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Author Archives: The Infinite Curve

somewhere, Brendan is stroking a white cat…

Celebrity chefs Paul Hollywood and Marcela Valladolid.

Paul Hollywood, the star of the Great British Bake Off, has spoken about his upset and sadness at the collapse of his marriage, saying he might have been happier if he had not become famous.

The baker left Alexandra, 49, his wife of 15 years, amid efforts to launch his career in the US and reports of a relationship with his new co-star Marcela Valladolid, 35.

Hollywood, who returns to the small screen with Mary Berry for a fourth series of the hit programme this week, told the Radio Times that he is tempted to “disappear and hide”. The 47-year-old said that he did not have girlfriends until his mid-20s, described himself as an “egomaniac” and “an old man from the rough end of town”.

Hollywood, who has an 11-year-old son with Alexandra, said: “I didn’t think Bake Off would be like this, although you have to be an egomaniac to do it. Anyone who says they’re not is kidding themselves. You couldn’t put yourself in front of a camera otherwise…

He told the magazine: “I thought I’d spend my life making baguettes, muffins, croissants. I might have been happier if I had.

“One day I’ll disappear and hide in a corner of Britain. I’ll own a bakery in a village, live above it, have a big garden because I like mowing. I want to get up when I feel like it, let people queue for my products and when they’re gone, shut the shop and think about tomorrow. Creating magic – that’s my dream. And I’ll do it.” Hollywood called his heartthrob status “a joke”, adding: “I’m an old man from the rough end of town. Wouldn’t you be [flattered]? I lost my youth because I started baking with my dad at 17, and had to get up and go to bed early.

“I needed the money, was happy to be led, and happened to have a good feeling for it, but it took over my life. I never had girlfriends or went clubbing until I was in my mid-20s.”

There has been speculation that Hollywood’s marriage breakdown could affect Bake Off’s popularity and in May the BBC denied reports that his role on the BBC2 show was under threat. But Hollywood said: “It’s about bakers, not judges. Maybe fame has caused a problem, but it’s not fame as such. To nail it to that would be foolhardy.

 He insisted: “The real Paul Hollywood is shy, likes nothing better than going home, putting on slippers and dressing gown, having a cup of tea and watching telly.”

Read the full story here.  (And have a look at brendanbakes.co.uk too…)

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Baking, Competition Genre

 

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waaa!

waaa!

Anyone else see the ghost on Saturday Kitchen this morning? Or was it just Tom Kitchin?

(thanks to Kevin Pickering)

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2013 in Saturday Kitchen

 

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Video

MMM-HMMM

For Swede Mason’s classic Masterchef mashup, go here.

 

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adventures in eating pt. 245

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A brief off-telly aside.

A couple of days ago I went to Wahaca on the South Bank in London to try their ‘chapulines fundido’, after reading about it in the Guardian via a piece entitled ‘Should We Learn To Love Eating Insects?‘.  There seems to be a minor media wave about insects-as-food, tonight on BBC4 there is a programme about that very subject – although this particular subject does pop up pretty frequently.

The £3.95 Wahaca dish is billed as a grand ‘experiment’ (rather than a huge publicity stunt). This is what they say about it:

From Monday 11th March, we’re launching a new experimental dish at our South Bank restaurant. Chapulines fundido is made with one of Mexico’s most sustainably farmed, yet unusual ingredients, grasshoppers.

We take fried chapulines and cook them with softened shallots, garlic and smoky chipotle chillies to create a delicious salsa, which is served with queso fundido, a mixture of gratinated mozzarella and cheddar cheese, perfect for scooping up with corn tortillas.  Chapulines are considered a much sought after delicacy in Mexico… but as well as being a very tasty source of protein, from an environmental point of view, entomophagy (insect eating) is seen by many leading experts as the only logical answer to the critical pressure our growing population is putting on food supplies…. As grasshoppers aren’t currently farmed in the UK, for our first month long trial the only practical way to put them on the menu was to buy them from an accredited cooperative of farmers in Oaxaca, but our hope is that in the future if the dish proves popular we’ll be able to work to set up a supplier closer to home, making them even more sustainable.

