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Entries in nyc (39)

Wednesday
Jun292011

Baker's Dozen, CakeWalk Edition: Thirteen Bakeries, Thirteen Zip Codes in NYC

My self-appointed spy mission on my most recent visit to NYC? To visit 13 bakeries I'd never visited before (or at least to get a treat I had never tried, if it was a bakery I had been to), in 13 different zip codes.

Reasons? Threefold. #1, I might make some sweet new bakery discoveries and branch out from just the famous spots or my old favorites. #2, the number 13 because it's a baker's dozen. #3, you know, for a great adventure and all.

My adventure took place over 2 days, and directly before it commenced, two very serendipitous things happened. First, I had a date with one of my favorite bloggy bff's, Blondie from Blondie & Brownie. She's awesome and supplied my first two leads listed below--as well as having tipped me off to the fact that D'aiuto (famous for their cheesecake) was worth a visit for something else entirely: the fritters. She is to be trusted. And without further delay, the great adventure:

10018: Gregory's Coffee. This coffee shop might be unassuming, but there's something special about their baked goods case. While many of the items are brought in from wholesalers, a handful are made on-site, including their crumb cake. As a documented die-hard of the crumbly stuff, I found this to be a deeply appealing version, with a wonderful ratio of crumb (lots) to cake (little).

10016: Culture Espresso. Every day at 12 and 3, something magical happens: the chocolate chip cookies that they bake in-house come out of the oven. Now, I will be honest, I did not arrive at the serendipitous time to try one fresh out of the oven, but if it is a tip trusted by Blondie, that is good enough for me.

11103: Frank's Bakery, Astoria, Queens. Old school as all get-out, I decided to pick up a rainbow cookie here. “Can I get just one rainbow cookie?” I said, and the shopkeeper replied “you can, but you look like you could use a dozen.” Flatterer! These cookies were a keeper, with jam between the cakey layers, and that wavy chocolate topping that is so lovable.

10028: William Greenberg's. Now, I have been here—they are famous for their black and white cookies—but I have never tried the Pink and White cookies. Not only were they the perfect color palette, but they are ideal for the rare eater (like yours truly) who actually prefers the “white” side taste-wise but enjoys the contrasting color visual (still weirded out by the “just whites” at Donut Pub). Best method of eating? Slowly nibble the pink side first, obvi.

10003: Tu-lu's Gluten-free cupcakes: Nestled right next to gluten-rich Veniero's, this place is fairly adorable and has a small, but very pretty, array of gluten-free treats. I chose the pistachio frosting-topped chocolate variety. I was delighted to find that the cake wasn't excessively dense or overly fall-apart crumbly (my two frequent complaints with gluten-free cake); the frosting was very buttery and delicious.

10075: The Best Chocolate Cake in the World: With a name like this, you're going to draw customers simply out of curiosity; however, you've got to have a product that is great, or they'll never come back. This is a very unique chocolate cake, not your grandma's style, but a more boutique, fancy confection. It's worth a return visit.

10002: Economy Candy. Oh. My. God. How have I never been to this place before? It is like candy land. Not in the over-the-top way that Dylan's Candy bar is (although there is certainly a time and a place for that), but in a very old-school, Lower East Side kind of way. Any childhood favorite that you've found yourself craving, any regional sweet you miss from your hometown, any faraway favorite that you've been mail ordering...they have it here. I picked up one of those elusive old-time favorites for me, the candy ice cream cone. It tasted like being seven. 

10023: Alice's Tea Cup. It is my greatest regret that it took this long for me to visit Alice's Tea Cup, because it is made of magic. Alice in Wonderland-themed, they specialize in tea and scones, and they do both well (and sandwiches and other stuff besides). I had the added pleasure of visiting with Elisa Strauss, who is kind of my cake hero and who is as cute and sweet as you could possibly imagine. Our advice: try one of the flavored scones, which we found to be more interesting than the basic buttermilk (and, you know, we're experts). And don't even try to skip the preserves and cream on the side, what, do you not like joy?

Photo: Bee Desserts10011: Bee Desserts. Honey? Chocolate? Cake? OK. I had heard of this place but never visited their retail outlet; it's very cute, and fans of mellower sweets will have a very happy time here.

