Almejas Con Chile Y Tomate, a.k.a., Fettucine Vongole Fra Diavolo

A couple of years ago I posted this recipe and because today the weather in Houston is a bit nippy, I find myself craving a hearty, hot, spicy seafood dish:  Fra Diavolo! Clams and shrimp in tomato and red chile sauce.

I like to serve this in a huge platter, fettucine mixed all together with the clams, shrimp and the colorful tomato sauce.  It looks delicious and everyone can just dig in and enjoy.  The flavor base for the fresh seafood is made with tomatoes and red chiles.


“Fra Diavolo” is the name of a 19th century Italian opera. The name means “brother devil,” and refers to a real Italian bandit, a thief, Michele Pezza, “whose exploits during the Napoleonic occupation had become so well-known that folk memory ascribed supernatural powers to him”(Letellier, 2011).  His character is fearsome, daring, fiery, outlaw.

It is not clear when or where the Mexican chile was added to the Italian style  tomato sauce, but the “Fra Diavolo” sauce is not of Italian origin.  A cook, probably in NYC, (Fabricant, 1996) added the chiles, liked the fiery spiciness, and named it after that fiery Italian bandit. I don’t like that people have historically linked our chiles to bandits, outlaws, and reprehensible traits, but there it is. I can see that the dish is indeed fiery and piquant.

I use Chile De Arbol because it adds a smoky taste.  If you have to substitute, find a chile that adds smoky flavor, not just heat.

RECIPE (serves 6)

6 cups (1 recipe) hearty tomato sauce in my previous blog.  You can also buy your favorite good tomato sauce in a jar, but  no basil, no mushrooms, none of that stuff, just a straightforward Italian tomato sauce.
1 dried Chile De Arbol, crushed into small bits, including the seeds
2 dozen Littleneck Clams, washed and scrubbed
18 peeled, deveined shrimp, 26/30.  This is 12 ounces by weight.  I like Texas gulf coast shrimp the best but any shrimp will do.
1 lb fettucine

Method: These steps start from the point that the tomato sauce is already made or you are opening a jar of store-bought.

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the fettucine according to the directions.
2. Add the Chile De Arbol flakes to the tomato sauce and bring it to a boil.
3. Add the clams and shrimp, return the sauce to a simmer and cook for 7-8 minutes  or until the clams open up, are cooked and the shrimp, when sliced, is a delicate white color. Overcooking will make the shellfish rubbery.
4. Drain the fettucine and place it in a large platter or bowl. Pour the lush-looking sauce over the hot pasta and serve while it is steaming.

!Gracias a Dios!  Thank goodness for fresh seafood, Italian opera, pasta, tomatoes and chiles!


Letellier, R. I. (2011). Daniel-francois-esprit auber: Fra diavolo. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Fabricant, F. (1996, May 29). Origin of popular lobster fra diavolo bedevils the experts. The New York Times. Retrieved from


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Stereotypes In Food And Film

Stereotypes appear both in food and film.  Sometimes they are employed for humor or satire and at other times they are a pejorative representation of people and places.  In this essay I will describe how  some Tex- Mex  food is stereotypic, how US films depict Mexicans and Mexican Americans stereotypically, and how Chicanos, Mexican Americans, deal with stereotypes in our food and in our on-screen depictions.SombreroMexican

The term, Tex-Mex, applies to restaurant format food with origins in Texas in the early 1900′s. As one walks into most Tex-Mex restaurants, the decor is that of a tourist curio shop: burros/donkeys, sarapes, sombreros and eroticized Latina dancing ladies. TLatinaDancingGirlhe Tex-Mex restaurant format is one that has enjoyed dizzying success: a combination of fat-laden beans, highly seasoned rice, assembly-line corn tortillas and plenty of gooey processed cheese.

