpisode we bought a café crème that we carefully carried around the busy market, weaving our way in and out of the morning shoppers with great skill so as to preserve the treasured liquid to enjoy with our chocolate brioche from Bernachon. Flakey chocolate breakfast heaven, enough said. Once our breakfast was all done and dusted (fingers and plates licked clean), the key was slipped back into the ignition and off we went to Burgundy… Can this trip possibly get any better…

Café Creme to Go!

I Left my Heart in Lyon… Part 1, A Gastronomic Light!

Lyon, Lyon, Lyon where do I begin? Gourmet restaurants galore, traditional factory-worker eateries bursting with character, and a market brimming with vibrant produce. The gastronomic capital of one of the most foodie countries in the world certainly withholds its prestigious reputation in my eyes!

PART 1, MAGALI ET MARTIN: A LIGHT IN THE DARK
Our first impression of the city was not exactly positive to say the least. We arrived in the dark and spent an hour looking for parking with nowhere to stay. To top it off, the restaurant we had researched was fully booked all evening. Feeling very sorry for ourselves, we walked around rapidly trying to find a solution. At this moment, someone, somewhere decided to strike us with a bit of luck in the form of a welcoming restaurant that we had heard of in a tale before…

…When in Cadiz we were very fortunate to meet Chris (see post: https://comomanger.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/alex-and-the-sherry-factory/ ), a young man with a passion for wine. His story is so inspiring and it all began in this tiny restaurant, one of his frequent haunts. One evening he was enjoying a dinner and a bottle of wine when someone spilled a glass of wine from the balcony above, apparently the moment when all became clear! From here, he swotted up with the wine merchant below his apartment and went on to work for the most prestigious sherry producers in the world…

… So we entered this cosy shelter from the cold and decided that we deserved to treat ourselves. We settled in on the famous balcony with a warning to ‘not spill any wine… orrrr to topple a little over the side and convert someone else…’ (The consensus was to go with the former so as to avoid facing angry French ladies and being thrown back out on to the cold street.)

Our tummies were warmed up (literally and metaphorically) with an amuse-bouche consisting of a tiny cup of sweet and creamy vegetable soup. With the sheer impossibility of choosing between the temptations written before us, we decided to do our favourite… two plats between two… (avoiding any opportunity for food envy and allowing us to try a greater variety!). The chosen dishes were pigeon breast in a rich jus with parsnips and winter vegetables; and a contrasting, lighter yet equally as tasty, white fish with perfectly golden crisp skin accompanied with sweet potato purée and buttery girolles mushrooms. To add that extra ‘mmmmm’ factor, we were served a side dish of creamy potato purée, whipped into such a heavenly light and feathery dream that it was hard to come back down to our surroundings.

Gala Amusing her Bouche
Pigeon Providing Serious Comfort

Another drop of heaven was provided in the dessert… poached pear with violet syrup and white chocolate mousse. The picture looks bland, the dish was not. It was perfection and a divine textural balance between creamy sweet and light and fruity.

Heavenly Pud

When we left, we walked passed the tiny open kitchen and gave our compliments to the friendly and talented chefs.

Our Shelter from the Cold

This restaurant is such a find, tucked away from the casual passer-by. Its charm is its intimacy, its delicacy and its simplicity. Worthy of its inspiring story and definitely worth a visit, not to be missed!

(11 Rue des Augustins) http://www.cartesurtables.com/lyon/restaurant_magali-et-martin-475.htm&lng=fr&stndln=true

Sur Le Pont d’Avignon Tasting Wines, Dips and Olive Oil!

On arriving in Avignon our first activity was the essential dancing on the bridge singing the children’s French lesson song ‘Sur Le Pont d’Avignon.’ Once we got this out of our system, we carried on in search of food and wine which we found in the form of a wine shop (Le Vin Devant Soi) with a very practical tasting system. We retrieved our card which we then topped up with some euros and ambled along the line of wine and tasted our chosen labels. We were lucky that the shop was otherwise empty, so that we could take full advantage of the owner, Laurent Mersier’s, expertise.

Over the last few months on this food and wine tour, we have learnt plenty about the production and composition of wine, so we were looking for a bit of advice on tasting, so that we could discover our preferred Côte du Rhone. We were informed about the difference between the Southern and Northern Crus, the latter being more spicy due to the pure Syrah grape content. After tasting a Chateau Neuf du Pape, a Cote Rotie and a Crozes Hermitage, we decided that the spiciness of the latter was more our cup of tea. The tasting was very successful as after all the most important wine to discover and learn about is not the most expensive neither that which has the greater reputation, however the one that you would most prefer to drink!

Eyeing up the Cotes du Rhone

For lunch we delighted in dips, all Provençal and delicious. After browsing the local speciality shop for a good half hour sampling dips, picking on olives and sniffing and drinking various infused olive oils; we chose our favourites and headed to a local square. I happened to be wearing a beret that day and we were in need of a baguette. Safe to say that upon leaving the boulangerie, I was a complete walking cliché: beret, baguette and all! We were even stopped by a lady who asked us for a picture. Of course, we said, thinking that she wanted us to take one of here and her husband. But no, it was us whom she wanted her picture with… she thought we were French… Oh I can only wish!

Olive Oil Tasting…
Happy to Have Found our Favourite, Merci Laurent!

Fishermen, Biscuits and Madeleine’s… A Strange Mixture in Sète!

A sunny Saturday morning took us to the fishing village of Sète. This town may be small, but boy it brings in a lot… around 800 lots per hour at the wholesale fish market. The local population is therefore very specific and we bathed in this ambiance over a cup of coffee and a Madeleine. This French ritual took me back to French cultural studies at university when Marcel Proust describes the event of involuntary memory taking him back to his childhood. Funnily enough, this was the anecdote I described in my very first blog post. Looking back on what I have done, where I have been and everything that I have tasted in the last six months is rather overwhelming!

Reminiscing over Madeleine’s

Anyway, back to the present in a little bar called ‘Au Bout de la Rue‘ (at the end of the street) in the South of France, sharing our morning coffee with local fishermen… some very quirky characters with berets, waders and long moustaches in abundance! We soaked up the sun and the atmosphere before moving on to a specialist biscuit shop with sweet and savoury varieties. We chose a selection of lemon, caramel, cinnamon, provençal herbs, cumin, olive, piment d’espelette, Roquefort and sesame. Delighted with our purchases, we headed onwards again to try some local cuisine specialities in a restaurant on the harbour.

Overwhelming Variety of Biscuits!
Filling our Baskets with Biscuits!
Soaking up the Sun with the Fishermen

The starter was a Tielle, a thick pastry encasing a tuna, octopus and sweet tomato filling. This was followed by a Bourride which is a local take on fish pie with monkfish and aioli apparently good enough for Greek Gods according to local legend! It was rather delicious! Tummies filled, we left the town to head North feeling extremely satisfied!

http://www.maisondubiscuit.fr/la-biscuiterie/

https://comomanger.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/around-the-world-before-breakfast-3/

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