travel

Visiting Mauro Berardi and Campo dei Fiori in May

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It’s time to make a springtime visit to Rome again.  I love visiting Mauro and wandering through the market early in the day looking at all the spring vegetables.  I love  those lovely little roman artichokes, watching them being cleaned and dropped into the acidified water.  The women cleaning the puntarelle spend all day cleaning and dropping the puntarelle into buckets of water

Campo Dei Fiori
Spring markets

 

But of course, the main treat for me is meeting with Mauro, Marco and Maurizio at Spezie Famose nel Mondo the most famous and largest seller of spices in the market.  I am contacted by people from all over the world looking to replace the spice mixes they purchase from Mauro.  Fortunately I almost always have a good supply of the most popular mixes available.  Contact me to find out if I have the ones you are looking for.

I am off to Rome for the month of May so if you are looking for anything in particular don’t wait, send me a request by email to be sure I bring back what you are looking for.

In addition to shopping for spices with Mauro, I will be locating Olive oil.  I know there is oil available in Vetralla and hopefully I can acquire some additional oil from Farfa, where I brought back the fabulous olio nuovo in November last year.  I won’t know until I get there what there might be available.  I have read the articles about the weather problems, but since I deal directly with growers sometimes it can be misleading and my sources availability is quite different.  I also will have to wait until I arrive to find out if there is any honey from Sardinia left.  I know those harvests were also short this year.  I continue to bring back what is available –  sometimes it is mostly Girasole (sunflower) and millefiore (wildflower) but if you have a particular type you want, please let me know, since sometimes Stefano can locate it for me in his hidden places.

Do not hesitate to email me with any special requests.  I will be checking emails often.  I will shop Milan, Tuscany (Orbetello, Florence and a few small villages)  scarves from a few sources that are reliable with their italian fabrics and italian employees that are still priced affordably.  And, if there are any new items that are interesting.  It looks like the exchange rate will hover around $1.09 to $1.00 while I am there.  If you are not on my mailing list please drop me an email and I will be happy to add you to my newsletter so you know what it available.  Enjoy shopping Italy from home.

Summer Thoughts

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I have been more than a little lax in keeping up with posts this summer.  I only wish it were because I was in Italy, but no such good fortune.  But, as August progresses, I am already thinking of my next trip, which is for the month of October.    I am putting shopping lists together already.    Do not forget to email me if you want me to shop for you.

In the interim, I wanted to share with you the recent posting of one of my favorite food writers, Rachel Roddy.  Rachel lives in Italy (a British export) and has written a lovely cookbook, “My Kitchen In Rome”.  Her style is simple, home cooking.

Often in American cooking we forget the importance of even the most simple of ingredients.  An Italian cook would never waste leftover bread and breadcrumbs are an important part of many Italian recipes.  Of course, their bread does not have any chemicals in it and always breaks my heart to see anyone waste even a really stale piece of it.

Here’s a recent column of Rachel’s.   I hope you’ll try her suggestions.

A simple Sicilian-style mix of breadcrumbs and almonds complements a wide array of recipes, but I find it’s best incarnation is as a crust for a fresh fillet of fish – serve with a tomato, caper and onion salad for a light summer supper

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Fish in breadcrumbs with a tomato salad. Photograph: Rachel Roddy for the Guardian

Swordfish with breadcrumbs and almonds was one of the first meals I ate during my first visit to Sicily 12 years ago. I was in Catania, at one of the trattoria that seem to appear from nowhere once the fish market closes down for the day and scrubs up well for the night. The appearance of that slice of swordfish, seeming slightly suffocated by its topping, surprised me – especially after the wild excitement of the theatrical fish market that morning. It was like meeting up with your grandma after a night out with friends. But it was delicious pleasing – I still remember the flavour. Lots more breadcrumbs and almonds followed – not always together – on that trip, and those that came after I hooked up with a Sicilian. Sicilians use breadcrumbs all the time; a resourceful habit born of necessity and the idea that you never, ever throw away bread, which is now part of the fabric of their cooking. I have picked up the habit; I always have a big bag of fine, dry breadcrumbs in the kitchen. They’re almost irritatingly good at everything: stuffing, puffing, coating, topping and a tool to stop things sticSo, the place I borrowed the idea from was a restaurant in a town calledScoglitti, which is 30 miles along the coast from us here in Gela. The owners’ daughter, who is part French, is absolutely fabulous, with her red lips, denim hotpants and ankle boots. There is not much room for manoeuvre; she tells us in a deep voice that rolls from her lips: “I know what you want.” And you don’t doubt it. The antipasti start arriving, little dish after little dish: an oyster each; peeled, blood-red prawns that are some of the most plump and pure I have ever eaten; slices of raw tuna and swordfish; cubes of octopus and butterflies of anchovy; enormous, yellow mussels stretching like acrobats across their shells; tiny clams called telline,tasting like a liquor made from sea water; sardines rolled up so they look like little fat birds; and spatola with almonds and breadcrumbs served with sweet onions. Spatola is a long, flat fish as silver and shiny as a newly minted coin. At markets and in shops spatola are often coiled, making them look a bit like a neat drawful of glittery belts. Ours were served as long fillets cut into short lengths, topped with breadcrumbs and almonds, then baked until the fish had fallen into delicate, but firm flakes, the crumbs a comfy crust. It was were one of the least showy dishes, but one we appreciated a lot, homely and good. My son stashed clamshells to take home in his pocket; I put the idea in mine.

Rachel Roddy’s fish with an almond and breadcrumb crust recipe

A simple Sicilian-style mix of breadcrumbs and almonds complements a wide array of recipes, but I find it’s best incarnation is as a crust for a fresh fillet of fish – serve with a tomato, caper and onion salad for a light summer supper

Rachel Roddy

Publish

In the hope that this column is beginning to feel like a series, rather than string of unrelated episodes, I am starting where I left off last week, with breadcrumbs. More specifically, breadcrumbs with almonds, which makes them sound a bit fussy, though they aren’t. Quite the opposite in fact – a handful of crumbs, some chopped almonds and pinch of salt are easy and accommodating. Last week, I suggested toasting crumbs in olive oil, then putting them on pasta with slowly cooked courgettes, or their oversized Sicilian cousins, cucuzze. This week, I am going to return the idea to the place I borrowed it from, and suggest you put them on fish, which you then bake.