10014: Amy's Bread. Of course I have been here before. Don't even kid about that! It is one of my favorite places in the world (although, truth be known, my favorite is the Hell's Kitchen location!)BUT. I realized I had never tried their version of the magic cookie bar (here it is called the Coconut Dream Bar). The name may not say it, but this thing is made of magic.

10021: Cake & Shake. The most magical mobile truck in the world? Possibly. I found it perched outside of another magical place, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

10009: Ray's Candy Store. Belgian Fries. Beignets. Candy. Softserve at a belgian fry place? Believe it. An unassuming but magical spot.

11211: Joyride Truck: it's mobile, but I caught it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and picked up some delicious macaroons. Worth noting: this is a delicious zip code, and at a nearby cafe I spied treats by Robicelli's and Liddabitsweets, two other delicious bakers who don't have their own retail storefronts.

10001: LaNewyorkina Paletas. Is it just me or is the high line the most magical place ever? Well, on the day I visited there was sweetness added to the magic by way of popsicles in the 10001 zip code.

Bonus: 10036 sighting! I spied Treats Truck parking in 10036. The truck drove right by where I was walking. But I already knew I loved them, so there was no visit (this time).

 All in all? Beyond a baker's dozen of deliciousness.

Tuesday
Jun282011

Peter Pancakes: Ricotta Pancakes With Fruit from Five Leaves, Brooklyn NY

For those of you who have ever thought "Pancakes! Great Idea!" and then carb-o-loaded only to find yourselves sugar-crashed, carb-full but oddly still hungry two hours later, I have two words for you: Ricotta. Pancakes.

This sweet stack of awesome was obtained at Five Leaves Cafe in the Greenpoint/Williamsburgish crossroads of Brooklyn, NY, after we saw the party at the next table order it and couldn't keep our eyes off of it. 

These ricotta pancakes were served with a healthy array of fresh fruits, maple syrup, and--joy!--something  called honeycomb butter.

Fluffy yet substantial, these pancakes are a little richer than most, with a beautifully filling batter that will keep you fat and happy for hours--and yet, magically, they don't make the batter leaden-dense, but somehow achieve a lightness that scrunches most satisfyingly under the hungry tines of your fork and keeps you coming back for more...until...

...of course, if you can't be in Brooklyn right this instant, you might consider this recipe from Baking Bites.

Five Leaves, 18 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY; online here.

Five Leaves on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Jun232011

Seeking Sweetness: Daily Snapshot, Tiffany Blue Petits Fours from The St. Regis Tiffany Suite

Photo: Business InsiderCakeSpy Note: if you follow me on facebook or Twitter, you probably know I'm partial to observing (and sometimes adding) sweetness in the natural world and urban landscape. Here's where I post a daily feel-good photo or image, for no particular reason other than to showcase these sweet little nothings, in hopes that they'll make you smile.

Recently I was tipped off to a sweet find by Not Martha, who, knowing of my great love for all things Tiffany & Co., told me about the Tiffany Suite at the St. Regis. This luxe suite is $8500 a night (!) and includes everything Tiffany-themed, including the gorgeous petits-fours pictured! Find out more here.

Saturday
Jun182011

Pastry Profiles: Chocolate Cake, The Best Chocolate Cake in the World, NYC

Here's the thing.

It takes some serious...ah, cake truffles, shall we say, to call your establishment “The Best Chocolate Cake in the World.” And, with a small case to the side of exceptions (breakfast treats, mostly), to only offer this self-proclaimed superior product. 

But it is also intriguing, and when I came across their Upper East Side location the other day (their latest location, which has only been open a few months) I simply had to go in.

The world's best doesn't come cheap; it's nearly $55 for an entire cake, $6 for a slice, and $3.50 for a macaron-sized bite of it. I went for the cheapie bite, I'll tell the truth.

Now, (spoiler!) the cake was very, very good. It was interesting though, because if asked to conjure an image of “chocolate cake” I think that probably most people in the US would think of a chocolate layer cake slathered with chocolate frosting, sort of “like grandma used to make”. And this cake was most certainly NOT that.

It's a delicately composed series of layers, alternating between a biscuity, almost meringue-y chocolate, and a rich ganache. Each layer itself doesn't necessarily scream out “cake”...but when you take one pleasurable bite with each layer contained, it kind of combines into a chocolate cakey experience, and it is just gorgeous.

