On raw bites with a twist

There are many recipes for raw truffles floating around the internet and I’ve finally perfected my own. To hold dear and pass on to my granddaughters.

Eager to bust out my new fancy blender and publish what initially sparked the idea of a blog (raw recipes & cool pics), I took to the kitchen, rolled my sleeves and shut out the catz.

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The dates are for sweetness, the walnuts for a nutty flavor, the cocoa powder for the chocolate effect and the coconut so as not to be racist. The wine doesn’t go into the truffles, it goes into your soul.

I’m no master of desserts, but I don’t think throwing all your ingredients in the blender could get any easier. You should be able to get from that to that in a couple of minutes with a decent blender.

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If the mixture is really stubborn, bribe it with a tablespoon of water or a teaspoon of coconut oil. Works like a lube charm! The thick paste might not look like much at first, which is where the coconut flakes come in play. Once you stop drawing hearts in the coconut flakes, you can start shaping your truffles between your palms.

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Scrape everything off the spoon and bowl, just like your momma told ya!

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Ingredients:

  • 200 gr dates;
  • a few walnuts;
  • one tablespoon cocoa powder;
  • three tablespoons coconut flakes;
  • one teaspoon coconut oil (easily replaced by one tablespoon water).

Instructions:

  1. Hydrate your dates for 15-20 minutes in water.
  2. Pit them and place them in the blender.
  3. Add the cocoa powder and the walnuts.
  4. Blend until you have a smooth paste. If necessary, add the coconut oil/water.
  5. Grab enough mixture to form a truffle. Roll it between your palms until it’s perfectly round.
  6. Roll the truffle in the coconut flakes.
  7. Pop the truffles in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

I hope you’re one of the people who never pops them in the fridge.

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On ♥ ♪ ♫

I grew up listening to stories on a record player that doubled as a radio. My parents had quite the collection, ranging from the classis folk Romanian music to children’s stories. I listened to Snow White, the Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Thumbling and some other fairy tales that have now mashed up in my memories and have become bits and pieces of characters, plots or swishy sounds. What stayed with me were the soothing voices, the subtle scratching sound of the records, that almost imperceptible noise that was the background for every story and that final sound of nothingness when the record reached its ending.

Growing older, the record player was replaced by a small radio and cassette player. I used to sleep with the radio on, listening to endless hours of music, uninterrupted by obnoxious jingles or commercials. I would fall asleep listening to midnight programs hosted by psychologists or listening to people calling in the radio station to dedicate a song to their summer crushes.

Around Christmas time I would keep my ears “peeled” for the radio contests giving out Christmas trees, baubles or fairy lights as prizes if you were the first to call. As soon as the song on the radio would finish playing, I would pull the disk telephone closer, dial the first digits of the radio station’s telephone number and then wait for the guy on the radio to scream “CALL NOW to win!” Only then I would dial the last digit. There were a few seconds until the line connected. I usually kept my breath: will it ring, or will I get a busy tone? Will I be the first kid in the neighborhood to have their Christmas tree up? Would I be taking out the Christmas decorations right after that phone call? Rrrrring-rrrrring! I usually got lucky with my little gimmick, won several Christmas trees over the years and turned this into a Christmas tradition.

The radio era was closely followed by the CD player. It was all about burning tracks, being careful not to scratch the shiny disks, collecting and borrowing CDs. A trustworthy Sanyo radio cassette CD player stood by me as I went from listening to Buddha Bar CDs, to Itsy Bitsy by Night chill out music, to recording songs from the radio on beaten up cassettes. It’s still fully functional, but it’s now gathering dust in my room in my parents’ house. I turn it on for old times’ sake every time I go home.

While my itch for listening to everything remained the same, what did change throughout the years were the jams and gems I uncovered and held on to. With a knack for the blues and the swings of the 40s, 50s and 60s, it wasn’t too long before I started unearthing the sounds of the vocal jazz divas.