Swordfish with breadcrumbs and almonds was one of the first meals I ate during my first visit to Sicily 12 years ago. I was in Catania, at one of the trattoria that seem to appear from nowhere once the fish market closes down for the day and scrubs up well for the night. The appearance of that slice of swordfish, seeming slightly suffocated by its topping, surprised me – especially after the wild excitement of the theatrical fish market that morning. It was like meeting up with your grandma after a night out with friends. But it was delicious pleasing – I still remember the flavour. Lots more breadcrumbs and almonds followed – not always together – on that trip, and those that came after I hooked up with a Sicilian. Sicilians use breadcrumbs all the time; a resourceful habit born of necessity and the idea that you never, ever throw away bread, which is now part of the fabric of their cooking. I have picked up the habit; I always have a big bag of fine, dry breadcrumbs in the kitchen. They’re almost irritatingly good at everything: stuffing, puffing, coating, topping and a tool to stop things sticking.

So, the place I borrowed the idea from was a restaurant in a town calledScoglitti, which is 30 miles along the coast from us here in Gela. The owners’ daughter, who is part French, is absolutely fabulous, with her red lips, denim hotpants and ankle boots. There is not much room for manoeuvre; she tells us in a deep voice that rolls from her lips: “I know what you want.” And you don’t doubt it. The antipasti start arriving, little dish after little dish: an oyster each; peeled, blood-red prawns that are some of the most plump and pure I have ever eaten; slices of raw tuna and swordfish; cubes of octopus and butterflies of anchovy; enormous, yellow mussels stretching like acrobats across their shells; tiny clams called telline,tasting like a liquor made from sea water; sardines rolled up so they look like little fat birds; and spatola with almonds and breadcrumbs served with sweet onions. Spatola is a long, flat fish as silver and shiny as a newly minted coin. At markets and in shops spatola are often coiled, making them look a bit like a neat drawful of glittery belts. Ours were served as long fillets cut into short lengths, topped with breadcrumbs and almonds, then baked until the fish had fallen into delicate, but firm flakes, the crumbs a comfy crust. It was were one of the least showy dishes, but one we appreciated a lot, homely and good. My son stashed clamshells to take home in his pocket; I put the idea in mine.

I like it when a new idea, flung into the kitchen like a rubber ball, bounces around enthusiastically seeing where it fits, or doesn’t. First, there was pasta, then I used breadcrumbs and almonds to stuff aubergines and tomatoes, then came the fish: spatola, bream and mackerel. All three fish worked, but the mackerel was best: its thick, milky flesh is a good, sturdy match for the coarse, nutty crust. Fish and breadcrumbs need a foil, something to offer contrast: sweet, sour, salty, pungent. A salad of tomatoes, red onion and capers is a brilliant and typically Sicilian combination. If you wanted – or three more people turned up – you could bulk out the salad with bread too, or top it with some salted ricotta. Whatever fish you use, it all comes together quickly, but provides slow, good-flavoured food that satisfies but doesn’t sink you, which is what I ask for on these long, and fiercely hot, summer days.

Fish with a breadcrumb and almond crust

Serves 4
60g blanched almonds, chopped
1 unwaxed lemon
150g dry breadcrumbs
Salt and black pepper
A pinch of oregano (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
4-8 fillets of fish (mackerel, bream, spatola, bass)

To serve
1 large red onion or several shallots
Vinegar
4 large ripe tomatoes
A handful of capers
Olive oil

1 Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper or foil and preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

2 Peel and slice the onion into half moons, then soak for 20 minutes in water acidulated with 3 tbsp vinegar.

3 Mix the almonds, lemon zest and breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt, some pepper and the oregano, if using.

4 Brush the fillets with oil, then press the fillet side into the breadcrumb mix, so it is well coated. Lay the fillets skin-side down on the baking tray. Zig-zag with olive oil. Bake until cooked through and the crumbs are golden – which will take 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets. – yYou need to keep an eye on them, and taste.

5 Chop the tomatoes over a plate to catch the juices. Drain the onion and capers, then mix with the tomatoes. Dress with olive oil and a pinch of salt, add a dash of vinegar if you like.

6 Serve the fish with the tomato salad and wedges of lemon.

  • Rachel Roddy is a food blogger based in Rome and the author of Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Saltyard, 2015) and winner of the 2015 André Simon food book award.  You can find her column in “The Guardian” or at Rachel Eats on wordpress.

If you are running low on spices from Campo dei Fiori, I still have some available.  Email me at expresslyitalian@aol.com and tell me what you want.

 

Home Cooking Italian Style

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It is always a pleasure to have Italian casareccio (homemade food).    It is even more exciting to enjoy it here in the U.S. and made by a well known Italian cook.  Stefania Aphel Barzini has been in the United States giving cooking classes and having events for about a month.  She finally reached Los Angeles last week.  If you are not familiar with Stefania, take a side trip to her website:  www.follecasseroula.com.  She does cooking classes in Rome as well as special events and week long events in a few regions outside Rome.  And, if you’re planning on a trip to Rome, put her on your list of things not to be missed.   Her experience as a food writer, cookbook author and cooking show presenter shine through no matter what she does.

The first event in Los Angeles was sponsored by ArtBites.net.  Maite Gomez-Rejón’s company pairs art, history and cooking in tours and classes around the southland.  The cooking portion was to be a Tuscan lunch so Maite started at the Los Angeles County Museum talking of Florentine art and artists from the dark ages to the Renaissance. She is very knowledgeable about art history and food.  We then moved on to Surfas (a cafe/kitchen store in Culver City).  It’s a wonderful kitchen for classes and Stefania along with her assistant Paola made a magical afternoon that ended with a fantastic lunch.  They are all so experienced about foods, especially regional products throughout Italy I am always happy to join a class since there is always some new tidbit of information I have never before heard.

