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Pizza at Sottocasa

I first met Luca Arrigini when he was with the master pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio at Kestè on Bleecker Street.

Luca opened Pizzeria Sottocasa in Brooklyn and Michele and I tried it several years ago. We really liked the pizza but somehow we did not have the opportunity to return.

Two weeks ago friends that live in Harlem said they have been ordering pizza from their local branch of Sottocasa and invited us to join them there. We were glad to go.

Luca is from Milan and now lives in Brooklyn where he normally works, but he told me he would meet me at the Harlem location when I came. His partner Matteo Prospiti and his wife Elena live in Harlem so they are typically at that location.

The Brooklyn Sottocasa is located at 298 Atlantic Ave (718) 852-8758. The Harlem branch is at 227 Lenox Ave (646) 928-2870. Both locations are on the ground floor of a brownstone, which is where the name comes from.

We started with gluten free focaccia because one in our party is on a gluten free diet. It crisp, tasty and very good.

Next we had a regular Margherita made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The crust was flavorful and well risen and a light dusting of semolina underneath gave it a subtle crunch. The toppings were good, too. The tomatoes were sweet and the mozzarella fresh tasting.

After that we tried the Napoli made with tomatoes, mozzarella, anchovies, oregano and basil which we also enjoyed.

Our friend ordered a gluten free Margherita, which was very good for gluten free.

The last pizza was a Laura, named after Luca’s wife. It was topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, mascarpone, speck and rosemary.

Luca said they make Neapolitan style pizza because he believes it is the best pizza of all.

The dough is made with Caputo 00 flour and rests in different stages for 48 hours, though it is usually never used before 60.

They use only Italian organic tomatoes for their sauce, freshly crashed and with just a little salt added. Fior di Latte mozzarella from Wisconsin is the cheese they use. They break the cheese by hand everyday to insure the right texture. The extra virgin olive oil is from Sicily, labeled directly for Sottocasa.

We also enjoyed the generous salads, which were lightly dressed and a good complement to the pizzas.

The wines 

Brunello di Montalcino 1990 from Livio Sassetti made from 100% Brunelllo. The wine was drinking very nicely, showing no signs of age and should last for a number of years.

Barbaresco 1971 from Produttori del Barbaresco made from 100% Nebbiolo. This has developed into a classic mature Barbaresco and is a pleasure to drink.

Both wines were a perfect complement to the pizza.

The cappuccino.

Matteo offered us two amaros and said because they were across from a school they did not have a liquor license and only could serve wine. The two Amaros were wine based.

The first was Pasubio Vino Amaro from G Cappelletti which was very nice but a bit too fruity.

The second, Cardamaro Bosca, was stronger and with more herb and spice flavors. We all really liked it.

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Grappa Brownies

By Michele Scicolone

For a spirited holiday season, I can’t think of a better dessert than these luscious brownies made with three of my favorite ingredients: chocolate, espresso coffee and grappa.

The chocolate takes two forms, unsweetened squares and semisweet chocolate chips and the coffee is dry instant espresso powder which deepens the chocolate flavor. But the grappa is the best part, adding a sophisticated warmth and richness which makes these brownies different from all the others. A clear, traditional style grappa is best for this recipe.

The brownies can be cut into small squares to add to a cookie tray, or into larger pieces to serve with ice cream, berries and hot chocolate sauce for a dessert. A splash of grappa on top is a nice final touch!

Makes about 16 to 32 brownies

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 ounces (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

2 large eggs

1/4 cup grappa

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

On a piece of wax paper, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda.

Place the unsweetened chocolate squares in a small heatproof bowl or double boiler and set it over, not in, a pan of simmering water. When the chocolate has softened, stir until smooth.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer at medium high speed, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add both sugars and beat well. Then add the instant espresso powder, eggs, grappa and vanilla. Scrape the melted chocolate into the mixer bowl and beat until smooth and well blended. At low speed, stir in the dry ingredients. With a spatula, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake will still be very soft. Do not over bake.