We order it, and it comes. Unfortunately the cheese on top is too deep, thick and glutinous, and really overwhelms the grasshopper puree underneath – a disappointingly thin layer. It’s a shame because it’s great: earthy, rich, umami-y. The little fried ones on the top are nutty and savoury and more-ish. I could have eaten way more than five of them. But way too much cheese. WAAYY too much. It’s like some kind of fear absorber to soak up the scary new thing. But I, for one, welcome the new insect dawn. As long as they are all as delicious as this.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY {slight return}

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The rather over-named and definitely over-shirted Paul Winch-Furness has done a piece for the BBC website on photographing your food. You can view all five half minute episodes here. Unfortunately, it’s an exercise in dumbed down that makes you want to shout “like, durrrr!” at quite a few sentences. (I don’t blame him, I blame a hand-holding poor-things meedja culture that is terrified of actual expertise. There seems to be a received wisdom that knowing a great deal about a subject and displaying that knowledge turns people off rather than drawing them in. Not here.)  So we get a useful tip about tapping an iPhone to get it to take a light reading mixed in with ‘ambience is important’. He recommends using your phone rather than a chunky great DSLR – presuming, of course, that you have a smartphone with a decent camera. Thanks, shirty!

I wrote a piece about taking photos in restaurants last year. A large problem seems to be the tricky point of etiquette about the correct behaviour. It’s apparently acceptable in your souped-up gourmet junk food joint (which the Guardian gave a long-overdue kicking recently) to Facebook your brioche bun with kimchi topping, but in anything with Michelin aspirations and up, there seems to be more of a backlash developing. As three-star Moe Issa explains in the New York Times:

“It’s a disaster in terms of momentum, settling into the meal, the great conversation that develops,” he said. “It’s hard to build a memorable evening when flashes are flying every six minutes.” Mr Issa is happy to supply diners with professional photos the next day, though Mr. Hall said “people want to e-mail their photos to their friends right then and there; instant gratification.”

You got it, Moe – unfortunately, an awful lot of ‘foodie culture’, as developed in the decadent West over the past few years is about showing off. The combination of disposable income, digital photography, and internet everywhere has resulted in a perfect storm of gluttonous public narcissism. “Look at me, fuckos, I’m at Dabbous!” Although Ollie Dabbous, when asked by Square Meal, seemed to have a balanced view:

To be honest I read the reviews in the press but I don’t have time to read bloggers’ stuff. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and as long as they’re happy I don’t mind. A lot goes into food photography so it does the dishes a slight disservice when bloggers take photos in the restaurant – the lighting is never right. But if you have paid for the meal you can do what you want as far as I’m concerned. You can let it go cold, you can go for a cigarette – and you can take photos of it.

About twelve years ago, I was in a slightly-upmarket Chinese restaurant near Highbury Corner in London. We gradually realised that Gilbert & George were sitting nearby, at the most prominent table in the joint, along with another arty-looking man. We also gradually realised that they seemed to be ordering food; when it would arrive at the table, they would photograph it, and then it would be sent back. They weren’t eating anything. Just photographing it. Was this distracting? Yes. Was everyone in the restaurant eventually watching this performance rather than enjoying their own food? Of course they were. I’m not actually a huge fan of G&G’s work, but was I glad to have been there? Of course I was.

UPDATE  – February 14th:

I am grateful to commenter Simon Legend for pointing out a piece on the Quietus website by Pavel Godfrey exploring these issues further:

“If it were just about the caché of a certain space, though, we would be seeing more pictures of exteriors, signs, kitchens, awkwardly smiling waitstaff. Instead, we see the food itself, a celebration not just of where one is eating but what one is eating, and of the act of ingestion itself. Just as the food becomes incorporated into a living body, its image is assimilated into that body’s digital shade. It’s akin to leaving food for a household god, but in this case the god demanding nourishment is the self, projected into the internet as a carefully engineered complex of images and “likes.” The amateur food-photographer has a fetishistic relationship not just to the chosen dining spot, or food, but to their self-representation. It means nothing to them – indeed, it appears right and proper – to disrupt their own meal for the sake of feeding their externalized, reified persona.”

You can read the full article here. For a slightly less serious take, go here.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Heston’s Fantastical Food / Dinner By Heston

This last week I have swum in both the deep and the shallow end of Heston Blumenthal’s pool. Lucky me, it was my birthday, and someone was kind enough to take me to Dinner by Heston, his restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, London. I also saw two and a half episodes of Heston’s Fantastical Food, his new ‘vehicle’ for Channel 4. It seemed like a good idea to talk about them together.

The restaurant itself is as modish and moneyed as you’d expect from a five star hotel sitting literally in the shadow of One Hyde Park, the most expensive property development in the UK. You enter through a bar filled with the sort of Prada-bedecked people I’d personally emigrate to avoid, but the restaurant itself, warm and beautifully lit, is bray-free. Dark wood and blown glass. We don’t get to overlook the fabled kitchen like some tables, but I’d take our spot again with its night view of the park. The concept behind Dinner by Heston is taking archaic British dishes, each one lovingly cookbook-dated on the menu, and celebrating and updating the ideas with pernickity attention to detail. As Matthew Fort said in a rave review in the Guardian, “Dinner reclaims and reinvents our own cooking heritage, reinvigorating the tired and ordinary orthodoxies of traditional British cooking.”

