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Happy 2017 Everybody!

As the new year begins I like to take a look back at what worked for us during the previous year. I always wonder if there are any traditions, or fun activities we’d do again. I like to look over the photos we took on our adventures through the year and relive the fun. I also take a look over my blog posts to see where in the Hudson Valley we’ve been and what activities we’ve enjoyed the most.

My kids and I have really enjoyed our travels in the Hudson Valley and beyond. There are so many great places to see and fun things to do in our gorgeous valley. But it can been a challenge to find fun things to do when the weather keeps us inside. Somehow we always find something fun! So I gathered up my top five posts for indoor activities we enjoyed in 2016.

TOP 5 INDOOR ACTIVITIES

SENSORY PLAY– Sensory activities are always a hit for us. We discovered water beads in 2015, but have been playing with them ever since. We keep them stored in a mason jar and the kids have to wash their hands before use. We get quite a few uses out of them before we throw them away and start with a fresh set.
water-bead-scoops

COOKINGDIY Play Dough kind of counts as a cooking activity. There is no stove required, but there is measuring, mixing and pouring involved. All necessary skills for life and in the end the quiet time is so worth the mayhem of cooking with kids.play-dough-boxes2

 

BAKING– this can be stressful with kids because it can get messy and chaotic. Take a little help from the store and buy already made dough. Then the rest of the time the kids can play with the dough and make some fun DIY fossil cookiesdino-prints

 

FAMILY FUN– starting a weekly family game night is a fun way to connect with each other and unwind with some laughs. In February we decided to  Start A Family Game Night. It has been a great way to forget about the stress of the week and a makes a great kick off to the weekend!

family-game-night

 

CRAFTS– of course we always include craft projects. The biggest hit this year was our Paper Hand Puppets. It was such a creative, fun way for the kids to use their imagination. Not only did they create each puppet on their own, but those puppets became characters in their play time.

puppet-friends

These are just a handful of the fun activities we do each week at home. Now that my kids are a little older I am hoping to do some more art themed projects. I hope 2017 brings all of us some new creativity and inspiration.

If you are like me you might like to plan fun visits ahead of time. So, next week I am sharing a review of our top favorite things to do and places to go in the Hudson Valley.

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

 

 

My daughter Jenny loves whipped cream, but when we made the decision to eat cleaner, store-bought whipped topping made with polysorbate 60 and sorbitan monostearate had to go. Then I discovered how easy it is to make our own whipped cream, and it became a staple, something she & I like to make together. Here’s how simple it is to make:

  1. Place a metal bowl and beaters in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  2. In this bowl, whip together 1 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes (these peaks will stand up without folding over).
  3. Spoon over fresh berries or your favorite dessert.

Jenny loves this so much, she wants to bring it to school for her birthday.  Please enjoy!

My kids (all kids) are snack monsters.  If left to their own devices, I think they’d eat snack every seven minutes.  Even before we were gluten free, I was never one to rely on packaged snacks.  It was always more rewarding to put together a little something special that would give the kids energy for the morning.  It took all of my older daughter’s Kindergarten year for me to decipher her request for “fire chips” that she saw in the classroom (turned out to be the individually-sized bags of Doritos with a picture of a flame on the front).

However… even in the face of best intentions, we don’t always have the time for extensive homemade snacks.  Making slices of banana bread and a batch of granola bars has been on my to-do list for weeks now, but I have yet to get to it. Sometimes, you need a quick but healthy snack.

Decorated Bananas

Decorated Bananas

A sliced banana, sprinkled with cinnamon (or cinnamon-sugar), unsweetened coconut flakes, and raisins or craisins is a snack that often satisfies my kids.  This can be prepared completely by your child- even one as young as two years old can use a butter knife with supervision, and be instructed to make slices.  You could even send it to school with your child, to be assembled so it’s fresh… a small paper plate and plastic knife, banana, and little container of cinnamon, coconut, and raisins.  Put together in mere seconds, it beats a snack filled with preservatives and food dye.

