Crostini with roasted red pepper/hazelnut sauce, capers, and olives

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Malcolm yelled “Good luck!” to the bald eagle. Before work on Sunday, the first and only really lovely spring day this year, Malcolm and Clio and I went for a “run.” It was more of a fast walk, because he’d just eaten pancakes, but that suited me exactly. We came to the place where a bald eagle had built a nest across the canal. A big, random-looking pile of sticks on the top of a huge metal tower.
The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?

The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?

I hadn’t actually seen an eagle there, but I stopped to look every time we passed. This time I saw a big hulking bird farther down the tower, and I asked Malcolm if it had a white head, because I couldn’t see that far, and it could have been a vulture. It did! It did have a white head! We walked back on the other side of the canal, to get a closer look. Malcolm was talking cheerfully about his schemes for the future, and I was thinking how good it felt to go for a walk with him again, and hear his zany chatter, after a long, shut-in winter. When we got to the tower, the eagle was gone, but we stood for a moment looking up into the bright blue sky. You could feel the earth getting warmer all around us, waking up and coming to life. And then the eagle flew up out of the river, and landed very low on the tower, where we could see it perfectly. It was a stunning moment, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it felt as if my heart soared up with the eagle. We watched it for a while, sitting there so beautiful and impossibly large and completely cool, and then Malcolm yelled, “Good luck,” and we walked home. It felt so sunny, to hear him say that, to think about Malcolm encouraging this huge unruffled raptor. It seems so precarious to try to raise chicks on the top of a tower that holds power lines, in a world full of people, it feels like such a hopeful thing to do. I’ve been feeling vaguely anxious lately about equally vague events that may-or-may not happen. Worried about the future more than usual, troubled by time passing though I know there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. It feels good to take a walk, and see the eagles and the geese sitting on their nests in the sunshine, everybody is doing what they have to do, getting on with their lives, waking with the spring. Isaac recently showed me the sign for “All you need.” You hold your hands together in front of you, and then spread them to your sides. It’s a beautiful gesture, particularly as performed by a serious eight-year-old. It seems like a good gesture to make when you’re feeling anxious, to remind yourself of what you have, and that all you can do is what you have to do, and try feel good about what you’re working on and where you’re going. It’s a gesture like spreading wings in the sunshine.

Isaac likes crostini. I made these last week after he’d been sick for a few days and eaten nothing but toast. These were like a step up from toast, and Isaac ate quite a few. The sauce itself is inspired by romesco sauce, and it’s sweet smoky nuttiness goes well with the sharp saltiness of capers and olives. It made a nice meal with a big salad.

Here’s All I Need by Radiohead.
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Thinly sliced potatoes with spinach, tomatoes and olives

Sliced potatoes with spinach, olives and tomatoes

Sliced potatoes with spinach, olives and tomatoes

Machucha is the story of making and losing a friendship. It’s about all of the small and surprising moments of connection, and the surprising differences as well. About discovering that the way your family lives and what they consider normal is not normal for everyone else. Small kindness and revelations add up to form something stronger and warmer. But we understand the fragility of the relationship, too, that feeling of almost holding your breath, hoping and fearing, which is all part of the ordinary and extraordinary occurrence of making a friend when you’re twelve years old. That Machucha is set in Chile during the 1973 Coup d’état adds to the tension and heartbreak, but the real drama is one of friendship. We see the historical events as a child sees them, with confusion, fear, and a horrible sense of powerlessness. Gonzalo Infante is a student at a private Catholic school in Santiago. His family is wealthy but far from perfect, in ways that are also bewildering and unsettling to an uncomprehending boy. A handful of poorer students is introduced to the school, and they’re treated with inevitable mockery and bullying. Gonzalo befriends Machucha, a boy who lives in a shantytown. The story of their friendship is joyful and sad and haunting. The film is quiet and subtle but resonant. We see that all of the cruelty and brutality of our political world starts as suspicion and misunderstanding and fear of people who are different. And any hope for change comes from small moments of connection between ordinary people, and from empathy and friendship.