Doris Day always has the best advice:

Peggy Lee – I’m assuming y’all familiar with the majestic Fever, so here’s some more lady power:

Rosemary Clooney – nothing wrong with a little food incentive:

Ella Fitzgerald (and Louis Armstrong) need no introduction:

Louis Prima

Nina Simone (you probably know Feeling Good)

The Four Knights

Etta James 

The Shirelles

The Andrew Sisters

Gloria Lynne might as well rip your heart out of your chest – thanks for all the ‘eelings, Glo!

On midnight picnicking

I like to think that discovering a new city is like peeling an onion. There are layers and layers, slippery situations and you might even end up crying and with a stinky breath. But the core is always sweet and worth it in the end. Nothing compares with getting lost in an unknown city and playing at mentally sifting out the tourists from the residents. Nothing, or maybe midnight picnicking. I like to secretly flatter myself for coining the term, but I’m pretty sure a quick google search would disarm me of any shred of cockiness in 0.53 seconds.

There’s something about an unknown city during the day, the whirlpool of smells and sounds. You’re so eager to take it all in, like a dry sponge, you notice even the smallest details, look up at the buildings, look down at the pavement, read the signs, you can swear the Sun has never shined so bright in your life and not even the rain can wipe away your enthusiasm. Then there’s the sunset and everything shifts to warmth and chiliness at the same time, and then maybe your boyfriend lends you his hoodie. Then there’s the night and the quiet and, if you’re lucky, a starry sky and a soft breeze.

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First midnight picnic was in Cannes, on the beach. You don’t need much for a midnight picnic. Try to find your spot during the day and then head straight to a supermarket or local food store. In Cannes it was all about the wine, the cheese and the affordable caviar. The anchovies didn’t get too much attention, but the pickled olives and crackers went MIA before long. Bring: blanket/anything large enough for you to spread yourself on. Wine glasses if you’re deft or plastic (albeit inelegant) cups if you’re clumsy. Corkscrew (learnt this the hard way!) or a bottle opener if you like to wash down local delicatessen with beer. Napkins, napkins, napkins. Toothpicks make for less messier grabbing but don’t shy away from forks and knifes if you can put your hands on any of them.

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We had no shortage of midnight picnicking spots in Paris. But the winner was, twice, by far, the Seine with its floating yacht parties and quivering ducklings. The banks of Île de la Cité were filled with chattering little groups each evening. With a bottle of rosé or a six pack and a couple of friends you’re all set and have quite a view: Tour Eiffel to your left, Notre Dame straight up front, party people cruising by on shiny yachts. Just remember to smile at all times for the excited tourists taking the boat trip and clicking away their Nikons at everything they spot.

In Paris it was sushi, pistachio and a strong red on the first night followed by a shameless piece of flan, berry pie, cake and a strong white on the second night. We skipped the glasses altogether and took swags from the bottle for the real Parisian experience.

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On what they don’t tell you before getting a kitten

There are different scenarios. You rescued a ball of fur that was out in the streets one rainy night, meow-ing at the top of its lungs. Or you got a purry gift from your friends. Or you saved up and acquired a sophisticated feline specimen. Bottom line, you now own a kitten. So do I.

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We got Jep when he was a little under 2 months from an acquaintance who owns the mother. He travelled over 200km by car and then took a short metro ride during rush hour, before we took him home. He looked more like an oversized rat than a kitty. We were prepared with wet kitty food, solid kitty food, kitty litter, kitty toys and 4 arms to cuddle. We were not prepared for losing him in the house, for the smelly accidents, for him to eat his litter sand and for him to find the dustiest corners to curl up and sleep.

The discovery that Jep is all teeth and nails was not far away either. He overcame his fears quickly and stopped sleeping under the bed, on the TV box we store there, giving it up for the cozier and warmer place in bed, between his owners.