As my kids said after eating snack earlier this morning… “Delicious, filling, good for you, and healthy! A guilt-free snack.”  Can’t argue with that.

Share your favorite quick, kid-friendly snacks.  To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, please stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  I hope your family has settled into their back-to-school routine and enjoying the approach of Fall.

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I don’t know about you, but I am so happy the fall air is settling into our August nights. After a recent hot spell it feels nice to walk outside without the deep sizzling pain of the hot sun. OK, that’s a little dramatic. But, it really was too hot for us to be outside most days. So, that meant we stayed inside and found things to do in the air conditioning. My girls requested we make cookies, but there was no way I was baking in the heat! So, we made Rice Crispy Treats instead! No oven and the kids can help? That’s a mom-win!

I hope you have all had a rice crispy treat before! If you haven’t you are missing out on a delightful goody! The simplicity of marshmallows and crispy cereal makes them a quick go-to dessert, or a fun addition to your next bake sale.

Earlier this summer I shared with you 4 Low Sugar Snack Time Swaps as I tried to cut down on the sugar in our diets. My mom guilt had me worried about the sugar content in these treats, so I thought I’d amp up the protein just a bit by adding almond butter. The result was nom-nom-nommy!

First, melt a stick of butter in a stock pot. Then add in 1 heaping tablespoon of almond butter. Whisk butters together until well blended.

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Next, add marshmallows and continue stirring until all marshmallows have melted into the butter mixture.

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Now, add your crisp rice cereal and stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

Grease a baking pan with your favorite cooking spray, or oil. (I use coconut oil, or butter).

Fill baking pan with the crispy cereal mixture. Use the back of a spoon to smooth into pan. Allow to cool entirely in pan before cutting. Flip the treats out onto a cutting board and cut into squares.

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That’s it. Seriously, you’re done.

The first time we made these I brought them as an after dinner dessert at a friends house. There wasn’t even a crumb left on the plate. I knew I had a keeper when my friend sent me a text message the next day asking for the recipe!

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*Tips: wet the back of the spoon before  you smooth mixture into the pan. It keeps the treats from sticking to the spoon.

The deeper the pan, the thicker the treats will be when cut. I used a 9×9 baking square pan to get the treats pictured above.

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here

Muffins that my little baker made by herself.  She was so proud when they came out as expected!

Muffins that my little baker made by herself. She was so proud when they came out as expected!

I’ve had my kids helping out in the kitchen since they were old enough to sit up. It goes without saying that cooking with kids will take longer in the beginning… sometimes much longer… and will be messier… much messier.  Yet, totally worth it. Beside the obvious (bonding with your child; kitchen chemistry; lessons in counting, measuring, and fractions; talks about nutrition) there are some awesome future payoffs.  Help in the kitchen!  My kids, now seven and 10, can help prepare part, sometimes all, of a meal.  I can ask them to make a salad with dinner, for example, while I pause to clean up a little. We can pack lunches and they can do some (or all) of it. My seven year old can make breakfast almost by herself, which both excites and scares me. And, confidence!  The other day my older daughter made muffins by herself, from start to finish.  When they came out of the oven, smelling amazing and looking even better, she marveled over the fact they came out as they were supposed to.  My little one frequently chooses recipes and handles a side dish by herself as I make a breakfast or dinner. Your kids can, too!

If your kids haven’t any kitchen experience yet, where should you begin?  First, start simple.  You measure, they pour.  Stir together.  Demonstrate kitchen safety and some guidelines (what not to try alone, for example), and then let them cut and chop using butter knives. Show them how to set the timer, turn on the oven, properly stir and mix. Next, brainstorm. What are your kids favorite snacks or dishes? Look through a cookbook together, and let your child pick out something he’d like to try making with you. Don’t get too ambitious initially, but definitely let your child take the lead in what he’d like to try so that you tap into some excitement and ownership.

