Healthy Dessert Recipe: Sautéed Bosc Pears With Toasted Walnuts & Balsamic Reduction

by | Oct 31, 2012
Bosc Pear With Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Reduction

Bosc Pear With Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Reduction

“Darya, my biggest problem is…I have a sweet tooth. Are there any recipes or desserts you suggest?”

One of the hardest things about transitioning to a healthy diet is cutting down on sugar. I definitely remember this from my own experience.

Luckily this difficulty is temporary.

The longer you go without sugar, the less you want it. In fact it has taken me awhile to reply to this question because I have not been motivated to make dessert in such a long time.

I eat sweets on occasion, but almost always these situations are circumstantial: a friend’s birthday, a favorite restaurant or other special occasion. And I am only excited about the experience if the dessert in question is profoundly exquisite. (In San Francisco, this is way more common than it is in most places.)

What this all means is I rarely find reason to seek out and/or make dessert.

But after creating this recipe, I may reconsider. This dessert is incredibly delicious, and not unhealthy at all. I thinly sliced some bosc pears and briefly sautéed them in butter with cinnamon. I reduced some balsamic vinegar for a semi-sweet topping, but otherwise did not add any sugar. I garnished the pears with toasted walnuts and shredded basil.

This recipe also works with other firm fruits such as apples, peaches and strawberries, all of which are available this time of year at the farmers market.

Sauteed Bosc Pears With Toasted Walnuts, Balsamic Reduction and Basil

Ingredients:

Bosc Pear

Bosc Pear

  • One bosc pear, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tsp butter
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 1/4 c. walnuts
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 5 basil leaves, chiffonade into strips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, core and cut bosc pear into 1/4 inch slices.

Place balsamic vinegar in small sauce pan and gently heat until simmering. Allow to reduce, swirling occasionally until reduced to 25-30% volume, about 10 minutes. Reduction should be dark and thickened. Test by seeing if it coats the back of a spoon (and tastes good). Do not over reduce.

While vinegar is reducing, place walnuts on a cookie sheet and put in oven. Toast walnuts, turning once or twice for 6-7 minutes. Do yourself a favor and set a timer. It is very easy to burn toasting nuts. I set the time for 3 minutes, toss the nuts, then reset for another 3 minutes. Remove nuts from oven, allow to cool, then coarsely chop.

Heat butter in a pan on medium heat until it begins to foam. Add pear slices and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cook gently until slightly tender, about 3 minutes on each side. Turn with a thin spatula.

Place pears on a plate and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Sprinkle on chopped walnuts and basil. I didn’t try it, but I bet this would be awesome with gorgonzola and port (or other dessert wine).

Try it and let me know what you think!

Do you ever cook fruits for dessert?

Originally published October 12, 2009.

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Why I’m Voting Yes on Prop 37: Label Genetically Modified Foods

by | Oct 29, 2012

To be honest, I’m a little surprised I even need to write this. In a national survey, over 90% of American voters favored labeling genetically modified (GMO) foods. Labels for GMOs are already required in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and dozens of other nations. In direct expenses, adding a label costs next to nothing for both companies and consumers.

I was a bit annoyed when I started seeing ads calling Prop 37 unnecessarily complicated and poorly written, but I didn’t think TV ads could close such a huge gap. Before the television blitzkrieg by the anti-Prop 37 contingent, it looked poised to win in California by a landslide, and I figured the lead was large enough to hold.

However, anti-Prop 37 contributions have totaled over 45 million dollars, with the biggest donors being Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico, and other giant food producers. (In comparison, the pro-Prop 37 contributions total just over 6 million—a little less than Monsanto contributed alone). As a result the most recent polls show Prop 37 is in a dead heat, and we are in danger of losing this opportunity to add transparency to our food system.

Legal Language

Despite what negative television ads have claimed, the proposition is neither complex nor poorly written (you can read it for yourself here). It’s fairly straight forward in fact. Prop 37 states that any raw food commodity that has been genetically manipulated must have a clear label stating such. Any processed food that knowingly contains GMO ingredients must also have a label.

Prop 37 does not require labeling for specific ingredients, meaning that if a product contains both genetically modified corn and soy (as most processed foods do) the ingredient list will still just say “corn” and “soy.” However, somewhere on the package it must say that the food contains genetically modified ingredients.

Restaurant food is excluded, so you could still enjoy your genetically modified BigMac in blissful ignorance. Animal products that are fed genetically modified foods (most industrial meat production relies on GMOs for feed) do not need to be labeled. Alcohol is also exempt. Organic certification already prohibits the use of genetic modification, so organic foods will not be affected.