Overcoming his coyness also meant he became more active, curious and daring. And this lucky combination usually comes to life at night. I had read that kitties are more energetic after the Sun comes down, but I didn’t expect to be become dance floor for a 1 kg beast from 4am to 5am. He will run marathons on the bed, regardless if we are under the covers or not. Sometimes he will even bring his toys in bed and meeeeeeoooow until one of us opens his eyes to at least acknowledge his presence, if not to start playing with him. Occasionally, he sleeps through the night for some unknown reason. The rest of the time he’s like quicksilver.

Getting him to use the litterbox was not an easy job. After a stressful journey and an early departure from his mom, surrounded by new faces, new smells and new objects, using the litterbox was clearly not among his priorities. So he used our bed. Twice! We were watching a movie on the couch, with Jep training for the marathon behind us, on the bed. Digging between the sheets with his nails, pulling circus somersaults, chasing invisible enemies, the usual. Then, all of a sudden he stops in the middle of the bed, looks up and gives a short, resigned meow. It only takes me a second to add 2 + 2 and figure out he needs to take a wee. It takes me another second to reach out from the couch and pick him up to rush over to the litter… But, alas, I’m one second too late. He starts relieving himself right then and there, in midair, regardless of the look of dismay on my face, while I’m holding him as far as possible from myself. I grab whatever I find around (a magazine!!) desperately trying to minimize the damage, but the poor guy had apparently been running his marathon with a full bladder and he kept going for what then seemed like minutes!

Food wise, we were advised to stay away from Whiskas, Freeskies and generally everything else that’s sold in a supermarket, which is notorious for being the equivalent of McDonald’s and KFC food for kitties. And since I’m a designaholic with a keen eye for subtle details, I found these bowls for his majesty Jep II. They are the perfect size and stay put when the little beast munches on, unlike the plastic, cheaper bowls that looked like they were running away from Jep’s breath every time he would eat out of them.

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He’s not picky with his toys and he’ll play with a crumpled sheet of paper or a grapefruit peel for hours.

Now that we’ve grown a bit older (three months!) he’s more vocal and scowls us each time we get back home from work for leaving him alone all day. That means I only get to take off my boots and it’s food & play time. Then it’s on to cuddles and naps on the laptop, some more playing, biting the phone, chasing my pyjama pants, curiously looking at me brushing my teeth and meow-ing for some more food to magically appear in those lovely bowls.

On frenching les french

Paris’ reputation precedes it, so I can’t be blamed for landing on Charles de Gaule airport expecting to find the capital of love there. After being brainwashed by Hollywood movies and cheesy Facebook photos, it’s no wonder I was anticipating to be patted down at the French security point by Cupid himself. What I found instead was an enormous airport teeming with cheerful tourists, and a labyrinth-like metro teeming with confused tourists. I strongly advise avoiding changing trains at Châtelet if you’re not a superhero who can see through walls. Châtelet connects 5 train lines (yes, people of Bucharest, that’s more than what we have in total), so you could live there for a couple of days before figuring out the direction you should be heading to in order to change the line.

With good weather on our side we ticked most of the main attractions in under 5 days, but we wouldn’t have minded another 3 extra weeks just for getting lost on the narrow streets of Paris. Each one of these nestles at least a few cafes, boulangeries or bistros. If we’d had made it our job to try out all the cozy brasseries we liked, we’d still be there, munching on toast and jam pour la mademoiselle and omelette and baguette pour le monsieur.

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We stumbled upon Le Saint Regis on Île Saint-Louis and were not sorry for the accident. Watching bakers unload truckful of golden bread is not a bad sight, even more so when you have a steamy cup of coffee in front of you and you can listen to the good humored waiters fighting with each other in what you think must be French but sounds like the guttural sounds of an angry panther.