While the title may invite some naysayers (after all, everyone's definition of “the best” is different, isn't it?), this one is a very fine specimen of chocolate cake indeed. And the store is just darling, so if you're in NYC, it's worth making the effort to make a visit happen. You can learn more about the story behind the cake here.

The Best Chocolate Cake in the World, multiple locations; online here.

The Best Chocolate Cake in the World (opening soon) on Urbanspoon

Friday
Jun172011

Sherlock Scones: Alice's Tea Cup, NYC

Alice's Tea Cup in New York City is a magical place. Well, actually, magical places--there are three, cleverly entitled "Chapter One"...and so on.

Why so magical? Well. It is an establishment based around the idea that tea need not be relegated only to teatime. It is Alice in Wonderland-themed. They have delicious scones.

Honestly, the only thing they're missing is a bunny hopping around telling you to “eat this”. Which, I suspect, might have happened if I had stayed around a little longer.

I had the great pleasure of visiting this establishment (the Upper West Side location, down the street from my new building crush, 126 W. 73rd street, which resembles a slice of wedding cake with draguees, really it does) with my extreme cake crush Elisa Strauss (you may know her as the famous cakemaker to the stars who released the books The Confetti Cakes Cookbook and Confetti Cakes For Kids, or from her numerous TV appearances). We ventured down the rabbit hole and enjoyed tea and scones. Here we are together to prove it:

But luckily, the scones also taste good. The basic buttermilk biscuit was a drier, more biscuity sort, which definitely needed cream and preserves (don't you dare not order the preserves and cream); far more interesting was the pumpkin variety, which was lightly sweet, more moist, and had a delicate glaze on top. The scones were actually on the saltier side (a definite pro for me), so they were perfect when topped with the sweet preserves, each and every sweet and salty bite a teatime revelation.

Perhaps the loveliest thing, though, is that these scones are so clearly in their natural element, and the full experience of eating them surrounded by a sort of magical-realism world is very queenly indeed. In fact, I may or may not have found myself humming a line from the animated Disney Alice In Wonderland movie as I exited...”you can learn a lot of things from the flours...especially in the month of June...”

Final thoughts: Alice's Tea Cup makes for a golden afternoon. If you can't make it to NYC this very instant, you can at least buy their cookbook, Alice's Tea Cup: Delectable Recipes for Scones, Cakes, Sandwiches, and More from New York's Most Whimsical Tea Spot.

Alice's Tea Cup, 102 west 73rd Street; online here.

Wednesday
May112011

Bake the World Better: Sharing BAKED Blondies with Capitol Hill, Seattle

Not long ago, the extremely cute and talented boys of BAKED (one of Brookyn's finest bakeries!) collaborated with Williams-Sonoma to create Blondie and Brownie mixes based on their award-winning recipes.

And I'm just going to say it: while the impulse might be to say that homemade is generally better than a mix, these are definitely better than any I've ever homemade (perhaps sad; definitely true).

But I don't want you to take my word for it, especially since I am well-documented as being in love with the proprietors of Baked. So, I took it to the sweet--at my store.

I left this note:

...here are some of my favorite responses:...and someone maybe had a religious experience?

...and at least one person was knocked on their side:...but perhaps this eater summed it up best:

So there you have it. Don't take my word for it, take it at the trusted word of the hipsters of Capitol Hill, Seattle. Baked Blondies are your new BFF. For reals. 

Baked Blondie mix is available at Williams-Sonoma locations, or you can also fly to the East coast and pick up a batch at BAKED, buy them to ship online, or buy their books here and here .

Wednesday
Apr202011

Cakewalk in Manhattan Part 2: Upper West Side

Not long ago, I heard about a group of artists who do the most wonderful thing to keep themselves inspired: they will navigate that city with a map of a different city. The idea, of course, being that sometimes, removing yourself from your natural element can help you see the world through new eyes. Well, to say I was enamored of this idea would be a bit of an understatement, and I have since tried to incorporate this idea into my pastry-eating and adventuring.

So when I was headed to NYC, to create an adventure to rival my pastry half-marathon, I knew I'd have to think of something good.