Thinly sliced potatoes layered with spinach, tomatoes and olives

Thinly sliced potatoes layered with spinach, tomatoes and olives

I may have mentioned that I got a new food processor for Christmas. It’s a marvel! It’s so fast and quiet and efficient. I used it to slice these potatoes very thinly, and then I layered them with a sort of sauce of spinach, tomatoes, capers and olives. I also added some grated smoked gouda, but you could use mozzarella or goat cheese or leave the cheese out altogether and this would be vegan. I made mine quite shallow in a big French cake pan, but you could make it with more layers in a deeper pan. You might need to cook it longer, though.

Here’s Bicicleta from the Machucha soundtrack.

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Summer squash “jam” with olives and pine nuts

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

Well alright! Wh’apen? Hey ya! Gabba gabba hey! I’m not sure what you’d call these sayings…catch phrases, maybe? But they’re all the titles to some very good songs, and they’re the subject of this week’s playlist. The rules are quite flexible, but what we’re looking for is some collection of words that stands on it’s own in a conversation or greeting, that’s more than just the title of a song. Here’s the start of the playlist. I’m sure there are a million more, but I’m late for work!

This is a good dish for people who are looking for something different to do with summer squash. It’s not just sliced and sautéed, it’s grated first, and then cooked for a while with scallions and fresh herbs, so that it turns soft and saucy, almost like a jam. Then olives and tomatoes and pine nuts are added for a bit of texture and a kick of flavor. This would be nice on the side like a condiment, almost, but I think it’s best on toasts or crackers or spread on crusty bread.

Here’s that playlist again.

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Collards with artichoke hearts, olives and capers

Collards with artichoke hearts, olives and capers

Collards with artichoke hearts, olives and capers

Isaac carried his new superhero to school today. He’s made of bright pink pipe cleaners (the superhero, not Isaac.) His name is eel man. Isaac started telling me a story about how eel man made a giant ball of electricity and threw it in the ocean and then… “Is eel man a good guy or a bad guy?” I asked. Turns out he’s both. “Ah,” I said, “So he’s morally complicated.” Yeah. He’s good when he thinks it would be fun to be good. Well, we got back to the story, but it had changed a little. I could hear the little wheels whirring in Isaac’s head. “Wait, I’m talking to mom, and she’s actually listening to me.” Suddenly eel man’s exploits seemed a little too dangerous for all of the innocent bystanders who might be bobbing in the waves of eel man’s ocean. In the new ending, eel man cuts the nets of fishermen to free the fish. Which proves how well Isaac knows me, but is also morally complicated, if you think about it too much, because now what will happen to the poor fisherman and his imaginary starving family? Everything is morally complicated if you think about it too much! And I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s good to think about it too much, and try to find some sort of balance that helps you navigate waters made choppy by giant balls of electricity. I’ve been reading my new biography of Jean Vigo. His father took the nomme de guerre Miguel Almereyda, and anagram for “there’s the shit.” He had a hard life, he had plenty of reasons to be angry at the world. His family abandoned him, and as a teenager he found himself sick, alone and starving. He was imprisoned several times as a boy…once for “borrowing” money to pay rent, and once for attempting to blow up a pissoir, although he was so worried about hurting innocent people that he bungled the whole effort. He was sent to prison none-the-less, where he was kept in solitary confinement and semi-darkness and abused by sadistic warders. He found comfort and friendship amongst the anarchists, communists, socialists and syndicalists, and he found an outlet for his passionate anger at society. It’s so strange to read about this world, so morally complicated as to be contradictory–so appealing and flawed, so concerned with organizing and yet so chaotic. We meet violently angry pacifists, militant anti-militarists. They started a newspaper and words were their weapons. Their ideals changed subtly all the time as the world about them changed, and they spoke with complete certainty and passion about each changing belief. Their words were so effective that they were received with fear and distrust as if they had been actual weapons. Almereyda found himself in and out of prison, sentenced again and again for articles that questioned the system, that encouraged strikes by workers and soldiers. Everything fell apart with WWI. Everything changed in ways that were beyond Almereyda’s control. But it seems that he and his friends still struggled to make sense of it, they continued to write about it, they tried to ensure that the changes that came with the war were good for the people, for the workers, for the poor. And many years later, his son Jean would make films that celebrated revolution and anarchy, but glowed with love for all people and reverence for all life, and these would be feared and banned, too. But they would live on as a testament to the power of word and image, to the revolutionary power of art. It’s a funny old world.