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On a spring Tuesday with 20+ C⁰, Versailles looked its best: overwhelming in size and symmetry, everything there was king sized. I was more attracted to the outdoors wonders than to the inside jeweled furniture. The queues to get in palaces, churches, museums were always packed with people getting their selfie sticks ready. In Versailles they were after the rooms after rooms of paintings, golden decorations, sparkly chandeliers, tussled canopies and velvety drapes. In Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle it was the deep blue stained glass windows, the hazy icons and flickering candles for the perfect background.

IMG_4428Probably the ideal time to visit the Eiffel Tower is just before sunset. There was almost no queue at the entry, but a little crowded at the top. Make sure to stay until the Sun goes down to get the romantic view etched into your retina. Also, to build up anticipation and maybe burn some of those triple chocolate chips croissants dipped in chocolate with a side of chocolate, it’s always a good idea to take the stairs instead of the elevator. It’ll be worth it.

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On Thassos and souvlaki

The Sun has been a rare sight for the past weeks in Bucharest, so you can only imagine my look of scared surprise this morning when, after oversleeping, and waking up feeling far from fresh, while I was brushing my teeth with one hand, putting my contact lenses in with the other, trying not to burn my oatmeal and figuring out what to pack for lunch, I noticed there was something strange outside, like something was floating in the air, a diffused warmth just outside my window: the SUN WAS SHINING.

Happy and energized like I’d just chucked red bull after red bull down my pipes, I went to put in my other contact lens so I could fully enjoy the glorious ginormous gas and plasma ball that is the Sun. 5 seconds later, the sky had returned to its murky, Mordor-like visage, and I returned to feeling as draind as Frodo on his last day of his journey.

But you wouldn’t have guessed this was my intro to a blog post about Thassos, would’ve you? Hail free writing style! I guess I could use the Sun in the cold weather motif as a segue starting riiiiiiight now…

I certainly hadn’t expected to enjoy a weather-wise flawless 9 day trip to Greece at the end of September, beginning of October, but that’s exactly what I got. After overcoming the 9 hour bus (hell)ride from Bucharest to Limenas (during which I became vastly acquainted with more types of snoring than I could’ve ever guessed existed), the bus orderly embarked on the ferry that took us to the final destination. Which looked a little bit like this:

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We had booked a room close to the beach and I was in the process of trying to make my way up a hill, dragging my luggage that was bursting with SPF140 lotions, slippers, blouses I’d never wear on that trip, oats and Friends episodes, when I saw a little car speeding down the hill, pulling up where I was waiting alone for my boyfriend the rescuer who had went ahead in search of the pension. The driver proved to be our host, a blond curly woman who spoke as much English as her barking dog that lavishly occupied the front seat. I worked out we were her guests by the fact that she had my boyfriend in the back seat of her car and by her firm determination at starting to pick up our luggage and shove them in her tiny vehicle.

We didn’t dilly dally in the room much, just enough to make sure it was clean and bug free (I was later going to be proved slightly wrong). We just hopped in our bathing suits and took the 6 minutes’ walk down to the beach where we found more Romanians basking in the Sun than all the other tourists and Greeks put together. The sand was warm, the chaise longs were free, the water – sparkling and inviting. But what should we feast our hungry mouths on? Enter authentic souvlaki (big chunk of chicken or pork, French fries, boiled potatoes and one more garnish I still haven’t identified), nightmare of all bikini wearers, enemy of worldwide six packs, balmy soul soother. Yes, I revel in comfort food, sue me.

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It is on the terrace of this restaurant that we first met the only inconvenience that followed us (literally) for the rest of our trip: bees! They were everywhere and I still tend to believe they could even swim in the Aegen sea! I even ended up walking on a (semi)dead one, while I was innocently picking up shiny smooth pebbles on the beach; this was closely followed by me half skipping half whimpering my way back to our room. Thank god for souflaki for saving the day.