Although not all Tex-Mex food is pejoratively stereotypic, much of it is.  Stereotypes paint those who are culturally distinct and removed from what we know, in flat, one dimensional terms that allow us to escape from having to encounter them as real human beings.  They become the “other.” Every group has stereotypes of the other.  It is one way that we make sense of otherness when we cannot or do not want to make the effort to fully engage in meaningful encounter.  Many pejorative stereotypes are intended to be demeaning but in a covert, “wink, wink” manner, often disguised as humor.SantaRitaCantinaThese stereotypes are implied in the food itself: an inordinate amount of fat, use of chile only for the heat, and inclusion of beans prepared with no reference to taste.  These three characteristics of much Tex-Mex food are based on three pejorative stereotypes and each stereotype has a racial slur associated with it, “greaser” being one of them.  You can guess the other two.  They are as facile and inauthentic as the stereotypic images on the menus that announce them.

Films are important conveyors of the stereotypes found in food. “Bronco Billy and the Greaser,” a 1914 film, depicts the deeply held derogatory “greaser” stereotype that I believe is at play in some circles even today.  

“The Bronze Screen,” a 2002 documentary produced and directed by  Nancy De Los Santos, Susan Racho, and Alberto Dominguez, does a masterful job of tracing stereotypes in US films.  From silent movies to urban gang films, stereotypes of the Greaser, the Lazy Mexican, the Latin Lover and the Dark, Eroticized Spitfire Lady are examined.  I find it interesting to find these same images on restaurant menus.

Not all stereotypes are deployed in hateful ways.  They are used in comedy to poke fun and be humorously disrespectful.  The Latino Comedy Project in Austin, Texas is notorius for its use of outrageous stereotypes that poke fun at our own Mexican American community.  Their work raises stereotypes to new, insulting heights, all the while injecting gut-splitting, laughter into difficult political issues like immigration, racism and education. Chicano video it is Luis Valdez who first deployed stereotypes in his El Teatro Campesino productions to keep spirits up and entertain in the picket lines of the United Farmworkers with Cesar Chavez.  The Lazy Mexican, Burros and Beaners found their way onto the stage and later onto video as larger than life stereotypes, turned on their head, deployed to say, let’s not take this too seriously, let’s laugh at ourselves, refresh, renew and take on the fight for human rights.

Besides using stereotypes for humor in films, Chicano filmmakers most often steer clear of them completely and focus instead on depicting the shades and nuances of what it means to be a Mexican American in a complex, modern society.  Laura Varela, Jim Mendiola, Ray Santisteban, Lourdes Portillo, Sylvia Morales are some of the many Chicano filmmakers who present authentic, full-blown stories.


Nopalitos Con Huevo Y Chile Rojo, Chef Yuli Sandoval

The culinary counterparts to Chicano filmmakers are the many small barrio restaurants that serve authentic Texas Mexican food, the type that is enjoyed in Mexican American homes.  Chef Yuli Sandoval, chef/owner of Alex’s Tacos in Seguin, Texas, cooks beans that are slow-roasted to develop flavor. She is adamant that high fat hurts the taste and that it is bad for you. She appreciates the differences in taste and aroma that ancho, guajillo, pasilla and other chiles offer.  This is her Nopalitos con Chile Guajillo dish, certainly a far cry from the greasy dishes served in the curio Tex-Mex restaurants.

In their small restaurants, chefs like Sandoval offer a refreshing twist away from the caricatured, stereotyped food.  In the hands of Chicana, Chicano artists, both food and film offer a delicious and rich aesthetic experience.