After my daughter helped make pancakes, she arranged them into a funny face and took a picture.  I don't know where she got the idea to photograph her food!  ;)

After my daughter helped make pancakes, she arranged them into a funny face and took a picture. I don’t know where she got the idea to photograph her food! 😉

Where to begin? (Kids can…)

Smoothies (Measure ingredients, add to blender)
Oatmeal (Measure milk or water, stir, set microwave)
Waffles/pancakes (Measure, mix, help pour batter, flip pancakes)
Fruit salad (Slice, mix)
Scrambled eggs (Crack eggs, mix, cook on stove with supervision)
Green salad (Peel, slice, toss)
Make a sandwich (PB&J, meat and cheese, whatever your child likes)
Mashed potatoes (Peel, slice, add to pot, mash once cooked)
Mac and cheese (Help boil water, strain pasta, measure ingredients)
Grilled cheese (Toast bread, measure out cheese, flip sandwiches)
Lasagna (Layer ingredients)
Baked Ziti (Mix in ingredients, top with cheese)
Quesadillas (Assemble ingredients into wraps)
Taco night (Put out bowls of toppings)
Meatballs (Mix ingredients, form meatballs)
Burgers (Mix ingredients, form burgers)
Breaded cutlets (Measure ingredients, pound cutlets, dip into breading)
Special family/holiday dishes (Give kids a task of their own)
Muffins/cookies/bread (Measure and mix ingredients, pour into pan)
Brownies/cakes (Measure and mix, pour into pan, frost once baked)

This picture is almost three years old, but it shows how long we've been cooking together.  Here we were making a pie after a trip to the orchard.

This picture is almost three years old, but it shows how long we’ve been cooking together. Here we were making a pie after a trip to the orchard.

One thing that often gets forgotten… teach kids to clean up! Instill the good habit of cleaning as you go- stacking dishes, loading the dishwasher, wiping up spills, and putting ingredients back where they came from. I always tell my kids that by the time we’re done cooking, I shouldn’t be able to tell what we’ve made, or even that we’ve ever been there. Leave no trace (or as we say in Girl Scouts, leave the space better than you found it) is an excellent philosophy to build into your lifestyle. Your kid’s future roommate or spouse will thank you!

As your little sous chef works alongside you, her confidence will build and the possibilities are endless. At first, you’ll need to supervise closely, doing each task with your child, and remind him to clean up. Eventually you can cook in tandem, and later on, you will find your child cooking alone! The investment of time and effort will come back to you again and again. Not only can you have your kids help assemble tomorrow’s school lunch while you clean up dinner, or make himself a healthy snack while you occupied elsewhere, but ultimately you’ll have kids who can cook a meal! It’s hard to imagine your little one being on her own one day, but going into the world knowing one’s way around the kitchen is a lifelong skill that results in confidence, healthy meals, and independence. I look at teaching my kids to cook and bake as one more tool that will help them succeed in the future.

Share your favorite kid recipes below.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

I’m not sure how I’ve gotten this many years into food blogging without including a recipe for apple crisp, but please forgive me. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for apple crisp (the tattered recipe my sister gave me at my bridal shower, eleven years ago, confirms this) but its importance moved up a notch when we became gluten-free two years ago. As desserts go, apple crisp is pretty light on the gluten-containing ingredients, and that’s a huge bonus. Many gluten-free folks shy away from baking, especially early on, because gluten-free flours (and the resulting outcomes) vary so greatly, are pricey, and cooking with them can be very overwhelming. And if you have a picky set, forget it. While great gluten-free baked goods can be achieved with the right ingredients, and practice, they don’t always replicate traditional baked goods exactly, and that can be a turnoff to some.

