Cherry festival before Christmas

A French song “Le temps des cerises” speaks about the cherry season being the time of sweet insouciance lasting a very short period, like youth, like the season of their harvest. Next weekend, from 30th November to 2nd December, Young, a Victorian era doll’s town in New South Wales, 170 km North of Canberra, will host its 63rd Cherry festival. Pick up cherries in the orchards, eat cherries, smell cherries, for a whole weekend. The event rallies the community for this much delicate fruit. In Australia, the cherry harvest, which started mid-November and will end at Christmas, occurs in only a few places in the country, where weather conditions are suitable as trees need frost to build the fruit.


Ten cherry orchards and thousands of cherry trees in Young have built a name for the place. At Ballinaclash Orchard as in other places in Young, it will be the busiest weekend of the year. Cath Mullany, her husband Peter and their 6 children are all on duty. They grow 5000 trees on the property. “My husband’s father was the doctor in town and bought this land and planted the trees. Peter took it over for he wanted to become a farmer.” Cath was a teacher in Sydney, when she met her husband. “I fell in love with the man… “, she smiles. They used to sell at Sydney’s market, but now, the full production of cherries is sold on the property, through self-picking. Jams, cherry liqueur, wine. The family has widened the range of products sold in their shop on the property.

This year again, the rain has helped to have a good production and the recent sunny days have helped the fruits to mature. The producers have suffered many years of drought, which has been devastating for some of the producers. Now abundant rains have been also harmful. “In 2010 we have lost 80% of the production because fruits filled with water, and then burst”. Hopefully this year has been more merciful.

As well as the cherries the local economy has developed a range of farm products, goat’s milk and soap at Dunkell Goats, rum and whisky at Bluestill Distillery and Poppa’s fudge…

Poppas is Kevin Powderly’s nickname. After his retirement, this former electrician contractor became the fudge specialist. His wife Vicki wanted to open a gift and decoration gift shop. “As we were driving on the road, we missed a shop I wanted to visit to get ideas. Then we missed a chocolate shop again. But, that time, I said, let’s go back. At this moment I realised that you don’t stop for a gift shop, but you do for food!”, Vicki remembers. Therefore they started to develop a range of fudge to sell in the front part of their decoration shop, Poppas fudge and jam factory. “It was a huge success. We sold one and a half tons of fudge in ten days. That was 8 years ago. Now we are the biggest tourist attraction in town” Kevin uses the ingredients from the farm. The range of sweet treats has been developed since, and he also bakes cherry pies and prepares jams and chutneys. “We grow the cherries, strawberries , vegetables that we use. That is the secret.” And Vicki arranges the hampers.

2012 National Cherry Festival Program Highlights

·         Friday 30 November 2012

×          Live music and Big Air School Display: 6:15pm – 9:30pm

×          Crowning of the 2012 Cherry Queen and Charity Queen: 9.00pm

×          YLAD Living Soils Fireworks Display: 9:30pm

·         Saturday 1 December 2012

×          Young & Region Farmers Market: 8am – 12noon

×          Market Stalls: 8am – 5pm

×          Auto Pro Cherry Festival Car Show: 9am – 2pm

×          Milo the Clown, Circus for Dummies Show: 11:30am – 12:15pm

×          Wilders Bakery Cherry Pie Eating Competition: 2pm – 3:30pm

×          Woolworths Cherry Festival Street Parade: 4pm – 5pm

×          Hilltops Wine Expo: 5pm – 8pm

×          Celtic Tattoo Spectacular: 6pm

·         Sunday 2 December 2012

×          Donges Supa IGA Big Breakfast: 7am – 10am

×          Children’s Pet Show: 9am

×          Live music: Iron & Clay: 10am – 11:30am

×          Cherry Pip Spitting Competition:  11:30am – 12:30pm

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Sculpture Workshop in Queensland’s Vineyard

Remember Marianne Lethbridge from Vintner’s Secret in Queensland? She announces that the Crush festival, the art venue in Bundaberg is coming soon. Col Henry, noted sculptor from the central coast of NSW, will hold two workshops over two weekends at her charming place in the vineyard. It is an awesome opportunity to taste wine and become creative. The dates are Sat 29 and Sunday 30th September, 2012 and Sat 5th and Sunday 6th October, 2012.