The only additional provision, which I think makes sense, is that GMO foods and those containing GMO ingredients cannot use the word “natural” or anything similar (e.g. “naturally made”) on their labels.

Costs

Food companies add and remove food labels all the time—imagine how quickly they’d change the label if they learned processed foods protect against heart disease. However, major food producers like Monsanto, Kraft, and General Mills anticipate people avoiding GMO foods if they are labeled, so they see this proposition as a threat to their profits.

Prop 37 will cost consumers next to nothing, unless you choose to buy non-GMO food that happens to be more expensive. While anti-Prop 37 ads claim the cost to consumers will be $400 annually, that is based on a study (funded by the No on 37 camp) that assumes they will have to switch to non-GMO foods and charge more for them. This is a strange assumption that does not reflect the language of Prop 37, which does not ban GMO foods.

Some have argued that the more likely outcome is that they will start putting “May contain genetically engineered ingredients” on everything (over 80% of processed foods are currently made with GMOs) and hope we learn to ignore it, similar to what happened with Prop 65. This scenario would negate the costs projected by their study. Another study (with equally dubious funding) found that there is unlikely to be any additional costs to consumers. Importantly, labeling GMOs did not increase the cost of food in other nations.

Safety Concerns

So what’s all the fuss about? Are GMOs dangerous for us to eat or not? This is not particularly easy to answer, because the term “genetic engineering” is incredibly broad. Just as cancer is not one disease, genetic engineering is not one kind of biological change. The safety of each manipulation must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and testing should be rigorous and exhaustive to detect all potential problems, side effects and unintended consequences.

As anyone who has worked extensively with genetically modified animals can tell you (I did for years), the effects of a single gene deletion or insertion are often very surprising and can be quite subtle. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes crazy things happen, and sometimes you can’t tell what happened until you let the animal’s life run its course and study it extensively. That isn’t to say we aren’t able to have a solid understanding of some genetic manipulations, but it is not a simple science.

It gets even more tricky when you’re talking about releasing GMOs into the environment. It’s very difficult to contain genetic material in an ecosystem. It tends to spread, and ecological balance can be very fragile. This is why you are not allowed to bring fruit with you on international flights. Even native, non-genetically altered species can disrupt an ecosystem, and the same concerns apply to new or altered species created in a laboratory.

I’m not making the case that GMOs are somehow inherently unhealthy or bad for the environment. Indeed, in some cases the potential benefit of GMO crops may justify their prudent use. My point is that as a culture we should understand that genetic manipulation is a messy science that requires thoughtful consideration and rigorous oversight. We should not take this subject lightly.

What’s at Stake

Big Food has always fought tooth and nail against any kind of labeling regulations, but are quick to seek approval of health claims to put on the front of food packaging whenever possible. It’s obvious why. For food manufacturers labels are about marketing, not about health. Positive labels sell more food, while negative labels discourage sales.

Our current food system is shrouded heavily in secrecy, and this is intentional. Food companies rightfully fear that if we know more about what is in our food and how it was produced, we might start asking more questions and demanding better. Currently corn, soy beans, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookedneck squash are genetically modified. Billions of dollars have been invested in this technology and the big food companies would not be happy if some of us decided to stop eating these foods.

What this really comes down to is transparency. Honest businesses with nothing to hide only win when more transparency is available. This is largely why organic food is such a big supporter of Prop 37—the organic certification system is incredibly rigorous and these companies have already invested in the transparency of their businesses.

Consumers also win with more transparency, because it enables them to make better informed decisions. If we believe certain GMOs are safe to eat, we can eat them. If some of us are more skeptical of one kind or another, we can skip them. Even Big Food benefits in the long run with more transparency, because it creates more confidence in their products as they are proven safe.

Prop 37 does not make any judgement on GMO foods. It does not ban them and it does not regulate their use. It simply requires food companies to indicate on their label if GMOs are present, so consumers can know with confidence what they are buying and eating. If you think this small act of tranparency is reasonable, you should support Prop 37 and vote yes if you live in California.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 26, 2012

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week we learn that probiotics fight colds, raw food limits brain growth, and why longevity may require more than diet and exercise.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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9 Tricks To Make Halloween A Treat

by | Oct 22, 2012

Photo by pasukaru76

With extra candy, alcohol and fun everywhere, there is no point in pretending health will be your top priority by the time the weekend rolls around. But that’s a good thing.

Being healthy is important, but if you don’t learn to make room in your life for fun too then what’s the point?