Enter apple crisp… I swear to you, you’d never know it’s gluten-free. Unlike a cake or cookies, there’s almost no flour, and little room for error. The bulk of the ingredients are apples, anyhow, so how can you go wrong? As an aside, I let each of my kids choose a recipe to make after we’d gone apple picking, and my five-year-old chose apple crisp. Other than my assistance with peeling the apples and helping locate the correct measuring cups and spoons, she made this largely by herself. Even young ones can use a butter knife to slice apples, scoop dry ingredients, and mix the topping, so it’s a wonderful recipe for cooking with kids.

Apple Crisp

Apple Crisp

8 baking apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3/4 c sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 t cornstarch
3/4 c flour (substitute gluten-free here)
1 c brown sugar
3/4 c butter
1 c oats (substitute certified gluten-free here)

Toss apples with sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch until coated. Place in greased 9 x 13 baking dish.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, and butter. “Chop” together with two butter knives until crumbly, or pulse till crumbly in a food processor if available.

Pour topping over apples, bake 40 minutes at 350, and serve warm.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Happy baking!

If you’re gluten-free and go out in the world, you’re barraged pretty frequently with things you can’t eat.  Though much of that food isn’t good for you anyway, that’s beside the point. You can’t eat it, which is very different from not wanting to eat it.  With planning, this is easy enough to get around–as many other families of young children do, we leave the house armed with cut-up fruit or veggies, cheese sticks, trail mix, etc.  That said, there are times when we’re someplace and I notice my kids gazing longingly at something others are eating.

Most recently, my children and I were in a wholesale club with another family and they stopped at the front counter for those warm, salty, heavenly-scented soft pretzels.  Filled with white-flour and no nutrition? Yes.  Something my kids couldn’t have even if they wanted? Well, also yes.  As my kids know by now, I’ve promised to make a gluten-free, healthier version of whatever they covet out of the house.  So, when my little one asked, “Can we make those?” I was happy to say, “YES!”

I’m guessing there are plenty of gluten-free pretzel recipes out there, but this pretzel recipe came through my inbox last week and caught my eye.  I enjoy the No Gluten No Problem blog, as they too are a local Hudson Valley family with kids, living the gluten-free lifestyle.  Their recipes tend to be family-friendly, creative, and come out well.  I have this on my to-try-soon list, and if you’re gluten-free and jonesing for a soft pretzel, you can try it, too.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy baking!

I don’t know if it’s just me, but in this heat wave, I can’t seem to muster up the energy to do much of anything. Well, other than swim, of course, but on the hottest days we stayed indoors.  However, the family needs to eat, and there’s no way around that.  Little ones get bored easily, so why not drum up a little cooking project that feeds hungry mouths and keeps little hands occupied?

Before we were gluten-free, my family and I made these treats fairly often.  They’re a crunchy, slightly-sweet peanut butter bar, perfect for breakfast or a snack.  As I’d blogged about years ago, they’re easy to make, freezing extras is a blessing, and offer a nice dose of protein.  However, we retired the recipe when we became gluten-free, as one of the primary ingredients is whole grain flakes.  I thought about substituting another kind of gluten-free cereal, but many are not readily available, and some, like Chex, wouldn’t offer the right texture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Recently, one morning my kids were begging for these again, and I spied gluten-free Rice Krispies on the pantry shelf.  Hmmm.  Perfect!  To make a single batch, combine 1/2 cup of all-natural (sugar and oil-free) peanut butter, 3 Tbsp. of honey or agave, 2/3 cup of cereal flakes (gluten-free Rice Krispies work well if you’re gluten-free), and 1/3 cup of instant powdered milk.  Place cereal in closed Ziploc bag and crush with rolling pin.  Mix ingredients in a bowl until well-blended.  Form six sticks, or one-inch balls, and wrap individually in wax paper.  Store in an airtight container, or freeze.  Kids can make these almost by themselves — let little ones roll the rolling pin over the bag, measure out ingredients, and get their hands dirty mixing and forming bars or balls.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Keep cool, and happy cooking!