And then it came to me: a literal cakewalk. Here's the 411:

  • How: I took a map of Manhattan, and on both the upper east and west sides, I wrote the word “Cake” and transcribed it into a walking route (can you see it on the map above?)
  • Why this route: Well, because it was going to involve a lot of backtracking, I realized that choosing these neighborhoods, which bookend Central Park, would result in not only an interesting comparison, but would also ease up the physical amount of walking.
  • But what if I missed a good bakery? Well, I made a few side trips, but the idea in general was to have a route that might take me by places I might not otherwise have heard about and to possibly make some new discoveries.
  • Total Miles Walked: Many.

What did I find? So many sweet discoveries. Read on for the chronicle of the Upper West Side trek (you can also find the East Side Cakewalk here):

Necessary Side Trip: Hungarian Pastry Shop. How could you not stop here? It's a treasure.

105th and Broadway: Silver Moon Bakery. If you've never visited this breadmaker/bakery, you are in for a treat. Carb-o-load on freshly baked pretzels (if they still have any left), which are salty, yeasty, and completely addictive; get your sweet fix with pastries and truffles of all manner. Do it.

96th and Amsterdam: Maybe you've seen one before, but I never had: an Altoid Gum machine.

96th and Columbus: Sing Sing Market, where they have good crumb cake.

Image: Threadless.comAlso at 96th and Columbus: I saw a girl wearing a t-shirt that said “Stupid raisins stay out of my cookie”. No, I wasn't looking in a mirror. I will be, soon, though, because I found it online and ordered myself one.

Side note: Not that you asked, but I fell in love with a new building: 498 west End Avenue.

80th and Amsterdam: Sarabeth's. Favorite two things there: cookies, and jam. Not necessarily together.

81st Street at Broadway: Zabar's. Oh em Gee. Same family that owns Eli's on the East side. The crumb cake is some of my favorite in the city, and everything else—the cookies, the babka, the Hello Dolly bars—isn't so bad either.

72nd and Broadway: Grandaisy Bakery. A teeny tiny storefront, this spot offers a variety of pastries and cookies, as well as little pizzas; this time, I tried the Lumaca, or as I was told to call it, “the snail”, a sweet flaky roll filled with apricot, honey and pistachio. Sort of like a morning roll gets kissed by baklava.

Necessary side trip: Levain Bakery. With half pound cookies that taste as good as they weigh, you'd better make a short side trip to this place.

70th Street and Columbus: Muffins Cafe. This place has my favorite corn muffins, but they sell out early and I'll be honest, I've never tried anything else.

70th and Columbus: Soutine Bakery. Like a little dollhouse bakery at the first level of a brownstone on a side street, this place is as charming as can be, and has a loyal following.

69th and Columbus: Magnolia Bakery. If you've never had a cupcake from one of their outposts, do try the ones at this spot, the second location they opened. If you're so over cupcakes, dive into their banana nilla wafer pudding, which is a strong second-bestseller.

...and to finish, at Columbus Circle: Time Warner Center. You must go here, because they have two things of interest to the avid pastry-eater. For one thing, Whole Foods sells a variety of baked goods from many local bakeries, so if you aren't going to get to visit every neighborhood, you can find sweets from places like Two Little Red Hens, etc, here. Also, you must visit Bouchon, where you can get the most pinkies-out homemade oreos or Ho-hos you've ever seen.  

For highlights from the Upper East Side Cakewalk, click here!

Wednesday
Apr202011

Cakewalk in Manhattan Part 1: Upper East Side

Not long ago, I heard about a group of artists who do the most wonderful thing to keep themselves inspired: they will navigate that city with a map of a different city. The idea, of course, being that sometimes, removing yourself from your natural element can help you see the world through new eyes. Well, to say I was enamored of this idea would be a bit of an understatement, and I have since tried to incorporate this idea into my pastry-eating and adventuring.

So when I was headed to NYC, to create an adventure to rival my pastry half-marathon, I knew I'd have to think of something good.

And then it came to me: a literal cakewalk. Here's the 411:

  • How: I took a map of Manhattan, and on both the upper east and west sides, I wrote the word “Cake” and transcribed it into a walking route (can you see it on the map above?)
  • Why this route: Well, because it was going to involve a lot of backtracking, I realized that choosing these neighborhoods, which bookend Central Park, would result in not only an interesting comparison, but would also ease up the physical amount of walking.
  • But what if I missed a good bakery? Well, I made a few side trips, but the idea in general was to have a route that might take me by places I might not otherwise have heard about and to possibly make some new discoveries.
  • Total Miles Walked: Many.