The artist-in-residence teaches students how to create body casts using plaster moulding techniques; these are then used to create fibreglass sculptures. Several styles of finishes are also taught. At the end of the workshop each one will have a complete sculpture to take back home or  garden created and will have the opportunity to exhibit the work done at the Crush Finale at Vintner’s Secret Vineyard on Sunday 27th October, 2012.

Workshops cost $150.00 for the entire two days and cover the costs of all the materials. You are advised to wear old clothes, closed footwear and leave jewellery at home. A deposit of $50.00 is requested.

The artist:

Bookings can be made by phone on 41261255 or by email;

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When the dream of an acting career turns into a dream mayonnaise

Mayonnaise belongs to the must-have preserves stored in the kitchen cabinet. In my memory, as a child, this is one of the first things I had learnt to make in my grandma’s kitchen, along with whipping cream, cutting ends off green beans and shelling peas. Safe, simple, but off-putting chores, perfect to be handed over to children. Now that I’m getting older, I’d rather have someone else performing the task. Particularly when tasting the sweet, dull industrial version of mayonnaise filled with preservatives that drives me to despair.

So, when necessary, for instance with prawns, I would rather have a delicious genuine hand-made mayonnaise. That statement of fact is roughly what led Sarah Ross to start producing her homemade brand. Sarah once dreamt of being an actress, “but I lacked the killer instinct” and changed her mind. She got into recruitment and marketing in Sydney, before building her own family company, through chance and a love of food. “My mother, who is English, was a good cook and always made her own mayonnaise. The bottled industrial one is made with sweet condensed milk, nothing to compare with the more savoury European one, using free-range eggs, mustard and quality sunflower oil, without added water or preservatives. I started to make some for my husband (who works in finance). Then, because I was passionate about the product and encouraged by my husband, we went to the Sydney market, and the stock was sold out in a short time! People loved it. I remembered this little girl, licking her fingers when she tasted the mayonnaise” That was in 2000.

The family was living on a country property in the Southern Highlands south of Sydney. They decided to name the brand Doodles Creek after the pristine spring fed creek that ran through their farm. From then on, the small company grew up. “In 120 days, I reached a production of 120 jars a day. That became too heavy to handle in a family kitchen. We found a manufacturer who could manage the quantities, still keeping the quality. Now, altogether, we produce 120,000 jars a year.” This includes different kinds of mayonnaises, relishes, and the most recent addition, tomato pasta sauce. One of the bestsellers is the aioli, delicious with … prawns and sea-food. Living in a small community with a strong sense of solidarity helped them a lot.

When she started, she was the first and sole producer. This has changed. “I was lucky. Today for someone to start, it would be much harder. But it is also flattering to have competitors.”

Recently, the family has relocated to Sydney to secure the education of their children, now teenagers. Still, Sarah develops new products in her kitchen. Next step is to work out her perfect strawberry jam. Her three children are the jury, a very tough and uncompromising panel who are part of the success.

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Wine, music and art to be discovered under the palm tree

In a region you wouldn’t expect to be appropriate for anything but pawpaw and mango orchards, Marianne Lethbridge and her husband Edward Murray are growing grapes. In the sub-tropical area of Australia in a place called Vintner’s Secret Vineyard in central Queensland next to a town called Childers, they have even won gold medals for their Verdelho. Marianne explains: “I acknowledge that it is unusual. People are surprised. However, it is a perfect place to have some wines. Our land is higher up, 250 m above sea level. The vineyard is planted on a stony granite soil, on a slope. Some grapes are just meant for this landscape and these weather conditions, like Verdelho”.

This specific variety is grown in the quite hot landscape of Spain and Portugal. The typically warmth-loving Shiraz, Cabernet and Marsanne also thrive in this specific area of Queensland. There are actually four vineyards in this green pocket. The region was known for its sugar cane fields. But now it has become a place to grow all kinds of fruits. This is the biggest region in Australia where avocados and macadamia nuts are produced. Thus, the nickname of the place is “the fruit bowl”.