 

 

The lunch was a Tuscan luncheon and included a fabulous artichoke and potato soup, a panzanella salad and a couple kinds of bruschetta.  The meatballs in tomato sauce were unbelievably tasty and the peach upside down cake was a finishing treat.

When you travel finding a cooking class is  a great experience and wonderful way to connect to local cuisine and you will remember the experience a long time.

One of the best dishes Stefania prepared was Zolfini bean bruschetta.  Unfortunately, you cannot get these terrific beans here in the U.S.  They  are grown only in a limited area of Tuscany, and not exported.  But you can substitute northern navy beans.  Try this healthy, high protein antipasto.

Zolfini Bean Bruschetta

Toasted Bread (Italian)
2-1/4 cups zolfini or navy beans
a small rosemary branch
2 cloves of garlic
1 shallot. chopped
really good quality extra virgin olive oil
Sea Salt and Pepper
Sautè 1 garlic clove with the shallot and rosemary in a pan.  Turn into a crock pot, add the beans, cover them with water and let cook covered over low heat until beans are softened.  Depending on the age and size of the beans –  from 2 to 4 hours.  Purèe the mixture in a blender or use a stick blender.  Rub the bread with a garlic clove, then spread some beans over the top, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper.  Serve immediately.  So simple, so good and so good-for-you.

 

Having access to the wonderful foods of Italy that are not readily available in the U.S. is my mission.  Expressly Italian is your personal shopper from Italy to you.  I want everyone, whether you travel or not, to experience real Italian tastes.  Much of the year I have some of the finest extra virgin olive oils (including olio nuovo till it’s gone) and honey from Sardinia (one of the only places on earth with no polution.  I want everyone to share the excitement of the wonderful spice mixes from Mauro Berardi’s Campo dei Fiori market stall.  I am contacted by people from all over the world asking how to acquire  Mauro’s mixes outside of Italy.   I have  his most popular mixes available all the time.    If you are interested in knowing all the items I bring back from Italy twice a year or want me to bring something (duty free) back for you, please drop me an email at:  expresslyitalian@aol.com and I will happily add you to my mailing list.

My love of Italy, the people, the food fuels my life.  I hope you share my joy in the Italian way of eating.

 

 

End of the Year Reflections

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It has been a little over two years since I decided to fund my trips to Italy by introducing more people to the true flavors of Italy, along with true Italian cooking. What a learning experience it has been.    I have slowed it to two trips a year, each four to six weeks.  Every trip brings new experiences and amazing finds to share with people who have not been to Italy, or those who have not visited recently.  Much of what I bring no tourist would ever find.   There are times when I find it difficult to track some of the things I look for!

The last trip was to locate some of the most precious of olive oils, olio nuovo.  It is the  “new oil”,  the first extra virgin olive oil off the press each season.   There are many ‘rules’ for true olio nuovo.  The DOP (Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta) is a government assigned designation that assures that products are produced locally according to pretty regid requirements.  The DOP olio nuovo (at least in Sabina – one of the first ever given) means that the olives have to be processed within 48 hours of picking.  (no sitting in trucks).  They are permitted only to wash them in water before processing and there are pretty stringent rules about the processing.    All this means that if you are getting real olio nuovo, you are getting the freshest,  least tampered with flavors of the olives.  There is an amazing difference both in taste, and the levels of antioxidants in these oils.  Few Americans ever have the opportunity to taste these oils since they are not really for export.  Obviously the nature of being only the first pressing, means a limited quantity and I have found Italians are not really anxious to share these rare oils.  They are rarely in stores in Italy, let alone elsewhere.

Last year, there was little olio nuovo available.  The places I spoke with said there was none available for other than the growers and ‘favored’ clients.  This year I was determined to bring enough back to share the experience.  I started heading to Farfa, where my personal favorite oil is found.  Farfa is only an hour or so from Rome in the Sabine Hills.  It is a lovely area of winding roads and groves dating back as far as 2,000 years.  Unfortunately, it is also an area of little reception for GPS or phones.  My hour drive took almost two since the GPS kept rerouting me in circles.  I finally found the frantoio (olive mill) I was looking for and arrived just as a truck load of olives arrived.  It was exciting to see  the process as well as taste the oil.  I bought what was on hand (not much) and headed out to explore the local museum of olive oil.  Then started the whole process again in Tuscany, Vetralla and Puglia.  Some fantastic oil this year everywhere.

oleoteca-farfa 20151017_130734 20151017_131640

Driving throughout the areas where there are frantoi gives you a really personal attachment to the oils.  Many of them are quite concerned that you know what you are buying.  Lots of attention is paid to tastings.  And, there are many surprising differences between these oils in different regions.  Many have a strong fruity flavor with a finish of citrus, or pepper or a little green flavor.    It has been a real learning experience and I wish there were an opportunity for everyone to experience these tastes.   So much of my searching is word of mouth, so I depend on all my Italian friends and my expat friends living in Italy.

The last stop on every trip is the market at Campo dei Fiori and a meeting with Mauro Berardi with his Spezie Famose nel Mondo – which truly are world famous spices.  It is astonishing to me how many inquiries I regularly get from all over the world about replacing spices bought at his stall.    Mauro, Marco and Fabrizio are very kind to me.  I get the freshest of the mixes, a few added scoops of the priciest parts of the mixes and each time more information about how to keep them fresh.  A few years ago Mauro insisted they would keep two years if kept in a plastic bag in the dark.  No glass, nothing else.  And, they did stay fresh that long, if they were around.  Through the last couple of years he has changed his mind about the best ways to keep them fresh.  Currently, they will last best if kept in plastic or glass, but in the refrigerator.  Certainly, the Puttanesca mix (which contains both sundried tomatoes and olives) needs to be refrigerated.

Each trip I find that the requests for his mixes grows and I have included pesto mix, bruschetta mix and bolognese to the most popular Campo dei Fiori mix, Puttanesca and Arrabbiata mixes and some others as special requests.  Since Mauro cannot ship outside Italy it makes me very happy to be able to keep people in spices here.