My challenge to you is to use this Halloween weekend as an opportunity to practice rational indulgence. That is, enjoy things you have a reason to enjoy (i.e. foods you like) in quantities that leave you satisfied, but don’t abandon your health or get too obsessive about what you should or should not eat.

This is not the same as practicing “moderation” (an overused word, in my opinion). Instead I’m talking about a head change. Generally the term moderation is used to mean restraint for restraint’s sake. On Halloween this might involve consciously eating only half a cookie or counting out pieces of candy for your allowance.

Boring!

Moderation is fine for daily life, especially when you are just learning to cook and eat healthy foods. But equally important is getting in tune with the real reasons you eat: taste, pleasure and enjoyment, and using this awareness to guide your behavior and create natural boundaries.

Embrace Halloween as a special occasion for you to live and enjoy, while understanding that this is not the first nor will it be the last time you get to eat a cupcake. There is no need to go out of your way to be “good” or “bad.” Just have fun and try not to think in terms of guilt or temptation. It is thoughts like these which lead to too many drinks and eating that entire bowl of peanut butter cups on your friend’s coffee table.

But, of course, for rational indulgence to mean anything it requires a context of healthy eating. If your typical daily food intake isn’t already mostly healthy, then Halloween isn’t really an indulgence so much as an excuse. But that doesn’t mean this advice isn’t applicable to you. No matter what your baseline, it is easier to indulge rationally if you are well-nourished and in the right state of mind.

Strive for the general goal of eating healthy, nourishing and satisfying foods and feel free to add a few Halloween treats along the way.

Here are 9 strategies to help make rational indulgence a little easier.

9 Tricks To Make Halloween A Treat

  1. Leave your guilt at the door. Halloween will probably not be ideal for your health, but if you are going to indulge you may as well enjoy it.
  2. Eat what you want, but not any more than that. Remember that indulgence is not a race. You don’t need to eat everything in sight just because you allow yourself a couple days off. Stop occasionally and ask yourself if you are eating for pleasure or from compulsion.
  3. Do not skip meals. Halloween usually involves late night parties and candy, things that should not interfere too much with your regularly scheduled food program. Trying to eat light during the day to compensate for eating junk food later will probably just cause you to eat even more junk when you find yourself starving at 2am—not a wise strategy.
  4. Have a healthy, satisfying dinner. You would be surprised how easy it is to skip the third mini-Snickers if you are not hungry or are even a little full. Better to be full of stir fry than trans fat and sugar.
  5. Eat protein, vegetables and healthy fats before you go out. The main danger on Halloween is sugar. Too much sugar causes blood sugar to rise and insulin to skyrocket. Ultimately this leads to insulin resistance, weight gain and more hunger. To avoid this, slow down the digestion process by eating healthy foods first.
  6. Easy on the carbs. You will probably be getting more than your fair share of sugars and starches this weekend. Minimize extraneous carbohydrates in your meals by skipping bread and pasta. Limit carbohydrates to vegetables, fruit and legumes.
  7. Keep moving. One easy way to make up ground if you are eating extra calories is to burn them off as you go. If you are out at a party, be sure to keep moving. Walk to your destination, play Halloween Twister and be the last to leave the dance floor.
  8. Brush up. Toothpaste can make candy taste pretty bad, so be sure to brush and rinse with fluoride before you leave your house and as soon as you get home. Sugar is also really bad for your teeth.
  9. Be safe. No matter what you do or do not eat, it is always important to make good decisions when you go out on the town. Be smart and make it home in one piece or none of this advice will do you any good.

How do you practice rational indulgence?

Originally published October 28, 2009.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 19, 2012

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week we learn that multivitamins might fight cancer, TV is killing us all, and less exercise may be better for weight loss.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 12, 2012

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Why food companies shouldn’t be regulating themselves for safety, GMO foods should be labeled, and too much exercise is a bad idea.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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Farmers Market Update: Minneapolis

by | Oct 7, 2012
Mills City Farmers Market

Mills City Farmers Market

Bruce Bradley is a former processed food marketer turned food advocate and author. After working at some of the world’s largest food companies, Bruce now blogs about the tricks, traps, and tools big food marketers use to get you eating more and more processed food.

His first book, FAT PROFITS, has just been published. It’s a thriller about a corrupt food company that will stop at nothing to fatten its profits and become a Wall Street darling. Who knew food could be so dangerous? To learn more about Bruce Bradley you can visit his blog, follow him on Twitter @authorbruce, or check him out on Facebook.