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A Texas Mexican Dinner Menu

The Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston

Art + Cuisine
“Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”

(Tickets Online, click here)
September 17, 2015


Ensalada Compuesta De Trucha Ahumada

Pecan Smoked Trout • Yerbaniz-Chipotle Aioli
Frisée • Hoja Santa • Tomato
Crispy Yucca • Lemon-Serrano Vinaigrette

⊕   ⊕  ⊕

Albóndigas De Chile Ancho Con Nopalitos

Chile Ancho Meatballs •  Texas Mexican Oregano Caldito
Cactus Paddles

⊕   ⊕  ⊕

Arroz De Cilantro

Cilantro Rice • Scallions

⊕   ⊕  ⊕

Sopes De Frijol Refritos

Handmade Corn Sopes •  Roasted Pinto Beans
Pico De Gallo • Iceberg Lettuce

⊕   ⊕  ⊕


Baguette • Mexican Canela
Piloncillo Syrup • Cheddar Cheese • Raisins
Pecans • Cilantro



The chef’s menu dinner features the recipes from
“Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
by Adán Medrano
Published by Texas Tech University Press


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“Hojita” — Mezcal & Hoja Santa Cocktail

I muddle Hoja Santa to add flavors and aromas of licorice, anise and sassafras.


“Hojita” cocktail made with Hoja Santa, native to central Mexico

Native to central and southern Mexico and all of Mesoamerica, this ancient plant is a member of the genus, “piper,” same as the Indian black pepper plant.  It’s used to flavor chocolate, to cook tamales and is added as flavoring to chiles rellenos.  It is the base for a delicious Oaxacan green mole.  The hoja is also used to wrap fish that is then baked.

Here I’ve turned it into a cocktail.  On summer weekends, I muddle the leaves in mezcal or tequila.  It’s aromatic and refreshing.

You may have difficulty finding fresh hoja santa,

Hoja Santa

Hoja Santa plant is the same genus as Black Pepper

so I suggest that you take a cutting from someone who has one in the garden and grow your own.  An Hoja Santa plant is 6 to 7 feet tall and is fairly easy to grow, so long as it has sun and plenty of water.

Recipe: (makes 4 cocktails)

2 Fresh Hoja Santa Leaves
8 ounces Mezcal (or Tequila)
4 ounces Fresh Lime Juice
2 ounces Agave Nectar
Crushed Ice

1.   Cut off the center spine of the hoja santa as shown here with a sharp knife, roll the leaf like a cigar and slice it into thin strips (chiffonade)
2.  Muddle the Hoja Santa in the mezcal (or tequila)
3.  Add the lime juice and agave nectar and mix thoroughly.
4.  Fill old-fashioned glasses with crushed ice and pour the muddled mixture.

I think I’ll order myself an “Hojita” !

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Brussel Sprouts with Serrano and Pecans

BrusselsSproutsSerrano (1)

Guisado De Brussel Sprouts Con Chile Serrano y Nueces

Here’s a prime example of how foods evolve in delicious ways through human migration and cultural crossings. This robust dish augments the unique flavor of the sprouts (make sure you get fresh ones) with two Texas native ingredients, pecans and Serrano chile.  It’s a new twist, for sure, but it just goes to show that culture is always dynamic, creative.French immigrants brought Brussel sprouts with them to Louisianna in the eighteenth century.  From there they spread throughout the US, including Texas.

The French influence in Texas begins earlier than that, on February 20, 1685 when French troops moved into Texas, under the command of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur Cavelier, La Salle.  Navigating through the Gulf Of Mexico, La Salle was in search of the Mississippi but landed instead in Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast.

I can only surmise that soon after the Brussel sprouts arrived in Louisianna in the late 1700s or early 1800s, cooks in Texas started to incorporate them into their dishes.  (I often lament: where were the culinarians among those French immigrants, who could have written down the details about this vegetable, whose origin and travel is steeped in mystery.)

In this dish, the Chile Serrano adds herbal flavor. I love the roasted pecan bits together with the blackened, glazed sprouts.

Recipe (Serves 6)

1 lb Brussel Sprouts, washed, woody stems cut off.  Cut the sprouts into quarters.
1 fresh large Serrano Chile, sliced into paper-thin rounds.  That will be 1 Tbs.
       NOTE: If you taste the Serrano as you are slicing it, and it is very hot (too hot for you) then use only half of the chile and make half-rounds.  That will be 1/2 Tbs.