In between the oil and spices, there is always honey from Sardegna and condiments from Calabria.  And, the special requests of many clients for things I had not tried myself.  Each trip is different, and exciting learning experience.

I hope that I can continue personal shopping for many years to come.  I am grateful to all those who have found me and are experiencing the fun and flavors I can bring them.    It is a fulfilling and fun way to get myself to Italy often.20151018_091107-1 20151026_132649-1 20151031_133000-1

 

This is the year to visit Milan

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I was lucky to have the chance to visit Milan and see Expo Milan during the first week.  After all the articles about graft, missed deadlines, poor signage and all the other negatives, I really was not certain I would be impressed.  Do not let the complainers sway you.  This is a once-in a-lifetime event.  I visited about 3 days after the opening.  It is true, there is 20 per cent unfinished, some of the directional signs are not perfect and some of the exhitions did not work perfectly.  BUT…. It is an amazing accomplishment to put together and pull off something of this scale.  And by week three all the bumps will be fixed.  Go!

I arrived by Metro.  Very easy.  I had no idea how long the walk to the entrance was.  Next time I think I would take a bus.  Not as convenient, but it gets you much closer.

Entering Expo from the Metro

This is one of the many long walkways. Eventually you walk into a huge,very well organized area with colored separations For different kinds of tickets. I had a prepaid ticket with an open date and went through a yellow aisle. There were many people to answer questions and direct yoU, speaking many languages. You go through security similar to the airport. All this took about half an hour from when I left the Metro.

They even scanned my watch!
They even scanned my watch!

Then you start.  Basically it is a very long wide promenade with side streets.  Lots of food, lots of interesting exhibits.

Just to warn visitors.  Bring sunblock and a hat.  It will be very hot soon.  They have many places to stop or sit but many are in the sun.

And, allow two days to dio it justice.  I spent 7 hours with a number of rest stops and I saw most of the pavilions and exhibits but I want to spend more time in a few places.

One not finished, but gorgeous
The Japan Pavilion
A Japanese Wood Carver
A Japanese Wood Carver

Expo

Expo

There is so much to see. Great concepts, great amounts of plantings and it is well covered by helpful volunteers to direct you or answer questions.

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Sustainable food

I took almost 200 photos.
I took almost 200 photos.

My advice; find your way to Milan this year.  Not only for Expo Milan, but the city has many events throughout the year.  I saw the DaVinci exhibit at Plazzo Reale as  well  as the exhibits at the Triennale di Milan, a fabulous building and museum that has an “Arts and Food” show now.

My main reason for being in Milan though was to get honey from Sardinia.  I have all the types and prices in my newsletter.  Well, it will be as soon as my computer cooperates.  This shopping trip has been a great success.  If you are not on my mailing list and want to be, email me at ‘ExpresslyItalian@aol.com’ and I will add your name.

Great pure honey with all the health benefits you can use.
Great pure honey with all the health benefits you can use.  And this is only a sampler of the available types.

This trip I am bringing not only honey but spices from Mauro Berardi in Rome at Campo dei Fiori, olive oil from Tuscany and sun dried tomatoes from Sicily. Do not wait if you want something, quantities as always are very limited.  I am shopping to introduce everyone to the tastes and foods of Italy that never reach outside Italy.

Expo

China Pavilion       Entry Gate Milan ExpoSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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The newly opened canal in Milan – there are several with restaurants and galleries alongside.

A newly opened canal in Milan.
Did you know Milan has canals?

Expo Milano 2015 is close – Make a trip to see a World’s Fair

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This is an exciting time –  spring is bound to be hitting the whole country soon, Easter is almost here and the 2015 Expo Milano is almost ready to open!   This Universal Exposition which takes place every five years, each time in a different country.  This year, from  May 1  to  October 31, the 272 acres the Expo is on will be available for the world to enjoy.

Expo 2015 is themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” with a focus on sustainability and innovation. All 140 participating countries will showcase their unique cultural and culinary traditions, within self-built lots, to the 20 million expected visitors from around the globe.   Whew!  That’s a lot of people, but it is a great amount of space to cover. And that’s without considering that there is also all of Milan to see.  And, the Milanese have so many planned events in the city to entertain all the visitors it is a cannot miss trip.

expo map Milan

MSP_CDA_halfsize_1523

The layout of the Expo grounds are inspired by a Roman city of ancient times.  The city has allocated over 60 pavilions in this ‘village’ to participating countries which will line either side of the long central division. Italy’s exhibition area intersects to form a global meeting place called Piazza Italia. The space has also provisioned for event areas like the open-air theatre, Lake Arena and children’s park, as well as clusters for other official industry participants.

 

There is even a Google interactive map you can watch what is happening in real time. Check it out. Google Earth – Expo 2015 the EU pavillion – interactive map http://europa.eu/expo2015/node/115

I did not see that the U.S. Pavilion has a google map dedicated to it, but it is moving along quickly to completion.  The US Pavilion – Designed by award-winning architect, James Biber, the USA Pavilion pays homage to our rich agricultural history with an open design delimited by a large vertical farm that will be harvested daily. An homage to the barn is reflected in the design of the pavilion.

Located in central Milan for the duration of the Expo, the James Beard American Restaurant will showcase American cuisine, ingredients, and beverages with a rotating roster of American culinary talent. Thanksgiving dinner will be served every Thursday and Jazz or Gospel brunch every Sunday.

Leading up to Expo Milano and throughout the six months of the fair, the USA Pavilion will be programming daily activities, on the topics encompassed by our theme American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet. From conferences on global food security to cooking demonstrations, panels on technological innovation in the food system to conversations with top farmers and chefs, we’ll explore various aspects of food, food culture, and the future of our food system. Topics will cover a broad and diverse spectrum, including how to manage water resources, the importance of food labeling, healthy school lunch, traditional American cooking, and how can we create a burger that’s better for our health and better for our environment.

If you are planning on travel in Europe this year, be sure to put this on your itinerary.  It’s really a unique experience that cannot be repeated.  Being Milan, the city has really gone all out to provide an Expo experience throughout the entire city while the fair is happening.  There are art events, fashion events, tours, and so much has been already completed to make the entire city ready for the spotlight.