Place the pan on a rack to cool. Cut into squares. Store in an airtight container with wax paper between each layer.

 

 

 

 

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Tasting Port and Madeira

I have always enjoyed Port wine in its different forms as well as Madeira but until recently,  I have not had the opportunity to drink them.  Michele and I decided to go to Lisbon and I was looking forward to enjoying Port and Madeira there, but by coincidence, just before we left I attended a friend’s birthday dinner were they were served Then a few days after we returned, the Wine Media Guild held a tasting of Portuguese wine.

At a special dinner at Gramercy Tavern

D’ Oliveira Reserva Verdelho 1966 Madeira The grapes are harvested, crushed, pressed and then fermented in stainless steel or oak. With the Verdelho grapes the skins are removed to produce this dryer style of Madeira. The winemaking process involves heating the wine. Fermentation is stopped with brandy and the time of adding the brandy depends on the grape variety. Verdelho gets the brandy on the fourth day of fermentation. The wine is put into large wooden casks which stand in a heated room. The cellar master tries to keep the characteristic taste of the shipper when blending different wines together. The age given on the label indicates the youngest wine in the blend. Blended wine with the name of the grape on the label must contain at least 85% of this grape. The other 15% can be other varieties, usually Tinta Negra Mole.

Vintage Port 1963 Graham Declared by all major Port houses, 1963 was a monumental vintage against which others are now judged. This is a classic vintage port, which will still last for a number of years.

In Lisbon

Niepoort Vintage 1978 Vintage Port This was not a generally declared vintage but it was a year in which many Single Quinta Vintage Ports were produced. This was a great way to end a meal as the finish and aftertaste of the Port went on and on.

Quinta do Noval unfiltered single vineyard port 2012. Made exactly like a Vintage Port with only noble grapes from the Quinta. The grapes are crushed by foot and the wine is unfiltered. It is aged in casks for 4 or 5 years instead of the 2-year aging for Classic Vintage Port. The wine has nice flavors and aromas of black fruit and a touch of prune. It can be drunk now but will improve with age.

Dalav Colheita Port 1985 Port from a single year harvest. Instead of an indicator of age like blended tawny (10,20,30, 40…) the year is always on the label. It should not be mistaken for a Vintage Port because the Colheita must age for a minimum of seven years in oak casks. This is an elegant wine with a lot of aroma and flavor of dry fruit, spice, honey, nuts, cinnamon and a very pleasing finish and aftertaste. I really liked this wine and a brought back a few bottles. The wine does not develop significantly in the bottle.

Kopke 20 years Old Tawny Port matured in wood. Grapes are hand picked, destemmed and crushed and made into wine by a careful maceration to extract the color, tannins and aromas, enhanced by constant churning during fermentation. Fermentation takes place in vats (lagares) at a controlled temperature (29 to 30 C )until the right degree of sweetness (balumè) is achieved. Grape brandy is added to create the final fortified wine made by blending different vintage to achieve the typical characteristics of aged Tawny Port. The wine is then matured in casks.

Valriz Porto 20 years old Tawny Port made from Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Tounga Franca. Aged in large chestnut casks. The wine has hints dried fruits, almonds, hazelnuts and spice. We had the 10 year old and the 20 year old side by side.  The 20 year old was well worth the extra money.

Wine Media Guild tasting of Portuguese Winw

The speaker was David Ransom WMG member and co-host with his wife Melanie Young of the “Connected Table”

Quinta do Vallado 20 year Old Tawny This is a fortified wine made mainly from Touriga National, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cä from old vines plus 5 other indigenous grapes. The grapes are handpicked from the estate vineyards. Because port wines are intended to be sweet, fermentation is arrested half way through the process, before all the residual sugar has been fermented. Fermentation is halted through the addition of grape spirits, thus producing a fortified wine. The wine is aged in 600-liter old oak casks and other oak vats for years during which time the complex aromas and flavors can develop. It is a rich, nutty wine with aromas of dried fruit and a touch of smoke. The alcohol is 20%.