Chile Serrano Round SlicesSerranoHalvedandSliced













1/2 cup Pecans, sliced into large piecesPecans IN Glass
1 Tbs Canola Oil
3/4 cup Chicken Stock, unsalted
1/2 tsp Salt

1.  In a 12″ non-stick skillet, heat the Canola oil on high heat, add the salt
2.  When the oil becomes wavy and begins to shimmer, (don’t let it smoke), add the Brussel sprouts and pecans and cook for 2 minutes, stirring so that the sprouts and nuts acquire color.
3. Add the chicken stock and cook, keeping the heat on high and stirring for 6-8 minutes until most of the liquid is gone and the sprouts are still firm.
4.  Add the Serrano slices and continue to cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes to blacken the sprouts but without burning them.

Serve hot.
I suggest you serve this dish as part of a buffet, or serve it with grilled fish or venison or roast turkey.

¡Buen provecho!

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Texas Mexican Food, A Museum Art Event

The Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston
Art+Cuisine “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
September 17, 2015
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

“Should we eat the art?”  During this evening’s dinner and conversation about Texas Mexican cuisine and art,  the answer will be a firm “yes.”

Chef and author Adán Medrano presents insightful history and commentary from his award-winning book, “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes.”  He will also serve a sit-down dinner, a chef’s menu, featuring varied recipes from his book, including

•Pecan Smoked Trout with  Yerbaniz-Chipotle Aioli

•Chile Ancho Albóndigas with Pan-Roasted Cactus Paddles

•Handmade Corn Sopes with Roasted Pinto Beans

The sit-down dinner will be paired with Texas wine, and proceed as a “dining/art experience” that explores the 10,000 year culinary history of the first inhabitants of Texas.

Medrano will discuss and demonstrate how the culinary arts represent an aesthetic practice that impacts identity, community, and the way that we make meaning in our lives.  This delicious combination of history, art and dining celebrates Texas’ first cuisine.

Capacity is limited, so secure your spot in advance! Click here for tickets, or visit any MFAH admissions desk.

Click to see the chef’s dinner menu: Art + Cuisine Menu: Truly Texas Mexican

The recipes are from “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
Published by Texas Tech University Press


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Crock Pot Recipe: “Pollo Ranchero”

Salsa Ranchera,  is a mainstay of the Mexican table, from Houston all the way to Veracruz. It’s made with Serrano chiles, tomato, onion and garlic.  The straightforward combination of native ingredients with a bit of garlic is one of those blending of flavors that you know are just meant to be together, a one-in-a-thousand delicious combination of flavors.


Here I use it as the base for chicken slowly cooked in a crock pot.  Because the chicken is done in a salsa ranchera, I call this dish, “Pollo Ranchero.”

Throw the ingredients into the crock pot, plug it in, turn it on, and go to work.  When you return, a delicious feast awaits you.  Serve it with rice and steamed green vegetables.  Of course, must have corn tortillas.

Recipe (Serves 4)

1 whole chicken cut up into parts, skin removed
2 Fresh Serrano chiles, sliced in circles
1 Small Onion, sliced
8 cups canned or fresh tomatoes, cut in quarters
2 Garlic cloves
1 tsp Salt or to taste

1. Place all the ingredients, except the chicken, in a blender and blend until the ingredients are blended but not totally smooth.
2. Place the blended ingredients and the chicken in a crock pot and cook on high for 8 hours.
3. After 8 hours, using a large spoon, skim off the fat on the surface.
Serve with Texas Mexican rice, green vegetables and hot corn tortillas.   I love this dish.  Please leave a comment and let me know how you like it!