Among the most important events already on schedule, Milan will feature the biggest exhibition ever organized in Italy of Leonardo da Vinci with works of the Renaissance icon borrowed from Italian and international museums.

Another exhibition will be dedicated to Giotto, the Florentine painter who revolutionized the depiction of figure in the 1300s, with three of his masterpieces on loan.

International artists from avant-garde to today will represent the theme of motherhood that most of all embodies the idea of nutrition, central theme of Expo Milano 2015, in an exhibition, “The Great Mother,” gathering over 80 works of the 20th century.

Music will be central, Del Corno added, with extraordinary programs at Teatro alla Scala, that for the first time will stay open in August with a total of 140 spectacles during the six-month expo, and Piccolo Teatro, which will perform in many languages including English, Chinese and Greek.

“Milan will be a stage open to everybody,” the assessor went on saying. Duomo Square, in the heart of Milan, will host classic and pop concerts free of charge, while public spaces in the city from parks to trams will be animated by countless music performances, book fairs, street markets and thematic events including many dedicated to water.

The architecture of the fair is wildly impressive.   Here’s a photo of the entry gate proposal, I saw in Milan a couple years ago.   This is the only structure that will remain after the fair.  It’s by Nemesi & Partners and is a smog eating, almost zero energy building.  It is exciting and I cannot wait to see this in person.


Entry Gate Milan Expo
Nemesi entry Italy

 

 

If I sound excited, I am.  I have already purchased tickets for my upcoming trip in April (they have a ‘soft’ opening starting this month), but also for my fall trip, in September.

I’m leaving on my spring buying trip in late March! In addition to touring the Expo Milan, I’ll be shopping for all kinds of goodies to bring my shoppers.

Fresh Sardinian honey and propolis as well as some of his propolis soap and beauty cream is high on my list.    Honey from Sardinia is extra special since it is harvesting from one of the few pollutant free environs in the world.  No wonder it tastes so good.   Stefano has honey from a variety of locations on the island, since there are over 200 species of nectar producing plants, I get everything from Acacia and Ailanto to Malata and even Corbezzolo.  From the Maremma I will bring  some of their unique items like Colatura di alici da Cetara, and the purest fennel pollen available anywhere and some of the products from the organic small growers in the area like La Parrina and Terra Etrusco in Capalbio and near Il Poderino in Montiano.

And, of course, the important stop at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi’s Spezie famose nel mondo (world famous spices).  Anyone who has visited that market seems to have purchased some of his spice mixes.  And, they are not available anywhere else.  He does not ship outside of Italy, but he is happy to supply me to bring them home and make them available to everyone.   The most popular are the Campo dei Fiori Mix and Mauro’s Pasta Mix.  Both of these have the same ingredients, except Mauro’s mix has no salt or pepper.  This mix enhances everything it touches.  Whether cooked or fresh, it adds a depth of flavor well beyond the ingredients listed.  I use it in almost anything I cook from salads (where I sprinkle a small bit on the lettuces) to soups, meat marinades, and any pasta.  If you’ve tried it, you are a fan, no doubt.

Every trip brings special requests and new finds.  If you are already on my newsletter mailing list, you’ll be kept up-to-date on my trip.  If you are not receiving the newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to add you to the list.

Don’t forget this is a great year to travel to Europe.  The euro exchange rate is lower than in many years, currently about 1.10 euro to a dollar.  And, Expo Milan is a unique experience never to be repeated.

 

CARNEVALE – NOT JUST FOR VENICE

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If you’ve ever been in Italy before Easter, you know the joys of Carnevale.  Although Venice is world renowned for it’s amazing Carnevale parties, costumes and celebrations, but other areas of Italy are also in the spirit of full on celebrating before the deprivations of Lent. The kick off for Carnevale is February 17th, this year.  Venice is an exceptional exprience at this time of year, but celebrations are held all over Italy from Venice and Milan down to the villages and towns of Sicily. The celebration of Carnevale is the Italian version of Mardi Gras. of beads.

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Originally, Carnevale used the costumes and  masks to allow the people to mingle, the rich were not recognized and the poor could parade as if they were equal and no one would know.  And, there were plenty of women who chose to dress as men, and vice versa.   Today the costumes and masks continue to captivate young and old.    And, each area of the country has their own way to celebrate.

In the past few years, Ivrea, which has been celebrating this way since the 1600’s has been getting more attention because part of their celebrations is to throw 400 tons of oranges.  Yep, 400 TONS.  This is the celebration of the town uprising against the regime in power.  It’s very much like our Boston Tea Party, although much messier.  Like most Italian events it is accompanied by a parade, a palio (competition) and then a huge feast, and of course,  fireworks displays.

 

 

ITALY-CARNIVAL-IVREAThere are many cities throughout the country that have equally unique Carnevale celebrations.  In Viterbo, which is just north of Rome., the commune of  Ronciglione has become quite well  known for their celebration.   They  have been celebrating for more than a century so there is a well established program.  They have a “King of Carnevale” who takes over the town from the mayor and begins the parties. He’s followed by riderless horses running through town.  There are days of horse races, parades with floats, parties and confetti thrown.  And, of course, lots of food.

Carnevale Ronciglione riderless horses

Then there is Rome.   Since about 2010, Rome has re-invented their Carnevale. And,  the celebration seems to be growing very quickly. Carnevale is very much for the kids and family in Rome.  For them, it is a combination Halloween and Christmas and they love being in costume.    There are many events to entertain the children from the Zoo having special programs, to horse shows and competitions and some racing.

Rome’s Carnevale, it has always been about the horses.  The most well-known of Rome’s annual carnival events is the horse-drawn parade taking place along Via del Corso at 16.00 on 17 February. Involving more than 100 horses and carriages, the parade evokes the Berber horse race that was historically the most important event of the Roman Carnival until 1874 when it was abolished by King Victor Emmanuel II due to the death of a spectator.   The finale is a really spectacular fireworks display in Piazza del Popolo.