C.N. Kopke Porto Colheita 2007 (White Port) Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats where the grapes macerate and are churned with their skins on at temperature between 16 to 18 C. This produces a wine with color and structure that can sustain a prolonged aging in oak. The fermentation is halted by adding grape brand and thus creating a fortified wine. A Colheita wine matures in oak barrels for a period of time that can vary but never less than 7 years. It is bottled and sold according to the demands of the market. The wood aging is a perfect combination with the stone yellow fruit and the hints of citrus. There is mingling of the acidity and sweetness, which gives the wine an elegant and delicate finish. This was the first time I had a white Colheita Port and I will drink more.

Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas 1986 Single- quinta (single vineyard) vintage port is produced only in exceptional years in which a general vintage is not declared. Quinta de Vargellas has the highest percentage of old vines of any quinta in the Duro, with 60% over 75 years old. All of the grapes undergo the traditional foot treading method. Fermentation is halted by the addition of grape spirits before all the sugar has been fermented producing a sweet fortified wine. The wine is aged for two years in wood and then bottled unfiltered and will continue to age in the bottle for years. This is a wine with black fruit aromas and flavors and a hint of prune. 1986 was not a generally declared vintage.

Broadbent Boal Madeira 10 year old made from a white grape. The alcohol is 19%. This wine is about $30 and it was so smooth and velvet-like that it was almost too much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eating and Drinking in Lisbon

For a number of years Michele and I have been talking about going to Lisbon and this year we finally made the decision to go

We statyed at the Hotel Portugal and it was in a great location for walking and for transportation to restaurants and all the major attractions.

We asked friends do give us recommendations for restaurants and came away with a very long list.

Here are some of the places we really enjoyed:

The first night we went to restaurant Gambrinus, about a 10 minute walk from the hotel. This is an upscale restaurant with very good attentive service and it was a true dining experience.

Michele and I shared some fried calamari to start.

Then I had grilled lagoustines.

while Michele had the roasted hake baked with coriander seeds, garlic and olive oil.

For dessert, I had a typical cake called Toucinho do Ceu.

At the end of dinner I ordered a glass of 1978 Port , fantastic!

and then finished with coffee made in the restaurant’s unique style.

The next afternoon we went to The Wine Cellar for Port. The waiter, Ricardo, was very knowledgable and we had a long discussion about the different types of Port. Ricardo suggested a few and and I tried a glass of the 1985 Colheita. I liked this so much I bought two bottles to bring home.

Ricardo suggested an unfiltered  single vineyard vintage port 2012 for Michele. This was  the first time I had a single vineyard unfiltered port, it was very good but needed much more time to develop.

We also tried the 20 year old tawny. 

We had some excellent aged sheep’s milk cheese with the Port.  It was accompanied by quince jam.

The next afternoon we went to a restaurant Bica Do Sapato about 1 mile from the center along the water with a great view. It is partially owned by the actor John Malcovich. The service was friendly and the wine person was very knowledgeable.  

I started with fried Calamari, but it was done in a completely different style from the previous day.  It was accompanied by chopped tomato and onion salsa. 

Michele loved her starter: roasted figs with toasted sheep’s milk cheese on toast, drizzled with a fruit sauce.  

She followed this with had giant red shrimp.  They were tender and very tasty.

I had roasted cod on a bed of creamy beans cooked with peppers and bits of pork.

The wine person suggest this wine and it was perfect with the food.

For dessert I had almond cake with figs and cream cheese ice cream.

Michele had quindim, a coconut pudding with passion fruit ice cream.

At Sea Me restaurant we sat at the counter and spoke with the bar tender about wine, food and Lisbon.

 

We shared one Tiger shrimp and two giant red shrimp, so that we could compare them.  The tigers were a bit chewy, but both were excellent.

Then we had roasted octopus with roasted potatoes.  The whole dish was topped with a generous amount of garlic sauce.  