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Scallops Provençale – French in Texas

Scallops Provençale:  A quick, French country way to prepare these sweet, succulent bi-valves.  I throw in vegetables that are lying around.  I’m using the larger “sea scallops” here, but in our Texas, Mexico Gulf Coast we have only bay scallops (Argopecten irradians amplicostatus). They live all along the coast from Galveston to Laguna Madre, south of Corpus Christi, and farther south all along the Mexican coast.ScallopsProvencal2smlIn this classic recipe, the ingredients are not so strong as to overpower the delicate scallops.  The trio of shallots, garlic and parsley shouts out, “I’m French!” The olive oil and butter together are delicious.  Mexican and French cuisines met each other in Texas when René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, established a French settlement on the Texas coast in summer 1685.  It was near the city of Victoria, but close to the shore, where the Garcitas creek empties into Lavaca Bay. Indigenous cooks adopted some French ingredients and the French adopted some of ours.  Both cuisines were changed forever.  Just try to imagine French cuisine without our tomatoes, potatoes, squash.  And try to imagine Mexican desserts without the influence of French pastries.

Back to our recipe.  You are thinking, “that’s a big Bok Choy!”  I agree, but including non-traditional light Asian flavors is sometimes very tasty, and the gigantic size makes for good conversation and sharing. But to be honest, it was lying there, so–in it goes.

 Recipe (serves 4)


1 pound scallops, either bay or sea, rinsed in cold water and driedscallop

1/2 -3/4 cup all-purpose wheat flour

2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Tablespoons Butter

2 Tablespoons Shallots, peeled, minced

1 clove Garlic, peeled, minced

2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, minced

Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

1 Lemon, cut into wedges


1. Sprinkle salt on the rinsed and dried scallops, then dredge them in the flour to coat. Shake off excess flour and set aside.

2. Place a 12″ skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil so that it covers the bottom of the pan completely.  Add more olive oil if necessary. When the oil begins to wave and shimmer, add the scallops, all in one layer.

3. After 3 minutes, toss the scallops to brown all the sides, cooking for another 3 minutes.

4. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 1 minute.

5. Add the parsley and butter, toss gently and cook for 1 minute, then serve immediately with lemon wedges and a sprinkle of black pepper.

Optional: After step 4, add 1/3 cup sherry and deglaze the pan for 2 minutes, scraping off all brown bits.  Then proceed to step 5.

Serve with steamed rice and vegetables.  Bon appétit!

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Fricasé-Inspired Chicken Casserole

The “Fricasé” of Latin America is the inspiration for this casserole.  I take a slight turn away from the Carribbean and Bolivian flavor profiles, but keep the briny green olives and pimientos.  In another post we will discuss the French basis of this dish and why we don’t use cream at all, but rather tomatoes.

Most often potatoes and rice are central ingredients.  In Bolivia hominy is traditional and that is a wonderful, low GI food.   Here I’ve substituted riced cauliflower.  My purpose is not to change this traditional dish, but to give an option to lovers of Fricasé who may be borderline diabetic or who otherwise have to closely control their blood sugar to prevent diabetes. It’s a contemporary alternative based on Latin Ameircan traditions, and I think it’s delicious.  FricaseConColiflorRecipe (serves 6)

1 cut-up chicken
1 large white or yellow onion, thin slices
1/4 tsp ground chile de arbol or chile japonés (Thai bird chile)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
4 Roma tomatoes, small dice, OR one 8-oz can of commercial tomato sauce
1 cup chopped brined olives with pimientos
1/4 cup parsley, minced

1.  In a cast iron casserole or large, Dutch oven, or deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it starts to shimmer, then add the cut-up chicken pieces a few at a time and brown them, turning them as necessary.  Don’t put too many pieces at once because that will crowd the pan and force the release of juices.  Remove the chicken from the pan and keep it warm.

2.  Add the onions and chile de arbol (or chile japonés) and cook on low heat until the onions are translucent.

3.  Add the white wine and deglaze the pan.

4. After the bottom of the pan is completely free of the brown bits, add the chicken, chicken broth and tomato.  Simmer on very low heat, covered, until the chicken is completely cooked, about 25 minutes.  After the chicken is completely cooked, remove the cover, add the parsley, olives and pimientos, and allow to cook until the liquid evaporates a bit, leaving a slightly thickened sauce.