Hello friends!

I’m delighted to have been asked by Hudson Valley Parent Magazine to share my years of cooking knowledge with you.  As a business owner and mom of 2, I teach everyone how to make good food, fast and easy under the constraints of today’s REAL and busy lifestyle.  Mine are no “made for TV” philosophies for sure.  What you see is reality at its finest and if I can do it, so can you!

Join me here each week and learn how I can help you too get back to the dinner table the easy way, and save some time, money and sanity in the process.

Did I mention we’ll laugh a lot and have fun together?  Watch and find out!

Stacey

Making a potful of pillowy potato dumplings from scratch is a hands-on process that kids enjoy. My daughter Emily and I saw this gnocchi recipe on Lidia Bastianich’s TV show awhile ago, and making them has become a tradition that still brings us together and makes us laugh. While any baking potato can be used here, Yukon Golds add a buttery creaminess and a potato ricer is my tool of choice.  The hotter the potato is riced, the lighter the gnocchi, but a potato masher or fork will do.  We find this dough makes the lightest and fluffiest dumplings, however it is delicate and should not be overworked.  Gnocchi need to be cooked right away but reheat and freeze perfectly.  Don’t be intimidated by the length of the recipe, it’s actually quite easy but detailed to guide you through the process if you’ve never made them.  

 

Yield:  8 entrée servings

START ORGANIZED:

   

    INGREDIENTS                                            EQUIPMENT     

2½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes                   baking sheets             liquid measuring  cups

2½ tablespoons kosher salt (about)               bench scraper           measuring spoons

1½ pounds green beans                                colander                      microplane

2 ounces extra virgin olive oil                          cutting board               pairing knife

3 cloves garlic                                                 dinner fork                   parchment paper

2 large eggs                                                    dry measuring cups   potato ricer

12½ ounces unbleached                                extra large sauté         scale (optional)

                  all-purpose flour (about)                pan                              skimmer

4 ounces Pecorino Romano,                          heat proof spatula       small and medium

                  plus additional cheese                  large stock pot             bowls

                  for garnish                                          with lid                     whisk

½ teaspoon black pepper                                 wooden spoon

¼ whole nutmeg                    

                                        

COOK WITH A KISS:

  

1.  Microwave:

2½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, pierced severaltimes with fork (about 6 large potatoes) Or bake potatoes at 400ºF for about 1 hour.  Any high starch baking potato, like an Idaho or Russet can be substituted.

 

on high, rotating potatoes every 5 minutes until flesh feels soft when pierced, about 15 – 20 minutes. Using kitchen towel to protect hands, slice hot potatoes so they will fit into potato ricer.  Place flesh side down into ricer and push flesh through and onto baking sheet.  Discard skins.  You’ll need about 5½ cups riced potato.  With fork or bench scraper, fluff pulp out into even layer  on baking sheet. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

 

2.  Fill an 8-quart stockpot with:

5 quarts cold water
2 tablespoons kosher salt The water should taste like mild seawater.   This will add another layer of flavor to the finished dish. But if using fine table salt, decrease amount to 1 tablespoon.

 

cover with a lid and over high heat bring water to a boil. 

 

3.  Add:           

1½ pounds fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and cut in ½ Actually, any vegetable would be delicious.

 

to boiling water and cook until tender, about 5 minutes for each batch.  Remove with skimmer, run under cold water and drain.  Save pot of water to boil gnocchi. 

 

4.  In 12-inch sauté pan put:

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (2 ounces)
I tablespoon garlic, minced (ounce or 3 cloves) If clove has a green sprout, remove it.  It is     sprout, remove it.
  bitter and can ruin the dish.

 

and over  medium low, cook until golden, about 5 minutes.  Turn off heat.

 

5.  In 2-quart bowl combine:

1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7½ ounces)
½ cup Pecorino Romano, finely grated (2 ounces)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt*If using fine table or sea salt, decrease to ¾  teaspoon
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
teaspoon whole nutmeg, freshly grated  If using nutmeg purchased already ground, decrease
  to a tiny pinch.