There is always a full program of musical performances when there is a celebration in Rome and certainly there are many of all types of music available this month.  Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona are both centers filled with children and families watching the street performers, puppet shows and throwing confetti on everyone.  It’s great fun.

This year Rome Carnevale celebrates Queen Christina of Sweden on the 360th anniversary of her arrival in Rome, with a number of initiatives organised by the city in collaboration with the Swedish embassy and the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome.   So you can expect many art exibitions and musical programs for this tribute.

Carnevale Rome - Carabinere

Ahhhhh.  And the food.  Never forget the food.  Like most things in Italy, although the sweets may be similar, each region has their own name for them.  In Rome, the most popular  sweet, and only available during this time is the frappe. Frappe are flat, crisp sweets often covered with powdered sugar.  They are also called Frappole, Sfrappole, Flappe in central Italy, Cenci (“tatters”) orDonzelli (“young ladies”) in Tuscany, Crostoli (“crusts”) or Galani in Veneto,Lattughe (“lettuce”) in Romagna, Nastri delle Suore (“ribbons of the nuns”) in Emilia, Bugie (“lies”) in Piemonte, and Gigi in Sicily.  I am drooling just thinking about those sweet crunchy treats.   But, don’t forget to try the bigne, which  are filled with cream, usually yellow, but sometimes you can find a cream of a different flavour; and castagnole are fried balls of dough about the size of a chestnut covered in sugar.

I have a great recipe for castagnole.  They are a little like a cake doughnut.  You just pop them in your mouth and it is amazing how many you can consume before you even realize it.  The sugared balls are very popular, but there are also the gorgeous ones that are done by first dipping them in Alchermes, the blood-red Florentine liqueur, before the sugar coating: the ‘bath’ in the liqueur gives them a look of tiny peaches.

Here’s a recipe so you can try them yourself.castagnole-all-alchermes-612x266

200g flour, preferably ‘00’, about  7/8ths of a cup
40g butter, about 3 Tablespoons
2 eggs
40g sugar,  1/3 cup
8 g baking powder, 2 teaspoons
Grated zest of one lemon
Oil for frying
Granulated sugar
Alchermes (optional)
Directions:

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder together in a large bowl. Create a well and add the butter and eggs and lemon zest. Begin beating the ingredients from the center and slowly incorporate the flour.  (This is the same mixing process you use to make pasta!)   Mix  until all the flour is absorbed and a thick dough is created.

Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.  Divide into four parts and roll each part out into a long cord. Cut each cord into chestnut-sized pieces.
Heat the oil for frying. Deep fry the dough until golden. Remove from the oil and place on a tray with paper towels. Let drain for 1 minute.

Quickly place in a bowl with the Alchermes (if using) and roll to lightly soak the balls. Remove from the Alchermes and place in a small paper bag with 1 cup of granulated sugar and shake to cover lightly with sugar.   If you do not use the Alchermes, just put them directly into a paper bag with the sugar and coat.
They are best eaten warm, but can also be served at room temperature.   I do not know how long they keep, I have never had any left over.

A New Year – Moving towards Spring

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Well the New Year has started and it has taken me till mid-January to get my feet beneath me to settle in to this new year.  It has been a very busy time and I am looking forward to a very dull and boring February to allow myself some breathing space and the chance to feel like I am really here.   Of course, I could be in Italy.

One of my English speaking blogs from Rome just sent a newsletter saying that Rome’s politicos are at it again.  They often bring a smile along with the news, even when the news is bad.  Rome’s tourists could be hit with new tax hike. Visitors to Rome may soon have to rethink their budget, if plans to increase hotel tourist tax go ahead.  Under these recent proposals, tourists could see up to €10 a night added to their bill, Italian media reported on Thursday.

The planned changes come just four months after city hall hiked the “accomodation tax” to between €3 and €7 a night depending on the type of hotel, while those pitching a tent have had to pay €2 for the privilege since September 1st.  I’m not sure where you can even pitch a tent in Rome.

The new €10 a night rate would apply to five-star hotels in the Italian capital, for a maximum of ten consecutive nights, a city hall spokesman said.  The measure needs to be discussed and voted on before it can implemented.  Tourist tax rates for lower-grade hotels will stay the same.  You have to laugh when the rest of the article states that “Rome is reeling from revelations of widespread corruption at city hall, allegedly led by a one-eyed former terrorist whose mafia group for years siphoned off vital funds for services.   You have to love the way the Italian government works.   The best news is that is will unlikely happen and if it does it will not be implemented effectively.   As it is the earlier raise to 3 euro a night disappeared into the city coffers and no one can tell where it went and certainly not whether it benefitted tourism in any way.

When I talked of catching my breath, I was referring to my return from my fall trip to Italy.  I returned to LA just in time for Thanksgiving.  Yes, it has taken me that long to get back to a normal schedule.  I arrived just in time to unpack all my goodies and begin packing gift basket orders before breaking briefly for Thanksgiving dinner (which I did not cook this year).  Then, back to work, for days doing the complicated calculations of converting weights, euros and ingredients from Italian to English.   While a dear friend had a end of season event for Cabi clothes at my home  we did a bit of an Expressly Italian tasting of the new products.  Then it was back to basket construction right up to Christmas week.  I did manage to factor in a little Christmas shopping before Christmas.   But, the baskets were delivered and received with great enthusiasm.  Every basket was unique and tailored to the receiver as much as possible, from the basket for the man who does not cook at all, to the cook who is so experienced she is impossible to impress.  Everyone seemed to be excited to try all their surprises.  And, it made me realize that baskets should not be just for Christmas, but are just as exciting to receive for Easter, or birthdays or anniversaries or any time gifts.  Keep that in mind.

It’s been pretty breakneck speed since Christmas as well.  Our family Christmas was after Christmas in Petaluma with about 75 of us, yes, 75.  Then back to work organizing the products and meeting my invaluable friend Carole who was nice enough to show up at LAX with the two suitcases of goods that were waaaaay over my maximum limit to return with when I came back in November.  So, fully loaded, I have been working on the latest newsletter / price list ever since, with only short breaks for a couple of birthdays.