5.  Rinse the cauliflower, cut it into small pieces, and boil it in salted water until it just begins to turn tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Force it through a ricer or chop it into small pieces.

To serve, place a dollop of cauliflower on a dish and pour the chicken atop.  Serve it steaming, with green peas.

¡Buen Provecho!



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Crab Cakes with Yerbaniz Mayo – Tortas de Jaiba con Mayonesa de Yerbaniz

From time to time I scan my archives for dishes that I like to “reheat” and share again.  I think you’ll like this recipe because the cakes are super light and crispy.  Last Fall the chef at the Abilene Country Club prepared this for one of my book events and paired it with a Texas Trempranillo wine. Delicious!

Gulf Coast crab reminds us of our history.  Most anthropologists assert that the Karankawas, lean, dark and tall (6 feet),  lived on the Texas coast for thousands of years (La Vere, 2004).  European explorer documents describe their food and their cooking techniques but we’ve lost much detail because the oral culture and traditions are lost.  I can imagine Karankawa families enjoying crab cooked in different ways, much as they did corn cakes, perhaps roasting them, seasoned with the surrounding herbs.  Tragically, their life and culture reached a bloody end.CrabCakes

Between 1824 and 1827, the Texas Rangers under John H. Moore and Robert Kuykendall attacked them, killed most of them and and drove the survivors south.  The history of this period is still being written and needs more study.  We know that the surviving Karankawas fled their centuries-old ancestral homeland while Kuykendall is quoted as proclaiming that “Indian hunting” had become a “sport.” (Anderson, 2005)

When I’m in my kitchen cooking any type of seafood from our Texas coast, these important memories are with me and I think they make my food more substantial, nuanced and I want it to be flavorful and enjoyed by all.  It was the French food philosopher, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who wrote in 1825, “Gastronomy is the intelligent knowledge of whatever concerns man’s nourishment.” “…the action of foods on man’s morale, on his imagination, his spirit, his judgment, his courage and perceptions…” (Brillat-Savarin, re-published 2009)

Let’s serve the table, a table for all.

Recipe ( serves 8) Excerpted from the book, “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes
10 oz fresh large lump crabmeat
2 shallots, minced
2 Tbs fresh flat leaf parsley, minced
1 Tbs fresh chives, minced
1 Tbs fresh chives, cut into 1/2 pieces for garnish
1/8 tsp powdered Chile De Arbol or Cayenne chile
egg whites of 2 small eggs
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
3 Tbs Canola oil

1. In cold water, wash and pick over the crab meat gently so it doesn’t break apart, set aside.
2. Sauté the shallots in 1 Tbs Canola oil until they are soft.  Set aside and allow them to cool to room temperature.
3. In a large bowl mix together with a spatula the egg whites, parsley, chives, Chile de Arbol, salt, pepper and cooled shallots.
4. Fold in the crab meat and when it is covered with the egg white mixture, gently fold in the panko bread crumbs.
5. Make 24 round cakes and set them aside.
6. In a sautée pan, preferably non-stick, heat 2 Tbs Canola oil on high heat.
7. Add the crab cakes in batches and sautée until golden, about 2 minutes on each side.  Don’t overcrowd them in the pan because this will lower the oil temperature too much. I use a rubber spatula and a fork to turn them gently. Add a little more Canola oil if needed, just a little.

Serve immediately with Mayonesa De Yerbaniz, recipe in my previous blog. You won’t be able to find yerbaniz at the grocery store, so make a leisurely trip to the nursery and buy a small plant.  The scientific name is “Tagetes Lucida,” and it’s sometimes called sweet mace, Texas tarragon and Mexican tarragon. It has attractive yellow flowers, so it’s a great addition to your flower and herb garden. ¡Buen provecho!


Anderson, G. C. (2005). The conquest of texas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Brillat-Savarin, J. A. (2009). The physiology of taste. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

La Vere, D. (2004). The texas indians. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

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