Thassos has no shortage of pristine small beaches with only a few to none tourists (in September, that is). We would read and bask in the sun the whole day, rubbing some more sunscreen on our ever more tanned skins every few hours. I remember eating burgers under our towels, so we didn’t swallow the bees that had surrounded us, attracted by the smell, trying to have a bite for their own. I remember reading in the utter quietness that was only pierced by the long waves washing over the isolated beach, when I distinguished another noise: splash-splash! Splash! Splash-splash-splash! I looked up from my Kindle to see tiny silvery fish leisurely jumping out of the sea, drawing an arch trajectory in the air before splash-splashing back in the most turquoise water I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking of someday moving to Thassos.

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On running

I remember being a first year student and choosing dancing as an optional class. Imagine a  gym room full of giggly girls in tights, supervised by a funny professor who not only knew his bachata and salsa steps well, but also raised bouts of laughter every 2 minutes! Can I ask you something, professor? He would sway his hips and flick his hand at us dismissively Sorry, sweetheart, I’m married! It made us giggle every time.

At the end of that semester he demanded suggested us to attend a 5km race so he’d spare us the exam. Piece of cake, I thought, without spending 2 seconds to think if I was fit for it. On the following Sunday I lined up at the registration queue of the race and, after receiving a neon pink marker as a reward for my effort-to-come that day, I headed to the starting point to listen to Bucharest’s mayor give a short speech and pull the trigger to start the race. Although it was 10 am on a June morning, I could already feel the heat wave starting to surround the pool of people that had shown up.

I didn’t have a running strategy or appropriate gear. You just sprint and follow the others, it’s not rocket science, right? And sprint I did! For the first 55 seconds. After that, I kept going back and forth from walking very fast, trying to ignore the sharp pain in my rib cage, and walking normally, trying to figure out if I’m supposed to feel like someone is stabbing me in the chest. Saying I finished the race crawling wouldn’t be an understatement. By the end of the 5km my face was so red only daltonists wouldn’t have had difficulty distinguishing between me and a tomato. I was out of breath but extremely happy my insides were still on the inside.

Flash forward 2 years later: I decide I fancy taking up jogging. It seems cool and maybe it could help with overall body toning. I start taking evening runs to a close-by park and each time I can walk less and run more. The world is my oyster.

The first time I was able to run without stopping I was amazed at my body’s ability to adapt, get stronger and faster. After an evening run last year I was writing a text message answering how it’d gone: mind clearing. empowering. a different kind of relaxing. I still stand by this on point description. I found running is more than a physical activity that strengthens your heart and bones; for me it’s like a happy pill that I always pop at least once a week, after sunset, in the park.

From that first running experience in 2011 to this last October I never imagined I could complete a 10km relay race. Let alone in 57:30 minutes! I was a bit skeptical before entering the Bucharest International Marathon relay race, but I am glad I didn’t chicken out at the last minute. I took away more than a turquoise Adidas t-shirt and a slightly tacky, golden, tinkly medal: that practice does yield results, that running in a competition will make you faster (I pulled under 5:40 splits) and that glimpsing the finish line will make you sprint like a young deer in the woods being chased by a lioness.

The BIM running track stretched along Bucharest’s very heart: the House of Parliament, Uniri’s square, Victoria Avenue. Seeing all those huge boulevards empty, just as the Sun was starting to nestle up in the sky acted as running fuel, although whenever the marathon runners would pass by me I felt like I was standing still.

Although I am down to one run per week from 3 weekly runs last summer, this is one of the few habits that I picked up and see myself doing for a long time down the road.

On Boardwalks and Empires

When it comes to TV shows I used to choose quantity over quality for some part of my teenhood. A great part of my teenhood. All my teenhood…