It is as much about wine on this property as about art and outdoor entertainment. At Vintners’ Secret Vineyard, visitors find a coffee shop, cheese plates, cakes and art to enjoy. Marianne is very involved in the local art festival named “Crush”, to pay tribute to the time when sugar cane was actually crushed there. An outdoor sculpture collection planted amidst flowers testifies to this interest. The festival is held in October, the busiest time of the year in the nearby picturesque town of Childers. At that time, Marianne and Edward contribute to the event with “artist in residence”, a popular activity. An artist is invited to their place to give public workshops. “Next October we will host Henry Col, he is quite famous and his wife is an artist. We also have musical concerts once a month. This is the life I love. It is interesting, challenging.”

Marianne speaks with this caring and enthusiastic voice that makes one feel comfortable and at ease. Half retired, she still works as a teacher in a high school. Edward used to teach auto electronics and engineering.

Both longed for a retreat haven in the country. “But I didn’t want to sit and wait. We wanted to do organic farming.” During one of their journeys between Brisbane and Cairns, they found the place, by accident, she says. The green valley, the charming surroundings caught their eye and they bought the property in 2008. Not so long ago, but the vineyard had been planted by the former owner. “And people knocked at our door to buy wine. So that is how the whole story started.” Then of course, they got involved in more projects than what they first expected.


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Macaroons, profiteroles, colors and taste in Sydney

“Croquembouche”, a sophisticated arrangement of profiteroles, is made from small, round, custard-filled pastries, which are held together in the shape of a pyramid by caramelized sugar. It looks very much like a house of cards or a mountain of glasses of champagne. Take one, but cautiously. It almost reflects a philosophy of life, risky to handle but at the same time a sweet delicacy to enjoy. The word literally means, “crunches in the mouth”. The name inspired Frederic Caillon and his wife Laurence when they opened their first patisserie in Botany, in Sydney, 12 years ago.

But, in their pastry assortment, my attention is drawn to the more accessible and less risky to pick up macaroon. Croquembouche and macaroons belong to the same family of classic, traditional, secular pastries you offer at celebrations. Croquembouche was invented in 1800. Macaroons in their current form were developed not much later, although the original recipe was found in the 8th century in Venetian monasteries. Its name would come from the Venetian language “macarone” meaning fine dough. The well-known house of Ladurée, in Paris, has transformed the speciality into a colourful pastel palette. Still crunchy on the outside, mellow on the inside like the Croquembouche, it is prepared from egg whites, almonds and sugar. And now, the macaroon has gained a new youth.

Its popularity has spread all over the planet, from France to Japan, to South America. This is greatly due to the range of colours and the infinite blend of flavours. “It is a soft meringue that is cooked very carefully. It requires a knack to get it right”, explains Frederic Caillon. Macaroons can be dry, sticky like a caramel bar and dull, if not prepared with art. “For the last 3 to 4 years people have been just crazy about them, but I have been doing them for 20 years. Flavours have changed a lot. You now find coconut, raspberry, and caramel… I offer 25 different flavours.”

However, he admits, his savoury preparations, with the cheese tart and the very distinguished petits fours, are perhaps more appreciated. In the kitchen, Laurence prepares the sandwiches and the marinated meat used in the savouries. She is the one who imagines the menu.

As for many Europeans, their move to Australia started as a longing for wide spaces. “I like to go riding on my motorbike in the bush. I like it here. Australians don’t make their life difficult.” Still, tradition counts. In his shops, there are no muffins, that typically English cake. The trade of French Patissier is also a family tradition and Frederic does not disown his origins. Frederic trained as a pastry chef in Niort in the West of France, before starting to travel around France first and New Caledonia, working mainly at five-star hotels. He keeps up some very French habits, such as playing soccer, the national French sport, in a team… and with his kids.
1635 Botany Rd Banksmeadow NSW 2019
Tel: 02 96663069
Fax: 02 96663067

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Not a clandestine get-away to the Poachers Pantry

In this modern immaculate food laboratory, staff are preparing snack packs with olives and smoked turkey for first and business class passengers of Qantas. This is quite an unexpected activity in this peaceful countryside retreat called the Poachers Pantry. Monday is a quiet day. Not a single soul is wandering around. In the outdoor tranquillity, the air carries a light smoked scent.