What did I find? So many sweet discoveries. Read on for the chronicle of the Upper East Side trek:

Bonus coverage: because I couldn't NOT, I did veer off of the grid slightly for a small side adventure before starting the east side cakewalk:

First, Breakfast at Tiffany's: I drew a little Audrey Hepburn-inspired croissant to kick off my journey.

And now, on to the Cakewalk. Here are highlights from the love letter I sweet-walked across the grid of the Upper East Side (click here for the West Side tour):

59th Street: Macaron Cafe. A cafe dedicated to la belle macaron—what could be sweeter?

60th Street and 3rd Avenue: slightly off of my C route, Dylan's Candy Bar was worth the block diversion, because, after all...

59th Street and 3rd Ave: Financier Patisserie. A cute-as-a-button bakery featuring all manner of Frenchie Sweets.

Sidebar: I headed over to one of the little parks that dot the side streets off of Sutton Place, where you can see the view of the Queensboro bridge made famous in Woody Allen's Manhattan. Sweetness!

63rd and York: Sweet serendipity! De La Vega is an NYC artist who is very prolific with sidewalk chalk—it was a delight to discover some of his work. I kept on finding it around the east side, which made me feel like I had a sidewalk chalk compatriot.

73rd and York: Sugar Loaf Cafe. Gawd, isn't that just the best name you've ever heard?

75th and York: The best of the Delavega art I came across, wherein “become your dream” was “become your ice cream”. I left a little response. xo.

78th and 1st Avenue: Bagel and Appetizing. I always love the crumb cake at places like this.

Between 79th and 80th Streets on 1st Avenue: Anneliese's Pastries. Featuring row after row of cupcakes, cookies, and a very surprising variety of roulades, this place gave the entire block a nice, buttery scent.

80th and 1st Avenue: Agata & Valentina. This gourmet grocery not only had great produce but a nice array of treats obtained from various local wholesale bakers.

81 st Street: Gracie Mews Diner. Sweet tip: on the Sunday I walked by, their brunch menu featured something so magical it almost brings a tear to my eye: Brownie Waffle Sundae. I did not try it, but it evoked such sweet fantasies that I couldn't not share.

80th Street and 2nd Avenue: H+H Bagels. Complete with a second entrance for tiny people! (Kidding—it is where the flour is pumped in, I believe). 

82nd and 2nd Avenue: Sweet Temptations, Nut City: It was closed, but the sign did make me smile.

76th and 2nd Avenue: Caffe Noi. For when it's Gelato o'clock!

76th and 77th and 2nd Avenue: Pick a Bagel. Once again, the crumb cake!

75th and 3rd Avenue: Citarella. This gourmet grocer always has some nice sweets, generally from nicer local bakeries.

79th and 3rd Ave.: Crumbs Bake Shop. I've had hot and cold experiences at this cupcake chain, which has proliferated around NYC and now beyond. If I am going to tell you the complete truth, I have enjoyed their cookies more reliably than the cupcakes.

79th and 3rd Ave: Corrado Pastry. This bakery has a location in Grand Central Terminal too, and I was delighted to see a bigger cafe. Good cookies.

80th and 3rd Ave: Eli's. Now, this place is kind of like heaven for foodies. Let's pause to see just a few of the sweeties on offer (a mix of baked in-house and outsourced). The picture above really does not show how extensive their baked-good and sweet offerings truly are--candy, confections, cakes, pastries, pies, cookies...the works. It is like heaven.

Necessary side trip: Wm. Greenberg's, for some of the most celebrated black and white cookies.

83rd and 84th at York: Yorkville Creperie.

86th and 2nd Avenue: Dunkin' Donuts. If you believe it, this is the first one I ran across (unless I missed on along my route previously?)

Necessary side trip: Two Little Red Hens, where you can get your cupcake on, old school style. Just walk over to York Avenue.

86th and 3rd Avenue: This isn't necessarily sweet, but I totally saw Emeril filming at Gray's Papaya at this corner. Cool.