The wine was an excellent combination with the food.

We each had dessert.

I had ice cream.  There were 3 flavors:  ginger, hazelnut and ginginha, made with a sour cherry liqueur that the Portuguese are very fond of.

and Michele had nut cake with ginger ice cream and almond crumble.

On the afternoon before we left we went to Cantinho do Avillez, one of several restaurants owned by the chef Jose Avillez.

We had 3 starters.

Tempura fried green beans, came with two sauces for dipping.

Little pheasant pies.

Melted sheep’s cheese with honey, and rosemary, topped with presunto ham.

We both ordered the giant red shrimp which was served in a Thai sauce with rice.  Once again, they were great.

We had the Pluma Reserva which had more body than the other whites we tasted.  It was a good match with the shrimp.

For dessert, I had the restaurant’s signature dessert,  A salty hazelnut mousse.

 

We really enjoyed exploring Lisbon and look forward to returning once more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lugana — the White Wine of Lake Garda

 

I am fond of many wines that come from the area around Lake Garda and one of my favorites is Lugana.

For the last few years I have been going to the Lugana tasting presented by the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC and this is my report on this year’s tasting.

Carlo Veronese, the Director of the Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC was the speaker. He gave a very interesting and informative seminar but I wish we could have been sitting down so I could have taken better notes.

The Lugana denomination is on the border between the provinces of Brescia (Lombardy) and Verona (Veneto) to the south of Lake Garda. The soil is mostly white clay and limestone, which is difficult to work. However the best grapes may come from the area close to Lake Garda, which has the most clay.

The temperate breezes from Lake Garda influence the microclimate positively; it is mild and fairly constant with little difference between day and nighttime temperatures.

The Turbiana grape, aka Trebbiano di Lugana, is the main grape in many of the wines. The Trebbiano di Lugana is not the same as Trebbiano found in other parts of Italy. It has a different profile with better structure, weight and aromatics.  Carlo said it may be related to Verdicchio.

The law allows up to 10% of non-aromatic white varieties but most producers make the wine from 100% Turbiana.

Types of Lugana

The Basic Lugana wine accounts for almost 90% of the DOC production.

Lugana Superiore was introduced in 1998 and the wine must age for at least one year after the grapes have been harvested.

Lugana Riserva, was introduced in 2011 and is the natural evolution of the Superiore. It must age for at least 24 months, of which 6 months can be in the bottle.

Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva – Carlo called it a different more experimental Lugana that lacks the sweet viscosity of a traditional passito. It is made from late harvest grapes that have been allowed to remain on the vine till the end of October/early November (the grapes are not dried).

Lugana Spumante can be produced by the Charmat or Martionotti Method in an autoclave or as Methodo Classico with refermentation in the bottle.

THE WINES

Le Morette Lugana DOC “Mandolara” 2017 made from 100% Turbiana grapes from the La Mandolara vineyard on a narrow strip of land on the shore of Lake Garda. The training system is guyot, double and short modified and there are 3,500 plants per hectare. Harvest is by hand in the second half of September. After a very soft crushing, vinification takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and the wine remains in the bottle for at least one month before release. This is a fresh fruity wine with hints of apple and peach and a touch of bitter almonds in the finish. The name of the wine comes from a particular protected species of wild ducks which nest in Lake Frassino.  The ducks are the symbol of the farm.

I had visited the winery last year with Vignaioli Veneti, an organization of over fifty of the Veneto’s top producers, and really liked their wines. We also tasted the 2012 and 2009 vintages of this wine, which proved that Lugana wines can age.

CàMaiol Lugana DOC “Molin”2017 made from 100% Turbiana. Carefully selected grapes come from the oldest vines of the Molin vineyard. The process of cryomaceration (leaving the grape must in contact with the skins at a low temperature enables the wine to obtain a greater structure and a more refined aroma.