The place is not that remote, but still, it is located away from the city, near the village of Hall in the Australian Capital Territory. The Poachers Pantry stands at the far end of a long dirt track, which is shadowed in summer by the canopy forming a narrow tunnel. A few quaint buildings are scattered in a delightful garden, hidden behind a few more trees. A little bridge, flowers and the den. No bears or poachers there, but a comfortable and simple coffee shop with dark timber and country furniture.

Some time ago, the owner of the place, a young British lady named Susan fell in love with Robert Bruce as she was travelling in Australia. She married the farmer of this 700 acre family property. The business story starts in 1991, when Susan’s brother came to visit. He, as a chef, knew how to smoke meat. That was a new idea to try in the region and they thought it could add value to the farm’s products. Although Robert has been growing sheep for wool production, they imagined it could be an improvement to turn part of the grazing property into a traditional country smokehouse.

The public being unfamiliar with smoked meat, Susan worked hard to show the versatility of the specialities. First, she opened cellar doors and arranged tastings. Then the couple planted the vineyard and created the “Wily Trout” wines, with a quite remarkable Shiraz. Finally, to further promote their range they opened the coffee shop. It has now become a successful and popular get-away with a very much enjoyed smokehouse meat platter: smoked ham either cooked or raw, moist duck, chicken with tarragon stuffing and lemon zest.

Smoked ham is very popular at Christmas, the busiest time of the year. Unlike European custom, which makes meat a cold weather favourite, Australians prefer to have a platter while relaxing on the deck on a hot day and ham for end of year celebrations.

“We have worked with the same suppliers of meat for years!” explains Susan Bruce. Traditional beech timber, which is imported from Germany, is being used in making their smoked meats. “It comes from a specialised supplier, so that we are sure that no chemicals are being used. We tried local wood, but it didn’t give good results at all, as there was a bitter taste in the meat.”

Now, employing the equivalent of 30 full-time employees, Susan and Robert Bruce deliver to some of the better placed Woolworths shops in Sydney, IGA supermarkets all over Australia except Darwin and Perth, and to Qantas. However, their guests on the property represent 40% of their turnover. “We won’t turn into an industry. The idea is to maintain the quality and we will continue to stay in a small niche.”

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“Pâté”, a taste of France

So Frenchie, but less popular than the croissant, “pâté” is too often mistaken with “foie gras”, even though they have little in common. The latter is the entire duck liver. Half-cooked and cut in slices, it is served on toasts during end of year celebrations, as would be caviar.

Quite the contrary, “pâté” is a country style treat. Something to have on a picnic or as an entrée with a classic family meal. In all matters of opinion, a simple pleasure of life which comes in different types of specialities: with pork, rabbit, deer, wild boar which is minced with some liver and blended with herbs, bay leaves, nuts, dried fruits, truffles or other flavourful mushrooms, slowly cooked with wine or in Port in a terracotta pot.

I doubted I would find some in Australia. Then, I read a few lines about a chef who made it. So I called Kim de Poorter. He is a Belgian chef, born Korean, who was then brought up in France. “At the markets, I had this banner which said, Take home a taste of France. People open their eyes wide, but they are curious. Usually, children are the ones who first dare to taste it. Pâté is still a product Australians do not recognize, except for those who have travelled in France. Therefore, the product has to be presented. It works from word of mouth.”

On Kim’s menu, I noticed the very classic “pâté de Campagne”, a basic country pâté with green pepper. However, his two popular ones in Australia are the Cranberry type and the duck terrine with pistachios and apricots. In his professional kitchen, he also prepares different kinds of mousses and the so typical rillettes, which are spreadable thin strips of meat mixed with fat that melt so deliciously in your mouth that you had better forget for a moment the idea of a diet.

The story started when Kim de Poorter moved to Canberra from the South Coast, where he and his Australian-French wife managed his own restaurant “Le Grand Bleu” in Saint Georges Basin; he decided to be a father at home and an independent chef part-time, producing home-made pâtés.