The  newsletter just went out. Lots of Mauro Berardi’s World Famous Spices from Campo dei Fiori mixes are available. It always impresses me how far Mauro has reached with his spices. I’ve had contacts from all over the world looking to replace the spices bought from him in Rome. It is a great  to know that I can  bring them to people who can not make it back to Italy to get them in person. Mauro may sell spices to visitors from all over the world but he refuses to even use email.  And, he has enough difficulty shipping within Italy and will never attempt to ship outside the country.  I get contacted from people from Austria to Australia looking for His spice mixes. Often while the costs for shipping (and customs restrictions) make it impossible, I am able to work with ever Increasing numbers of people who revere his mixes. It is lucky for all the US and Canadian customers for sure.

I’m excited to get the honey, spices, and condiments that I have on hand sold so I can make another trip back in the spring. And, for the first time in a decade the exchange rate is not so bad.  I just checked my exchange rate for transferring funds and it is currently $1.19 through the foreign exchange.  which is fabulous.  It’s most often been closer to $1.40.  It’s exciting not to feel like you are paying a penalty for anything bought in Europe.

They put a banner at the Trevi fountain this week to commorate the passing of Anita Ekberg, the wonderful actress who waded into the Trevi Fountain in the movie “La Dolce Vita” this last week.      Ironically, the fountain she waded in is currently without water.  There is restoration work being done on the Trevi for the next year or so.  It’s quite a shock to see that huge fountain drained and shrouded while they work on it.   They have managed to make it interesting by putting a transparent walkway all the way at the back of the fountain allowing visitors to walk around the back of the fountain.  Strange, but interesting.  Oh, and they left a little opening at the very front so you can still toss a coin into a little water dish.

Anita Ekberg at the FountainTrevi-Fountain_4

If you have visited Rome and the Trevi fountain in the past seeing it now is a shock.  Having been at that spot so many times it is just such an odd feeling looking at that structure so unrecognizable.  With so many monuments and fountains in Rome there are always major projects going on to restore something and usually it takes a couple years to do the work  so even if a major monument is not fully visible, there are numerous others that are.  This month, they finish Quattro fountane –  the four fountains at the corner of XX Settembre and via delle Quattro Fontane.   Four beautiful late Renaissance fountains grace the corners of the intersection.  They were so filthy I was hoping they would get to them before they started falling apart. They are due to be finished by late February.  I understand the city refused to allow the new Bond movie to film a nightime car chase through that intersection fearing damage to the newly restored fountains and am relieved they decided to encourage them to use CGI.  I am excited to see those fountains cleaned and restored on my next trip.  I’ve always loved them.
In case you are not familiar with Expressly Italian’s mission; I act as a personal shopper for you in Italy.  I can bring back duty free products you’ve purchased and want again or suggest products I have found in my travels throughout the country. Even those that travel often have found that having me bring back items for them saves them much aggravation and weight in carrying luggage back with them.  I have established relationships with small sources that are helping me bring you the finest products available. Often these are not easily found even by residents and expats who live there, so it’s been a great treat to show up with things that even locals have not found.  It  has been thrilling to find every trip brings new friends who introduce me to different products and sources and experiences.  It has been an exciting learning experience and I’ve been so happy to have you along for the journey.  I hope you will continue to join me.
...  Italian Pavilion detail
This spring brings with it the Milan Expo 2015, which sounds so exciting and I am looking forward to visiting.  There are numerous feste and sagre that I will have to choose between including the South Tyrol Festival.  If you have not visited Bolzano, you should make the effort on your next trip to get to Bolzano and Brixton Bressanone.  So beautiful and the food is fabulous.  And, the history of the area is fascinating.
As the ‘Slow Food Movement’ makes faster progress, Italy becomes ever more important in teaching us how to eat and how to grow our foods.  And, hopefully, how to slow down and enjoy eating them for a more healthful and enjoyable life.
I know that is a goal for me this year.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments or suggestions.   Follow along with me and we’ll explore together.

A Word (or two) about Olive Oils This Year.

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Having recently, about two days ago, returned from an extensive trip in Italy, I’ve been reluctant to discuss olive oil production in Italy this year.  It was a little depressing, so I put it off.  Many of my blog and newsletter followers were eagerly awaiting my return for their olio nuovo and I hated to disappoint them.

But, here I am, back in California, and without their olio nuovo.  The sad fact is, there is little to no olio nuovo in Italy this year.  What little there is in most regions is being hoarded by families there.  Maybe Liguria has some, or Campania, (which is never mentioned without the comment “that’s a whole different thing”), but wherever I asked I was told with a sad shake of the head, ‘none this year’.  In fact, in Lazio, around Sabina, where I often get most of the oil I bring, they didn’t bother to harvest at all.  Neither did most of Umbria, nor much of Tuscany.  Everywhere I asked it was the same response.  The terrible rains that were all over Italy this year ruined their crops, which were likely to have had a light crop anyway due to a really heavy crop last year, but no one suspected this.

The rains caused immense damage, so the olives were tiny, malformed and became infested with a fruit fly.  According to an a news article I read just before leaving in Sabina a group of growers is trying to assess the amount of damages to ask for assistance from the government for their losses.

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The price of olive oil is set to soar after a widespread failure of the annual harvest in large parts of Italy.  A wet summer in combination with a fruit fly blight has led to some producers not harvesting at all this year. Production fell by up to 80 per cent in some areas of Italy, a farmers’ cooperative said.

Bad crop: The olive fly lays its egg in a hollow in the olive and when hatched the larvae tunnels its way out gnawing at the flesh destroying the fruit   Many farmers felt it was not worth the money or time to harvest at all.   The newspapers in England have projected increases in olive oil topping an additional 2 pounds per bottle before summer.

Paolo Calosi owner of a farm in in Sesto Fiorentino, Tuscany, where 1000 trees were hit by the fly, said: ‘Unfortunately this year we will not produce extra virgin oil because the fly has damaged all the trees.