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love collards! I’ve never treated them quite like this, but I thought it was delicious. Collards have a textural assertiveness that went perfectly with the bright sharp flavors of capers and olives. This was very simple to put together. If you added some beans to the dish (white would be nice!) and served it with rice or pasta, you’d have a quick meal.

Here’s Rebel Waltz from The Clash
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Roasted cauliflower, potatoes and butterbeans in spicy red pepper – olive sauce

Roasted potatoes, cauliflower and butterbeans with spicy red pepper sauce

Roasted potatoes, cauliflower and butterbeans with spicy red pepper sauce

When a child tells a joke (my child, at any rate) he always explains it. He always adds a little, “do you see what I did there?” (Except when they tell knock knock jokes, of course – not because they need no explanation, but because there is no explanation. They make no sense, and that’s the point of them.) As they get a little older they might just send it out there into the world, and see how it plays. They start to understand the universal language of jokes, and they recognize that others understand it as well. And if it plays well, they’ll repeat it, over and over and over again. There’s a regular at the bar where I work. He’s a friendly, loquacious guy, and everybody’s always happy to see him, as befits his status as regular. He tells jokes that aren’t always appropriate, and he lets us know they’re not appropriate by saying, “If you know what I mean.” One day, the bartender said, “Everybody always knows what you mean!” She said it in a jolly, joking way, but he seemed a little chastened. He was uncharacteristically silent for a few minutes. When I think about it, which I frequently do, it’s so odd that we can communicate at all. Words are so frustratingly, beautifully inadequate. Either they seem to have no meaning at all, or they have so many meanings you don’t know which to choose. We could lose ourselves in the space between what we mean to say or what we want to say, and what is actually said. We watched Tokyo Story by Ozu yesterday. (Beautiful!) His films are about regular, contemporary people facing problems that we all face, and one of these is, simply, talking to one another, conveying meaning. The characters are speaking Japanese, of course, which is a language I don’t understand, but they’re so clearly sharing the difficulty of sharing, with their gestures and expressions. They use small sounds, single syllables or grunts, that seem to carry more meaning, and be better understood, than whole streams of words. I love this! Each person fills the syllable with their own inflections, the whole force of their personality. Ozu will show one side of a phone call that consists of nothing but these short grunts, and you know what the person on the other end is saying. I read a little bit about these sounds, and they each have their own written character, which is a beautiful thing. I suppose we have something similar in English, but our small sounds, our ums and ers and uh-huhs seem to create little spaces of non-meaning, little expressions of frustration with meaning. Or maybe it’s just easier to see meaning when you’re less entangled in the words, when you’re outside, looking in.

It’s funny how recipes can become construed and misconstrued, made up, as they are, of words. The symbols I take as universal are very confusing to some people. And measurements are so changing and mysterious, especially when you’re talking about the size of a vegetable! In recipes such as this one, it’s okay that the measurements are vague. You can adjust the amounts to your taste. We have roasted potatoes, cauliflower and roasted butter beans (yummy!) And we have a sauce to toss them in, and you can roast just as much of each as you like! You can mix everything together, and fry it in a skillet till the sauce is fairly dry and coating each piece, and that’s tasty. Or you can leave the elements separate, and let people take what they like, which is what we did, because not everyone in the family is as enthusiastic about cauliflower. We ate this with simple herbed farro, and some sauteed kale and broccoli rabe tossed with lemon and butter.