 

 And evenly sprinkle over potatoes.  With bench scraper, gently combine ingredients; scoop up potatoes and toss with dry ingredients for about 1 minute. 

 

6.  In 1-quart bowl whisk together:

1 large whole egg (2 ounces)
1 large egg yolk (ounce)

 

and evenly drizzle over potatoes.  With bench scraper, combine ingredients; scoop up and toss them together for about 1 minute.  It will look like a crumbly mess.  Gather crumbs and push/gently knead them into cohesive dough, taking about 2 minutes.  Roll dough into a log and cut into 8 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a rope the length of baking sheet long ways, about 12 inches.  Dust ropes with flour.  The dough may split, just pinch it together.  Try to make the ropes all the same diameter, about ½ inch.  The result will be gnocchi of the same size so they cook evenly, ultimately tasting and looking the most delicious.

7.  Line up 2 dough ropes at a time and with bench scraper cut into ½-inch pieces.  Lightly dust pieces with flour so they don’t stick.  In one hand, hold fork by handle, backside up.  With other hand, line up top of 1 dough piece with top of fork tines, cut side out. Press top of dough with thumb and pulling down, roll dough down tines of fork.  This will make tine indentation on bottom side and smooth curved shape on top side.  With index finger and thumb, roll gnocchi off fork and onto lightly floured baking sheet.   Roll out all dough in same manner.  Place gnocchi, as it is rolled out, onto very lightly floured parchment paper so that the paper can be picked up and assist in pouring the gnocchi into water.

8.  Working in 4 batches, add gnocchi to boiling water, several at a time.  Gently stir gnocchi several times to separate any that may have stuck together.  Once the gnocchi float to surface, cook for another minute.  Too many in pot at once will flatten bottom gnocchi.

9.  Turn heat to medium under sauté pan.  Add green beans to pan and toss.  As gnocchi batches are cooked, lift them out of the water with skimmer and put them in sauté pan with green beans.  Gently toss.  After all gnocchi is added, raise heat to medium high, add ¾ cup of pasta water and simmer for 1 minute.  Toss in:

½ cup Pecorino Romano, grated, packed (2 ounces) plus additional cheese 

 

 

Cheese curls make a great garnish.

  for garnish  Cheese curls are a lovely garnish and are fun to make; slide swivel blade
  peeler over block of cheese and peel curls.

 

Toss, taste and adjust seasonings.

 

More Gnocchi Cheat Notes:

 

Once cooked, gnocchi can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 3 months.  Place cooked gnocchi on a baking sheet to cool quickly and drizzle with about ¼ cup olive oil to prevent sticking.  Once cooled, wrap well with plastic wrap or place in an airtight container for storage.  Defrost dumplings and reheat in sauté pan, as in step 9, or even easier, warm right on baking sheet in 400ºF oven until hot and slightly golden, about 20 minutes.

 

When making dough a light touch and the minimum flour makes lighter gnocchi. The finished dough should feel moist but not sticky; if it is too sticky sprinkle in the least flour necessary.

 

The ingredients need not look fully incorporated, specks of egg yolk might still be visible.

 

Once dough is cut into 8 pieces, wash, dry and lightly flour hands.  From this point on, flour is not being incorporated into dough and won’t make the gnocchi heavy.  Use what’s necessary to prevent sticking.

 

To roll into ropes:  Spread fingers across center of dough and with light pressure roll dough back and forth moving fingers from center to end.  Repeat gently rolling from center to end several times until rope is an even thickness of about ½ inch.

 

Nutrition

 

Per Entrée Serving: 373 Calories; 13g Fat (31.7% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 640mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain (Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 2 Fat.

 

Recipe © 2008 by Carol Murphy Clyne and Vincent Clyne. All rights reserved.

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