86th and Lexington: Tim Horton's. Just donut. Also, Shake Shack--anyplace that has a Custard Calendar is just fine with me.

93rd and 3rd: Corner Bakery. Featuring fauxtess cupcakes, cookies, and more, this spot was packed.

3rd Ave at 95th: Zesty's Pizza, one of my guilty pleasures, has delightfully greasy zeppole.

96th and Park: Gourmet Garage. Another good bet for baked goods wholesale from some of the city's nicer bakeries.

101st at Park: A sweet heart on the street.

102nd and Lexington: Delicious Bread House. Believe it or not, I used to live on this corner. But when I lived on this corner, this place wasn't there, just a friendly guy who would stand in front of this empty storefront and, I think, deal drugs. Maybe I wouldn't have moved away if this place had been there. The place is roughly the size of a postage stamp, and baking is not done on premises—instead, they receive their baked goods from a variety of wholesalers—but the two workers there during my visit, who were adorable, told me that their goal was to bring artisan bread and delicious pastries to Spanish Harlem. I told them I loved them. Everything was stupid-cheap: I picked up a three-pack of cakey Lemon drop Italian cookies for $1.50. More info here.

110th and 1st Ave: La Tropezienne. This was the jewel gilding the lily of the E on my final turn. Unmarked and unassuming from the outside, I probably wouldn't have looked twice but for the crowd and the singular, heady scent of butter and sugar that I know signifies “Bakery”.

Inside, I discovered a sweet spot indeed: cases and cases of delicate french pastries, cakes, tarts, and even cream puffs shaped like swans. More info here. 

Click here for the West side companion Cakewalk.

Saturday
Apr162011

Sweet Soutine: Cookies and More from Soutine Bakery, NYC

If you haven't heard of Soutine Bakery in NYC, you're not alone. But I'd like you to discover it now, please and thank you.

Soutine is just off of the main drag, on a residental townhome sidestreet. It is tiny—I think of it as a dollhouse bakery. And this appeals to my love of all things tiny and cute.

But it's a double threat, because while their bakery case is small, there is no lack of delicious treats. They have frenchie treats like milles fueilles, sweet gateaux and other American standards (brownies, cookies, etc), but on this trip I zeroed in on the cookies.

The Soutine Chocolate Chip cookie is a crunchy affair, sort of along the lines of Tate's Bakeshop. Generally your dear spy's personal tastes lean toward soft and gooey when it comes to cookies, but, you know, it's never a good policy to eliminate the possibility of a delicious cookie experience solely because the cookie is crunchy. And ultimately the Soutine cookie was a sweet reward: light and crispy but still very buttery and rich in brown sugar flavor. I'd bet they taste even better warm, with a nice contrast between the crispy cookie and some gooey chocolate, but I wouldn't turn these cookies away any day.

I brought a bag to share with my buddies at the Serious Eats headquarters, and they approved, too.

Soutine Bakery, 149 W. 70th Street, NYC; online at soutine.com.

Friday
Apr152011

Just Donut: Sweet Love for Peter Pan Donuts, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

I'll tell you something. My first apartment, after moving out of my college dorm, was in a magical little Polish corner of Brooklyn known as Greenpoint. And my first bakery visit in my first apartment was to Peter Pan Donuts.

The first visit (this was in 2001, btw) was sort of like stepping into a time and space machine: the staff was seemingly completely comprised of teenage Polish girls wearing (totally non-ironic) pink zip-up uniforms. But amazingly, the donuts were only about 80 cents. Score!

To say I fell hard for this place would be an understatement: I even learned how to say “thank you” in Polish to endear myself to the counter girls (it worked).

What is it that is so great about these donuts? Well, they are unfussy, unpretentious, and just straight-up good. They are fried to perfection, slightly greasy without being soggy, and cakey and thick without being leaden. Just out of the fryer they are a donut revelation; even at the end of the day, they hold their own.

Since 2001, Peter Pan has gained some acclaim, capturing the heart of Tina Fey; the donuts are now $1; but it's still just as magic as I remember.

Also tasty: the crumb cake and corn muffins. This visit, I heard that they had cupcakes too, but they were out by the time I arrived.

Peter Pan Donuts, 727 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon

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