Here’s the Tokyo Story Theme, by Saito Kojun

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White bean, roasted red pepper, tomato risotto

White bean tomato risotto

Yesterday, for no reason in particular, I started singing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend while I was making dinner. I get stupid songs in my head all the time, and I usually can’t stop myself from singing them. Isaac was very upset! I was surprised by his reaction, and tried to laugh it off. I told him what a silly song it was. Or that it was about David’s childhood dog, named Diamond. And then we talked about other things, and I thought he’d forgotten. On the way to school on this drizzly fall morning Isaac said, “Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend!” Very emphatically. No, they’re not, I said. And then he said, “A girl’s best friend is a son!” And I laughed and said, sure it is! And then he started singing a song, “A Claire’s best friend is an Isaac, and a dog, and a Malcolm, and a daddy, and her house, and her land.” (Heh heh, my land! My acres and acres of land!) He’s right, of course! Being a crazy mom, a little whirlwind of reactions spiraled around my head. I’m glad he believes that! I like his anti-capitalist leanings (quite out of proportion with his acquisitive instinct around a toy aisle). I’m worried that he’s worried about money. Have we told him one-too-many times that we can’t afford a certain toy? Mostly I’m proud that he’s such a wise six-year-old, and grateful that he cheered me up. I’ve been in a blue funk lately about my inability to contribute much to the constant struggle to keep our heads above water, financially. It’s David’s birthday today, and I’m sad that I can’t give him something nice. But I’m making him dinner, and I hope he’ll like it, and I’m happy to be doing it! Happy to be thinking about foods he likes, happy to be thinking how lucky I am that he’ll try all my crazy meals, happy to be thinking about all the meals we’ve had together over the years, and the way our tastes have evolved together. Happy to spend a rainy day in a warm and fragrant kitchen, making food to feed someone I love.

Last night, on David’s Birthday Eve, we had this risotto. It’s a nice meal for a chilly fall day, when you still have piles of tomatoes tumbling off your counter. I realized, yesterday, that I’ve never had a risotto with beans in it. Which seems surprising, because rice and beans are so perfect together. I think of tomatoes, roasted reds, olives and white beans as being something of a classic combination. So I cooked it with arborio rice, and left it nice and warm and brothy.

Here’s Louis Armstrong with I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
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Tomato steaks au poivre; Semolina dumpling baked in tomatoes; roasted red salad stuffed heirloom

Giant heirloom

It’s hard not to become defensive when you grow up in New Jersey. From an early age, you’re aware that you’re the butt of jokes – not just the jokes of snarky Manhattanites, but of pretty much everybody, everywhere. You hear stereotypes about New Jersey accents, New Jersey styles of dress, New Jersey music. You know, of course, that those accents and styles of dress actually originate in certain boroughs of Manhattan, and the attribution is false, but you grow tired of explaining that. People drive from New York to Philly and see the ugliest part of New Jersey – the Strip malls and refineries. You think about telling them that where you live, there’s nothing but vast expanses of beautiful countryside, but you don’t want everybody moving here, so you keep quiet. You know that Jersey is overpopulated, but that population is incredibly diverse, which means that we have a rich culture of languages, art, and food. We have mountains and beaches and meadows. We have a sense of humor about ourselves – we have to – it’s a survival instinct. We’re adaptable and tolerant – living so close to your neighbors (as you do in much of the state) you learn to respect them and care for them.

Baked semolina dumpling tomatoes

And we have tomatoes! Jersey tomatoes – pride of the garden state! At the moment I have a bewildering number of tomatoes! But I’ve had a lot of fun thinking of ways to prepare them. We had some big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I scooped out some of the flesh and replaced it with semolina dumpling batter. I baked the tomatoes, and made the flesh into a sauce with chard and basil.

Tomato chard sauce

The semolina has a lovely, soft texture that absorbs the tomato-y juices. Then I thought about giant slices of tomatoes that feel like steaks, and I decided to coat them in pepper, fry them in a little butter, and then use the juices to make a sauce, with shallots, garlic, and wine. It made a nice side dish, and I think it would be nice over angel hair pasta. Finally, we had an heirloom tomato the size of a small pumpkin. I decided to open it in thick slices, and stuff a flavorful salad into the spaces – roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, capers, olives, and fresh basil. Fresh and delicious!