This will produce a very acidic oil which cannot be sold as extra virgin.  ‘It will in any case have a nasty aftertaste with a marked woody flavour.’     This is truly a disaster.20131116_161648

So, what I bought was year old very good extra virgin oil that still has a life span of another year that it will retain it’s flavor.  But it was much more expensive that it would have been last year.  And, I know in my heart that by next summer, the oils will be 4 to 8 euro more per bottle than now.  There will be no more olive oil until next harvest in the fall of 2015.  And, I also have little faith in those importers being honest about the value and taste of what they’ll be delivering to the U.S. as extra virgin oil from Italy.  BEWARE!

Be prepared to pay more.  The oil I have is almost double what it was last year.  If it is not expensive, ask lots of questions.  If it is not due to expire in 2015, ask when it was harvested and where.  The only good harvests I found were in Livorno.  They had a bumper crop this year.  I’ve learned so much about the varieties and tastes of olive oils and I still have so much more to learn.   It is an elixer of health and should be used as a fresh drizzle on almost any dish.  Use the less expensive oil for frying, save the cold pressed, and olio nuovo type delicate oils for that fresh, fruity or peppery taste as you serve your food.  It’s worth whatever the money, just know what you are getting.

Extra virgin olive oil does not age well
Check the date on the bottle and make sure you are getting oil produced during the last harvest. Buy only the quantity you might need for the year to make sure you are not stuck with old olive oil when the new fresh one is out on the shelves.  The very best of the extra virgin olive oils retain their full flavor for only two years.  They are still usable for another year, just not as good.  In America, we are often using rancid oil without any idea it is too old.

Green colour does not automatically means top quality.  The most emphasized organoleptic characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is often the colour that should range between green and yellow. However, a deep green colour does not automatically indicates a better quality oil.  Professional olive oil tasters use blue or green coloured tasting glasses not to let the colour of the oil influence their final judgment. Focus on taste and acidity levels rather than colour when buying extra virgin olive oil.    And, remember, to each his own.  Everyone has their own taste preference.  Try several until you find just the type of olives you prefer.   When you think about it, it’s a very inexpensive way to improve your health, add flavor to your foods and experience new tastes.

Come Along on A Shopping Day

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I thought it might be fun for you to experience a day of shopping with me.  Well, sort of with me, you’ll be where you are, I’ll be doing the actual running and driving here in Italy.  Yesterday, I spent the day running about the Maremma, one of my favorite shopping jaunts.  It’s the sea coast area of southern Tuscany.  An ancient area of rough and tumble cowboys and Etruscans,  about a two hour drive from Rome.

Ok, here we go.  Let’s hit the road.

 

heading towards via Aurelia
heading towards via Aurelia

It was a rainy day, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.  Off to Civitivecchia

You really have to watch your speed.  In addition to timing

your travel from one set of cameras to another a set distance so theyy can calculate how long it took you to reach the second set to see if you went over the speed limit, there are also a few other cameras set just in case they miss whe you speed up suddenly.

 

Our first stop was Orbetello.    By then it was really raining.  But Covitto was ready for us.

 

Going into Covitto's
Going into Covitto

 

And, yes, I had to ask what Femminelle was –   it is not just female but  a type of fish.

 

 

 

They are a very special fish shop, having been there for a very long time, bringing the catch from the boat in the morning to the store to sell.  Really gorgeous fish indigenous to this area only.  I bought some of their bottarga, some fish broth mix, and of course, the colatura, available only here and the Amalfi Coast, where the tradition of this elixer still exists.  This liquid gold is the culmination of salted anchovies laid in chestnut baskets and the liquid allowed to slowly seep through a small hole in the bottom.  A long, process, but the smooth taste is worth the wait, and renowned world wide.  Since they use only the best of the fished anchovies (caught between March and July) you can understand why few outside this area have had the honor of even tasting it.  You need only a few drops to make a unique dish.

Here’s a recipe for Spaghetti alla Colatura —  it serves 2 for a main dish

200g durum wheat spaghetti

2 tsp colatura di alici (try less the first time to be sure it’s not too ‘fishy’ for you

6 tblspn extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic

Fresh parsley

2 small chili peppers

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Toss in the pasta. As pasta reaches around three-quarter’s of the way through its cooking time, in a large pan, mix the olive oil, colatura, finely sliced garlic, finely chopped parsley. Heat just very slightly over low fire. Using pasta tongs, pick the spaghetti straight from the pot, into the pan, and finish its cooking in the colatura mix, adding salted water you cooked the pasta in, if necessary. Toss well over low heat until pasta is cooked al dente. Serve immediately, garnishing with a chili pepper.   That is it.  Simple, fast and people will always want  to know what it is that is in the special sauce.

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La Parrina

After Orbetello, we headed to Albinia.  Although flooded horribly last year, they are rebounding as Maremmans are known historically to do.  Albinia is home to La Parrina, which I had not visited before this trip.  It seems each trip brings new people and places into my life.

La Parrina is a real find.  It is a wonderful Agriturismo, a farm, a vineyard, and a produce grower with an Antica Fattoria that has the most fabulous foods, available.   I’m only bringing a small sampling.   They make a bitter orange marmelade that will be fabulous on cheese, or bread or almost anything.  I’m already addicted.  A Kumquat jam, some fig mixtures, and they also have some really interesting mixtures of vegetable jams.

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Also in Albinia, I visited a very special Alimentary, with Francesco and Maura and got some La Salva products (no time to go to La Salva) as well as some of their other local specialties like agrodolce I’ve had before.

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Then it was back in the card off to Roma again.  A long, but productive day.  The real difficulties lie in trying to decide what I can manage to fit with all the limitations of weight and sizes I have.  Terribly difficult decisions have to be made.  The pre-orders are obviously first and they are going to be very, very happy.  I hope that as time goes on there will be enough people trying all these really special regional products that are not available anywhere else.  They are from small producers who will never be able to compete with the giants who aree able to put stabilizers and chemicals into their products so they stay fresh on shelves for years.  These are products from real food for real people.  And, boy,can you taste the difference.  You may not  be able to visit the Maremma this year, but hopefully you’ll let me show you a little of their flavors.  If you are not signed up for my newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll sign you up.  Write expresslyitalian@gmail.com


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