Farmers Market Update: Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis, Minnesota

On the shores of the mighty Mississippi wedged between the Mill City Museum, the historic Stone Arch Bridge, and Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre, something amazing pops up every Saturday from mid-May until the last weekend in October: the Mill City Farmers Market. Although it’s not the largest farmers market in the Twin Cities, it’s definitely one of the best. With an inspiring mission “to support local, sustainable and organic agriculture, increasing economic opportunities for farmers, urban youth, small businesses and food artisans,” a visit to the Mill City Farmers Market makes you feel better about the world you live in.

German Band

Entertainment abounds at the Mill City Farmers Market. Each week there’s a different theme, live music, and product demos. This week’s theme was Oktoberfest and featured a beer garden serving a variety of Lift Bridge beers and a German band playing some bierhaus classics.

Flowers

Adding brilliant, jewel-like colors to the market, flower bouquets and cockscomb filled one vendor’s booth. If you haven’t been to a farmers market in a while, you definitely need to give it a try. It’s not just about produce anymore.

Corn

Of course it’s always good to see some of the classics like corn. There’s nothing better than fresh corn on the cob, and it’s one of my son’s favorites. I especially enjoyed the sign on Nistler’s corn stand: no GMOs, no fungicides, and “worms, yep.” I’ll gladly take a little worm damage to the tip of the cob (which can easily be cut off) in exchange for GMO-free, pesticide-free corn. And I found it refreshing how honest and upfront all the vendors were about their products. In contrast to many of the big food companies that peddle their processed foods in grocery stores, these folks had nothing to hide.

Tomatoes

A tomato is just a tomato, right? NO! I spotted over twelve different varieties during my visit. One vendor was sampling a tomato that was so juicy that I dripped it all over my pants. Oh, well. It was definitely worth the taste. With fall temperatures already getting below freezing in some parts of Minnesota, these beauties won’t last long, so I grabbed several.

Cukes

It’s always fun to discover new treasures, and the Mill City Farmers Market had several. Although sour lemon cucumbers and tomatillos have been in my kitchen many times, this was my first time trying a Mexican sour gherkin cucumber. These little guys are the size of a grape tomato but look like a tiny watermelon and pack a sour punch. Mmm, mmm, delicious!

Beans and Delicata

Two more favorites in my family are classic green beans and delicata squash. These organic veggies were just picked yesterday. You just can’t beat this kind of freshness.

Winter Squash

I love squashes of all kinds, and the butternut, sweet dumpling, and carnival varieties are on my go-to list in the fall. Butternut squash soup is a personal favorite, and carnival squash makes an easy and delicious side dish. Just split them down the middle and bake with a touch of butter, maple syrup and a grind of fresh pepper.

Taters and Carrots

Beautiful root vegetables were all over the market as well. One vendor was sampling their carrots and they were amazingly sweet and crunchy. Despite wanting to buy some, I passed since I still have plenty of potatoes and carrots leftover from my summer CSA share.

Apples

Probably one of my favorite parts of fall is apple picking. I grew up in Florida, and apple picking just wasn’t an option (although we did have some amazing orange, key lime, and lemon trees in our yard). My family hasn’t had a chance to make it out to the orchards yet, so I enjoyed sampling a couple different varieties. It’s hard to beat the crisp, juicy white flesh of macintosh apples, so I picked up a bag. There’s nothing like the perfection of an apple for a great, portable snack.

Pumpkin

With October here, ’tis the season for pumpkins and squashes. I loved how this booth not only featured the classic pumpkin, but also shared some great information about varieties of squash you might ordinarily be afraid to try. With my bag already pretty full, I opted for a smaller pie pumpkin. Not only will it add some fall color to our home, but it will make some wonderful pumpkin bread or cookies.

 

Mushroom Kit

Beyond the traditional fare, The Mill City Farmers Market has some very cool surprises that you don’t find at most farmers markets. This mushroom kit was one of them. Sold by Cherry Tree House Mushrooms, each kit includes an fungi innoculated piece of wood that will grow fresh mushrooms for you right in your backyard. I enjoyed learning all about the process but wasn’t quite up to the adventure that day. Fear not, if you’re not up for growing your own, Cherry Tree House also has fresh and dried mushrooms available for sale.

Buffalo

Wild Idea Buffalo also had a booth at the market. I’ve had a chance to try their products before, and they are delicious—a lot like beef but with a little sweeter, earthier flavor. 100% grass-fed and American Humane Certified, Wild Idea Buffalo roam free on over 100,000 acres in South Dakota, just as nature intended. Lower in fat and cholesterol than boneless skinless chicken, and high in omega-3’s like salmon, Wild Idea Buffalo proves that if you choose to eat meat, there are alternatives out there you can feel good about.