Tomato steaks au poivre

Here’s Tom Waits with Jersey Girl
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Chickpea flour chard frittata-cake (with olive sofrito)

Chard & chickpea flour cake

I’m not very good at sitting still. I’ve tried doing yoga or meditating once or twice, but as soon as I try to clear my head, it fills with silly thoughts and petty anxieties. When I try to sit and write, I find myself jumping up every few minutes to do something that doesn’t actually need to be done. Yesterday, I attempted to master the art of being still. I’ve written the underdog’s theme song, and absolved lack of competitive instinct and lack of ambition everywhere. At the moment I’d like to champion a brief spell of staring into space. It’s been a spate of immaculate weather. We were trying to think of the perfect thing to do after dinner – homework all done, but still a school night. We weren’t organized enough for a walk of any kind. Maybe we’d sit around a fire in the backyard. But I found myself sitting in a chair by the front door. The sky was bright as day, but the room was filling with darkening blue light at an autumn pace – always surprising and even slightly worrying. The boys were playing kickball in the backyard. They were giggling maniacally – beautiful, but I’m sure they were hitting the window and the recycling bins on purpose. David was in the kitchen sneezing, and covering Malcolm’s text book with a brown paper bag, the way humans have covered textbooks for all eternity. The boys ran in and out of their showers, cool, pale and giggling. They disappeared into the backyard, as the sky finally deepened outside the window, and in the room it became too dark to write. The smell of smoke and the sound of loved voices pulled me into the backyard, where the sky was still palely glowing.

Chard and chickpea flour frittata

And before all of this activity? I made the best meal! I’m really proud of it! I think I may have invented it! I’m not even sure what to call it! It’s like a frittata, but it has chickpea flour in it, which gives it a lovely substantiality and flavor. It’s also got sauteed chard, mozzarella, some garlic, some rosemary, and some basil. We cut it into thick wedges, and ate it with sofrito (spanish style). I’d made a big batch with all of the paste tomatoes I picked last week. I froze some of it for winter, and I set some aside, and added olives and a roasted red pepper (also from the farm!) You could make a simple tomato sauce instead, though. (Both recipes below) And we had a nice, simple heirloom tomato salad as well.

Olive & red pepper sofrito

The cool, blue sounds of Jackie Mittoo’s Evening Time.
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Moroccan spiced chickpea, tomato and pepper stew & couscous, & semolina bread

Morrocan chickpea stew

Malcolm wanted to go to the river. Isaac didn’t. It’s not the first time this has happened. After another epic struggle, we persuaded Isaac to walk down with us. As we walked, Malcolm declared that he was an outdoors swimming animal, and Isaac was an indoors curl-up-in-a-nest-of-fur-and-feathers animal. We laughed, cause it’s funny and it’s sort of true. But I felt uneasy. We try very hard not to label the boys a certain way. Not to say… Malcolm is a man who does this, and Isaac is a man who does that; or Malcolm’s good at this, and Isaac’s good at that. Because when somebody decides that you are a certain way, you can get stuck. I find it interesting, and a little frightening, how readily people take to a certain description of themselves. The boys like being defined in certain ways. We all do…everything’s such a confusing muddle, and it makes it easier if you have a semi-solid notion of yourself from which to make sense of it all. As an example…Malcolm is the boy who will try any food, Isaac is the boy who refuses to taste a thing. This is a thing that’s been decided, and Isaac is almost proud of it. But it’s just not true! In fact, I’d go even farther to say that the idea that children like bland, pale foods, and we should start out feeding them tasteless things, and trick them into eating anything else, is also, just not true. We fed tiny Malcolm oatmeal and yogurt and bananas. Then, one day, on a whim, we gave him orzo with pesto on it. Who turned the lights on? Flavor! Strong, sharp flavor! (Tiny little pasta that squishes through your fingers and drives the dog crazy when you scatter it ont the floor!) I think all children like strong flavors – Isaac likes olives and goat cheese – he always has. They both love capers, which they call flavor dynamites. We just have to give them a chance to try these things! Tapenade baby food, anyone?