Selva Capuzza Lugana DOC Riserva “Menasasso’ 2011 made from 100% Turbiana from a selected plot within the Selva vineyard. The grapes are harvested a few days after the vintage and the harvest is manual.  Vinification takes place in stainless steel and barriques. This is a full rich wine that is showing no sign of age with a hint of apple and peach with a touch of vanilla.

Perla Del Garda Lugana DOC Riserva “Madre Perla” 2011 Made from 100% Trebbiano di Lugana from the San Carlo and Casalin vineyards. The soil is morainic, calcareous clay and stony and the training system is Guyot. Hand picked and selected grapes are cooled in a refrigerated room. The grapes are soft pressed in vacuum tanks. Cold static decantation and fermentation take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. There is no malolactic fermentation. This wine had hints of lemon and pear with notes of almond and hazelnut and was showing no signs of age.

 

 

 

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Tasting and Learning about Grappa at the Distilleria Marzadro

The Marzadro Distilleria in Trentino was one of the distilleries Michele and I visited on the Hello Grappa Tour in May..  I had met Alessandro Marzadro in NYC a few years ago when he was giving a seminar on his family’s distillery. I was very impressed by his knowledge and his grappa and was looking forward to meeting him again at the distillery.  His aunt, Sabrina Marzadro,  founded the distillery in 1949 and Alessandro is the third generation to work in this family run distillery. The distillery is located in Trentino

Alessandro told us that at one time, grappa was only drunk by farm workers especially in the cold weather to give them energy before they went into the fields to work. It was a morning drink taken between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. He made the point that grappa was only made by the farmers in Northern Italy. Southern Italy does not have a tradition of grappa because it is too warm. It is only recently with the popularity and often high prices for grappa that grappa has achieved that wineries in Southern Italy have their grape pomace (vinaccia in Italian) turned into grappa. He said the grappa was first called acqua vita, water of life, and the people of Trentino have always embraced the art of distillation.

Producing Grappa

Up until about 20 years ago all grappa was what Alessandro referred to as traditional grappa, that is, made without being aged in wood. It was clear in color and the flavor reflected the grapes that it was made from. Now many grappas are aged in new barriques and for the most part they are dark in color.  In many cases the wood flavor has taken over.

Alessandro said that grappa made from white grapes has more aromas and is easier to drink than grappa made from red grapes, although grappa made from red grapes has more taste. If you are going to introduce grappa to someone for the first time it is better to chose a grappa made from white grapes as it is easier to drink.  Alessandro said that you must start with the best raw material. Trentino makes great wines so this is not a problem. Knowledge and experience are also needed to produce a great product.

In 2005 they built a new distillery which is organized in such a way that it makes it easier to understand how grappa is made.

Alessandro said that in the distillery there are 100 days of work, 24/7 from September to December. The freshest selected pomace is distilled each day. The distillation takes place in alembics using the traditional discontinuous bain marie system (steam distillation), which is part of the Trentino culture. He said that the first part of the production called the “head” tastes bad because it contains too much methane (he said it tastes like nail polish) and is therefore discarded. The last part is called the “tail” and contains too many impurities and is also discarded. The discontinuous method produces small amounts of high quality grappa.

The alembics are handmade out of copper and are excellent conductors of heat. Therefore the particular fragrances and aromas of the pomace (a solid raw material-grape skins) are enhanced to their maximum. In order to keep everything uniform, the whole system is computerized.

The pomace waiting to be made into grappa

Alessandro pointed out that the continuous process of grappa production in giant stills produces large amounts of grappa. He said that this type of production, which he does not use, produces commercial grappa that is not of a very good quality.

After distillation the traditional grappa is left alone. The grappa that is to be aged is placed in barrels of different sizes ranging from 225 liter barriques to 1,500 liter barrels, and even larger.  Alessandro pointed out two of the biggest barrels I have ever seen in any winery or distillery.

The barrels are made different types of toasted wood, including oak, acacia, cherry and ash. Alessandro said they use wood from all over the world.  Some new barrels are from a barrel maker who also produces barrels used for balsamic vinegar. They also have barrels that were used to age port.