Purchases

And here’s what I bought (mostly pictured above):

What did you find today at the market?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 5, 2012

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

And we’re back! Sorry for the hiatus, I had to spend a few weeks finishing up a big project I’m working on. Keep calm and carry on.

This week lard is making a comeback, salt may improve your coffee, and why we aren’t eating more GMO animals.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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How To Eat Healthy Without A Local Farmers Market

by | Oct 1, 2012

Photo by rick

“I don’t live in California and don’t have access to year-round amazing produce like you do. How am I supposed to eat healthy without a local farmers market?”

Not everyone is blessed with the kind of produce we have here in California, but that shouldn’t prevent you from eating healthy, delicious food year round. Although the local food movement is awesome and doing a tremendous amount to help people make better food choices, it isn’t a requirement for healthy eating.

Good produce can still be found in the winter. Here are 13 tips for eating healthy even if you don’t have a local farmers market.

How To Eat Healthy Without A Local Farmers Market

1. Shop in season, even if it’s from CA, FL or TX.

Though local food can taste amazing, it’s not the only place delicious food can come from. Buying foods that are in season but shipped from somewhere a little farther from home will taste better and be cheaper than food shipped from another hemisphere. Follow the seasons and let your local grocery store surprise you.

2. Learn to cook

Good produce will only get you so far if you don’t know how to prepare it. Follow food blogs, buy a cookbook from your favorite celebrity chef and get your hands dirty in the kitchen. The learning curve is short and the skills (and pleasures) will last you a lifetime.

3. Find dedicated produce marts

Big grocery stores and farmers markets are not the only options for fruits and vegetables. Look around town for smaller, dedicated produce marts. These will often have better selections than what’s offered at the local chain store.

4. Find natural stores

I used to avoid natural food stores because I always assumed they were too expensive and filled with weird, hippy foods. Though these things can sometimes be true, natural food stores are a great source of high-quality organic produce and other healthy foods.

5. Find ethnic grocers

Asian and Latino markets are fantastic resources for interesting, tasty and often very inexpensive produce. Everything they carry might not be organic, but healthwise it’s more important to eat a variety of produce than to be rigid about organic standards.

6. Buy vegetables

Vegetables are the basis of any healthy diet. If you can find any at all, you should buy and eat them.

7. Buy fruits

Citrus fruits from Florida and California are amazing in the winter, and ship well to almost anywhere. You should also be able to find some good pears and apples. Eat fruit, it’s nature’s candy.

8. Buy fish

One advantage of large grocery stores is they have the resources to ship fish safely from almost anywhere. Whole Foods in particular has an excellent seafood section, if you have one in your town.

Vegetables are not the only health food and fish is some of the highest quality protein and fat you can eat. Keep your eye out for wild fish varieties and try to avoid tuna and swordfish, which are high in mercury.

Read more on How to choose fish and seafood.

9. Buy legumes

Legumes (beans and lentils) are easy to store, easy to cook, taste delicious and are available everywhere year round. I recommend experimenting with dry beans and using a pressure cooker to prepare them. Check the bulk bins for the best deals.

10. Buy bulk grains

Oats, barley, brown rice, farro and quinoa are all relatively easy to find, particularly in the bulk sections of natural and regular grocery stores, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a lot more. Intact grains are filled with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, and are effective at curbing sugar cravings.

11. Buy nuts

Local nuts are tasty, but only a bonus in a healthy foodie’s arsenal. Feel free to stock up on almonds, cashews, peanuts and pistachios no matter where they come from. Nuts are healthy and great for both cooking and snacking.

12. Survey the crisper case for interesting ingredients

Even in big chain supermarkets I’m often surprised at the variety of ingredients I find in the vegetable crisper. Pay close attention in this aisle and look for fresh herbs and ingredients like ginger. I’ve even found more exotic items like lemongrass and specialty mushrooms. Herbs and spices go a long way in making even non-local vegetables taste amazing.

13. Find the ethnic food sections and browse ingredients

Take your cooking to the next level by browsing the ethnic food sections for interesting ingredients. Most grocery stores have at least a small section specializing in Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and other ethnic foods. These are a great resource for new flavors and can give you inspiration for cooking the fabulous veggies you pick up from around town.

What are your tips for finding healthy foods without a local farmers market?

Originally published October 25, 2010.

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