In the end, after working and travelling around the world, in Cannes, Washington DC, Seoul and Sydney , it was a new challenge to cook French food with different products available locally. He had not only to convince the customer but also to struggle to find the provider who would supply him with the perfect meat with the right amount of fat. “I am still very tied to traditional French cuisine, which I want to defend: the beef tongue with a Madeira sauce my mother used to prepare, or a blanquette de veau. My kids aged 6 and 4 have loved that since the youngest age. We didn’t cook special baby food for them. They had the real stuff straight away!”

You can order from Kim: or call 02 6166 1502

Farmers Market EPIC in Canberra (at the crepes’ stall in front of the coffee shop)

Fruitatious, in Manuka. Canberra. Mount Majura wineries.

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A journey in Jonathan’s conservatory of ancient apples


At first glance, the visitor is transported in another world, as if he had passed the mirror of Alice’s wonderland. Behind the mirror, the Pialligo orchard appears like granny’s loft, fully packed with treasures stored randomly in a joyful mess.

In this former commune property, on the outskirts of Canberra, Jonathan and Robyn Banks grow 60 different types of apples. He is a chemist, she is a mathematician. Among the ancient varieties, they have listed the unexpected and mysterious “pippin”, named after the kind of apple grown spontaneously from seed. Lord Lambourne is Jonathan’s favourite, but too delicate to be transported and sold in supermarkets: “a wonderful texture, juicy, beautifully aromatic with a hint of acidity.” Jonathan named a few other traditional ones: Reinette, Cox’s, Snow, Russets, Mutsu, Lady Williams, MacIntosh. For this last one, I realised that the famous computer’s company featuring an apple was named after an American variety apple tree!

Jonathan has a story for each one of them. This property hosts a total of a thousand trees with no two looking similar and 33 rose plants. Some typical varieties of automn fruit, but also the very difficult to find mirabelle, reine-claude, the rare unusual medlar, quinces, feijoas and a few more thrive in this Eden Park where Cockatoos like to feast. “We let the tree get big, so that Cockatoos can only get the fruit which are on the surface on the top of the tree, but not the ones which are deeper in the branches. The height of the grass creates a welcoming environment for predators like frogs and lizards, which are useful to get rid of fruit pests”, explains Jonathan.

Surprisingly, despite the exceptionally wet season that has spoilt part of some vineyards, the apple crop was unexpectedly generous this 2012 season. “The cockatoos leave us far enough with a crop of about 30 tons of apples” It is late in the season and almost the last days for the later varieties. Jonathan has just put away his stall set in front of the orchard.

However, very soon, he will lead a special grafting workshop to show how to grow your own tree. “Customers ask to purchase their favourite apple tree, but I have to decline as I only grow apples. So, I thought about this workshop. Grafting is easy. There are a few tricks you should know, but not many. (see events)

I asked him: “So do you talk to the trees ?” He answered: “I do, and sometimes quite seriously. If one does not give any fruit, I come at it with an axe. Sure it works. Next season it will give fruit.”

Pialligo Orchard, 10 Beltana Road, Canberra 02 6765 5633

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Back to basics and peel burning hot chestnuts

Good food does not only rely on the art of the chef, but also on the quality of commodities. As part of their commitment, chefs are regularly investigating in order to track down the right providers. This is how Richard Moxham and Alison Saunders happened to meet Janet Jeffs, one of the leading chefs in Australia, who is manager of the Kitchen Cabinet at Old Parliament House in Canberra: “We sent 100 leaflets to restaurants in Canberra and we got one phone call. This was Janet explaining to us that she wanted to work with local producers.”

Richard and Alison grow walnuts and chestnuts, but at first it was not for the nuts and their use in food, but for the beautiful trees. Twenty years ago, when they bought the property, these two rural scientists hoped that in planting more trees on it they could raise public awareness for biodiversity, educating the public in forest ecology. “Now, roasted chestnuts are also a delicacy that we enjoy with a glass of red wine.” Richard laughs, inviting me to such an experience on their property set in the small New South Wales village called Sassafras, 45 km south-west of Nowra and about 130 km from Canberra on the Nowra-Braidwood Road.