I’ve downloaded nauseating amounts of Friends and Desperate Housewives, stuck for the whole 8 seasons of Dexter, witnessing a promising start and a sad demise, mildly laughed at Scrubs, shuddered with laughter at Black Books and guffawed at Shameless UK, tasted a bit of Suits, but spat it right back out, worshipped Veronica Mars and wanted everything she had (from eye shadow to dark humor), drooled at The Good Wife’s outfits, rooted for Michael Bloom in Arrested Development, sighed at The New Adventures of Old Christine (and secretly hoped I’ll never be in her shoes), hummed along all the intros to A Game of Thrones, got sucked in by Hannibal’s mind games, learnt a few tricks from Lie to Me, threw gave up on The Walking Dead, chuckled at the pseudo-family friendly Modern Family, countlessly rolled my eyes at Grey’s Anatomy’s plot twists (Callie in a coma with the surgeons signing around her did it for me!), empathized with the bad guy in Breaking Bad, got into an internet search frenzy after Lost’s grand finale, got crushed by Marissa’s death in the O.C, grew up with Rory from the Gilmore Girls, picked up British slang from Skins UK, feasted my eyeballs on The Tudors, felt like going insane watching Wilfred and felt (oddly) empowered by Nancy, the recent widow who starts selling pot in Weeds. Finally, the cherry on the icing on the cake, I was thrilled and in awe of Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire since the first season to the recent last one.

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Set in the Atlantic City of the Prohibition, Boardwalk Empire follows the life of Nucky Thompson, treasurer, politician, bootlegger, occasionally undercover philanthropist and romantic. This powerful drama delivers 5 exquisite seasons that are flawless from the beginning to the very end. Unlike other shows debuting strongly, Boardwalk did not flicker and die out midway. Actually, I felt the last season was impressively strong, with emotional flashbacks that helped build up the story and gave so much flavor to a few particular characters.

To me, each episode resembles a 6 months-work’s movie: the music, the costumes, the hues, the character’s acting and the camera angles create the perfect blend both audibly and visually. I feel that you could hit pause at any given time during any episode and you got yourself a painting.

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I already had a soft spot for Buscemi (Ghost World, In the Soup, Paris je t’aime), and Boardwalk Empire only helped a crush develop into deep admiration both for the outstanding performances of the main characters and for the brilliancy of the producers and writers.

Of course, the pluck to write off one of your show’s most loved characters is not to be overlooked either. This is what kept the show beautiful and fresh (besides Mr. Thompson’s bright red carnation that decorated his pocket at all times): introducing new characters without the viewer actually noticing it and never lingering on one in particular for too long. However, we did notice when main-character-universally-liked-`hero Jimmy Darmody was shot dead in the middle of a deserted field. I remember finding myself on the edge of the couch, waiting for the entire scene to prove out to be someone’s dream or vision.

Boardwalk Empire exploits the story of gangsters, of Atlantic City, Chicago and New York of the 20s and 30s, delivering perfection to the small screen. There is incest and adultery, bribe and guns, seduction and pedophilia, the everlasting urge to get ahead in life, the cowards and the ambitious, the givers and the takers. Predictably enough, Boardwalk Empire didn’t have heaps of fans tuning in each Sunday evening to catch up with Nucky’s adventures in the bootlegging world. Perhaps this brings a little extra charm to this TV show that was definitely not created for the masses, but for those who value classic cinematography, classic shots, classic acting, classic flash backs tailored so finely it’s hard to believe it’s not young Buscemi playing Thompson and that maybe, just maybe the director has a time machine in his basement.

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On planes and plans

I admit, I am much comfortable with both my feet soundly planted on the ground than flying on a plane. Flying plane is something I cannot even begin to imagine. But that doesn’t mean I ever miss an air show in Bucharest. Ever. So yesterday I grabbed my fully charged Canon, my sunglasses and my boyfriend and headed to Mill’s Lake.

IMG_2749Against the crisp October sky the planes looked like Gargantuelic birds getting ready to descend and snatch us up to feed their babies. That, however, didn’t stop me to click! click! away.

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Sunset + lake + plane = photographer’s holy trinity.

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Exploring the clouds.

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A moment to appreciate the soul-search inducing sunset.

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I don’t think everybody enjoyed the show: a couple of ducks on the lake and a flock of birds were seen hastily leaving the premises in distress.

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