The Grappa

Grappa Anfora Grappa aged in Terracotta.

Amphorae made from a blend of different types of clay from the Tuscan towns of Montelupo and Impruneta are also used for aging some of the grappa. This type of aging achieves the micro-oxygenation which is twice what you would find using barrels.

This type of grappa ages 10 months in 300 liter amphorae.  Alessandro said it enriches the Grappa’s elegance and softness, giving the characteristics of aging with out the classic flavor of wood. It is made from a blend of the pomace from grapes indigenous to the Trentino region: 80% Marzemino and Merlot and 20% Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau and Moscato.

Grappa Moscato in Purezza 100% Moscato. Carefully selected marc from Moscato grapes from the areas of Vallagarina in the municipalities of Calliano and Besenello. Distillation is carried out in a bagnomaria, bain marie or steam pot still, typical of Trentino. This is a full soft, elegant and aromatic grappa with notes of the Moscato grape.

Grappa Invecchiata Morbido Barrique “La Trentina” made from the marc of the Moscato, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer grapes. It is aged for several months in barrels previously used for aging Le Ciciotto Luna Stravecchia Grappa.   Alessandro described this grappa as aromatic, gentle, soft, delicate and captivating.

Gewurztraimer “Giare” 100% Gewurztraminer. The mark is distilled in a bagnomaria still. Aging is for 36 months in 1000 liter oak barrels. This grappa has a very light tinge of color from the barrel aging. It is very aromatic, intense and delicate at the same time with all the aromas of the Gewurztraminer grape.

Le Diciotto Lune Riserva Botte Porto   Alessandro said that this was a second special edition of the Grappa Stravecchia. Riserva Botte Porto comes from an additional aging period of 18 months, in a limited number of selected barrels previously used to age Port wine. This extra refinement highlights the sharper Grappa-wood contrasts and the Port barrels add a fruity scent. It is aged for 36 months: 18 in small barrels made of different woods and 18 months in Port barrels. Made from the skins of 70% Marzemino, Teroldego, and Merlot and 30% Chardonnay and Muscat. There is some controversy among the producers over putting the word Porto on the label. This an intense and fruity grappa.

Espressioni Aromatica Alessandro said the barrel aging is part of a continuous effort to enhance the results achieved by careful distillation. Espression by Andrea Marzadro, the master distiller,ly contains the best results achieved in the aging room for the year. It is crafted by individually distilling the marc from Gewürztraminer and Müller Thurgau in a bagnomaria and blending them before aging. It ages for 4 years in 500 liter oak barrels. The grappa is aromatic, fruity and smooth with a hint of wood.

Affina- Riserva Ciliegio made from the must of Lagrein and Pinot Noir grapes, which are gently pressed and then distilled in a bagnomaria. The resulting grappa is aged for 10 years in small cherry barrels. The wood used to make the barrels (prunus cerasus) is aged for at least 26 months, while the curvature of the staves is achieved using the steam bending method combined with a light toasting. It is soft, elegant and complex.

As I was at our first meeting, I was once again very impressed with Alessandro Marzadro and with his grappa.

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Enjoying Rome

Michele and I have been to Rome four times this year and every time we go we discover something new and interesting as we walk, eat and drink.

Crossing the bridge

I Claudius

The Ghetto 

Pasta all’Amatriciana At Checchino dal 1887- my favorite

Lunch with Daniele Cernilli (Doctor Wine) at Checchino 1887

Spaghetti ai Moscardini, a favorite of Michele at I Due Ladroni

Carciofi alla Giudia at Da Romolo alla Mole Adriano

The Furore 2016-perfect wine with seafood at  I Due Ladroni

Falanghina always ready to drink and enjoy

Daniele called this a “Great Wine”

A light lunch At L’ Angolo Di Vino

Speaking with the owner Massimo Crippa about Wineand aged Grappa

Great way to end our stay in Rome and leave for the Hello Grappa  tour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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