Australia’s experience with chestnuts is linked with the gold rush. At that time Europeans and in particular Chinese brought trees from overseas. They need a wet and cool climate to thrive. The ideal region should be located between 650 and 850 metres above sea level. As a matter of fact, those conditions are all found in North East of Victoria, where almost all orchards have been developed. Each year, about 3000 tons of chestnuts are produced in that area.

The chestnut crop, like the grape harvest, has not been not abundant this 2012 season. Richard Moxham explains: “We made 5 tons, half as much as usual. Unfortunately, the rain has affected the pollination.” However, the quality met our expectations, particularly for the late varieties.

“We sell our nuts at the Sydney central market. People from Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia and Macedonia are fond of those nuts as it reminds them of their European background”, says Richard Moxham. At harvest time, which is in April in Australia, families come equipped with buckets to pick up nuts and enjoy a day out in the country under the canopy.

Some customers buy the flour, especially to prepare Italian specialities, but mainly it is just a winter indulgence, eaten simply roasted. “Well, it also unleashes a fantastic sweetness in soups and casseroles. Like potatoes it is full of carbohydrates”, Richard tells us. A soft taste to savour as a reward for enduring the scratches caused by the spiky shell when picking them up.

Last Sunday, at Janet’s Jeff’s kitchen Cabinet in the patio of Old Parliament, Richard and Alison introduced hot chestnut peeling to a captivated audience. During that presentation, Janet was roasting goat’s legs on the barbecue with greek music. “We hope that more and more people will learn how to enjoy chestnuts.”

For more informations:

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The unexpected French tablecloth in the Queensland hinterland

In a patisserie in Queensland, I was stunned to find the best lemon tart I have ever tasted. I discovered the place recently, in the quite isolated village of Cooroy, in the Noosa hinterland. It is called La maison de Provence. Something to visit when on holidays at the Sunshine Coast.

The French couple, Eric and Françoise Pernoud, who opened it in 2010, have been in Australia for more than 20 years, achieving Eric’s dream to move to Skippy’s country (the kangaroo movie he watched in his childhood). When he arrived, Eric Pernoud started as Chef patissier at the Ritz Carlton in Sydney, managing also the Korean, Hong-Kong and Singapore Palace’s patisseries.

Now, after all those years, it is not Eric’s first experience in opening a patisserie where you wouldn’t expect to find one. When he and his wife decided to start their own business, they had a bakery in Bowral close to Sydney and then in Pomona, an even more secluded village in Queensland. “You blink Blink and you’ll miss it.” And, each time, he encountered success.

Eric Pernoud comes from Annecy, a quaint medieval town close to the French ski resorts of Chambéry, where his wife comes from. They have five children, Erika, 20, the oldest, works in the kitchen, Axell, 17, and the youngest ones, triplets aged 3, who keep their mother very busy. Eric Pernoud starts his day at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and finishes at 9 pm. This hard work is at the origin of every day’s fresh baked food, which has built the good reputation of the place.

In the patisserie, Françoise displays and sells French-style homewares. The Eiffel Tower drawn on the wall, bunches of lavender and starched white embroidered tablecloths give you the perfect picture. The full French atmosphere. Here, no sausage rolls or bacon and eggs, but cassoulet and coq-au-vin. The other day, one of the French cooks working there made some classic quenelles for lunch. “Customers discovered this very typical French dish still unknown in Australia and they loved it.”

This haven is not even set on the main road. Still, it attracts people from the whole region who queue to get one of the house specialities. For instance, the not so traditional but delicate mushroom flavoured quiche. “Someone one day send the plate back complaining that I shouldn’t put mushroom in the quiche. But I explain that it softens the texture. See, Paul Bocuse adds some potatoes to his recipe!”

In the shop’s window display, there are also macarons, mille-feuille, éclairs and my favourite, the melting lemon tart. The acidity of the fruit is just tempered with an under layer of vanilla flan. “The recipe is 100 years old! It comes from my grandfather!” (See recipe)

Does he miss the French Alps? “Yes, I do. But here the lifestyle is much more relaxed than in Europe. It is a nice country for raising children.”

facebook page:

Adress: 9/13 Garnet Str. Cooroy 4563. Phone: 07 54720077

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