Isaac eats a chickpea

So when I made this Moroccan-spiced chickpea stew, Isaac refused to try it, because that’s what he does. Then I gave him a chickpea. He ate that, and helped himself to more. I gave him an olive. He ate that, and spooned a few more onto his plate. By the time the rest of us had left the table, I looked out the window and saw that he’d pulled the whole serving plate toward him, and was eating everything together, hungrily. So we’ll take Isaac swimming, and Malcolm will curl up on the couch with a good book.

The stew was really tasty, and it’s a good way to use up all your tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers, if you’re sick and tired of ratatouille. It’s not authentically Moroccan-spiced, of course. It’s just that it’s a pleasing mixture of savory spices and herbs, and “sweet” spices and herbs. And the bread! Well, I’d been reading fascinating accounts of Moroccan flatbread, that generally contain semolina, and are folded into all sorts of beautiful fashions. I decided to play around with these ideas, but in one big loaf. It turned out very nice! With a lovely texture and flavor – crumbly, chewy, and satisfying. If you don’t feel like doing all the crazy folding, you could just shape it into a nice round, and leave it at that.

Here’s Peter Tosh’s beautiful I Am that I Am.

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Lemon-caper roasted potatoes and the best bread I’ve ever made

Lemon caper potatoes

Here at the naive political philosophy department of The Ordinary, we are sick and tired of worrying about money. And bills. And not having money to pay bills. We suspect that we are not the only ones who feel this way. We have been applying ourselves to solve the problem. Here’s how it will go… Everybody will work very hard doing what they love, and they will have as much as they need to live comfortably. We trust that everybody will love to do different things, so the jobs should be nicely distributed. If somebody feels that they don’t love any kind of work, they will go to school for a time until they figure it out. Education should prepare you for a career by helping you discover your passion, and that’s how it will work. The crappy jobs that nobody wants to do will be divided evenly by everybody, and performed a few hours a day or a few days a week – whatever is necessary and pleasant. Everybody! These jobs generally involve serving people, caring for people, or cleaning up after people, and when everybody has to take a turn at them, we will all develop a love and respect for humanity that will humble and elevate us. You cannot buy your way out of this. In this way, we will reconsider our societal notions of what is valuable, and of what is successful. If you isolate yourself with more riches than you can use, and accumulate more things than you need, you will not be admired, you will seem foolish. Children are taught not to be greedy, not to want more than everybody else, and we will remember these teachings as adults. Everybody will look into their own heart or soul or stomach – wherever they make important decisions – to decide what they need, including, of course, things that don’t seem strictly necessary, but give pleasure or inspiration. So you might say to yourself, “I would like a half pint of castelvetrano olives, but I don’t think I need an elevator for my car.” This is our plan, and I’m sure you can see that it is the essence of pragmatism, and that it will be extremely practical to implement, and will go off hitch-free, and that nobody can quibble with it in any way.

In keeping with the practicality of this post, we will give you two recipes at once, and both will be for practical things – bread and potatoes. This bread is the best bread that I have ever made! All the other loaves have been preparation for this bread. It is crispy, it has a big open grain – it has holes! It’s chewy, and tasty. I nearly killed my food processor making it!! I’ve been experimenting with wetter and wetter dough, these last few months – to the point that it became very messy to knead with my hands. I was thrilled to get my food processor, because I thought I could use it to knead the dough. It worked, but at some point it seized up! There was a bad smell of burning. The dough was stuck in the food processor, the blade wouldn’t move, the container would not be budged! I scraped all the dough out into a bowl, and everything worked out in the end. I must have left it too long. The other recipe is for a medley of different types of potatoes (from our CSA!) We have red-skinned, white fleshed, golden fleshed. We scrubbed them, cut them in half, boiled them briefly, combined them with olive oil, oregano, capers, olives and lemon juice, and broiled them. Perhaps the most delightful and unexpected part of this recipe is that the capers (or flavor dynamites, as my sons call them) got crispy. Crispy! They’re delicious.

Best bread I’ve ever made!

Here’s The Velvet Underground with Beginning to see the Light. Some people work very hard, but still they never get it right. Ain’t it the truth?
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