Unfortunately, the tired and ordinary orthodoxies of TV don’t come in for the same treatment. The high-concept elevator pitch behind H.F.F. is this: “Heston makes giant food.” That’s it. It’s window-dressed with his usual tropes of nostalgia, childhood flavours, and magical imagination, plus a parade of Roald Dalhl-ian silliness. But none of these quite support the premise or justify the means. “I’m going to expensively make an enormous thing, enlisting local people and food technologists up and down the land, and entertain the people doing so.” The giant fry up, the giant ice cream, the giant pot of tea. The ‘why’ is never really gotten to. And that’s the problem. There is no reason for this programme to exist. There is no good reason for the scale of the stunts – the glib explanations given aren’t even remotely convincing. The justifications – basically, that it will fire the imaginations of children – aren’t really borne out by the footage.

Back to Dinner. We skip the signature ‘meat fruit‘, a classic bit of Blumenthal legerdemain, and I go for Roast Marrowbone (c.1720) with snails, parsley, anchovy, mace & pickled vegetables, while my companion has the Rice & Flesh (c.1390) with saffron, calf tail and a red wine reduction. The marrow and snails are a little oily and samey for me but the Rice & Flesh is extraordinary; like a British risotto rippling with meaty unctuousness. Not remotely French, let alone Italian. We move on to the mains, and both decide to go for the Battalia Pye (c.1660), a barrel hoop crust filled with sweetbreads, lamb tongue, devilled kidneys and little pigeon legs, plus a little boat of the richest, densest lamb gravy ever devised by man. This is a potent celebration of meaty English flavours. You feel greedier with every mouthful. This is a pie, that most utterly Anglo-Saxon container. A pie filled with offal – which could similarly describe the sort of four-for-a-pound jobs you can get from Iceland – and yet it screams with flavour and texture and technique. It’s gloriously nostalgic and robust, and yet refined to perfection. It’s entirely Heston.

When Heston gets his lab coat on, special things happen. Like Ferran Adria, he seems happier experimenting, tasting, thinking, perfecting. Unlike Adria, whose distinctly Catalan take on molecular gastronomy is flighty and theatrical with nods to the avant-garde, our boy constantly returns to his well-worn themes of nostalgia, the tastes of childhood, and synesthesia. The bits on H.F.F. where he gets in the ‘lab’ and relates his ideas and technique are easily the best sequences; he looks relaxed and entirely in his element. This being Channel 4 TV, these scenes are pared down to the bare fucking minimum, in favour of pedestrian vox pop wandering and bonhomie with the cast of characters required, a job he isn’t really that suited for – it strikes me that this might work better as a two-hander with someone else to knock about with the public. The tone is uneven as well – when he gets wacky with the sketchpad and starts to look like a clunky fusion of Harry Hill and Joe 90, you wonder if the man who created a restaurant once voted best in the world isn’t going through some kind of midlife crisis. Do you really need to be loved this badly?

Back at Dinner, we’re onto Pudding. I thought the mains were good, but these really seal it. I get brown bread ice cream (c.1830) with salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup. I’ve had many salted caramel things before, but nothing even close to this; the texture perfected, the crunch, the presentation, the slightly savoury tone balancing the utter malty sweetness. Just amazing. My companion has the taffety tart (c.1660) with apple, rose, fennel & vanilla ice cream, which works a parade of flavours effortlessly. We wait a little while for the ice cream trolley to work its way round the last few tables. This slightly incongruous flourish could have been invented by Heston’s agent. Basically, they make ice-cream in front of you using a rotund, waistcoated man, a hand-cranked, hand-made mixing machine, and liquid nitrogen throwing billowing clouds and drawing everyone’s attention; a seaside science show. There’s a touch of apple coulis in the cones, the nod to finer things. Then you roll your ice cream cone in your choice of toppings; I go for sugar-coated fennel seeds, which were delicious. The whole experience borders on kitsch – perfectly executed kitsch. For this closer, they charged us £8.50 each, but given the twenty minute post-dessert wait and the extra couple of glasses of wine we ordered because of that wait… Dinner was not cheap. But it was exceptional, and the finest expression of what the man is good at.

Back in TV land, a giant, unflavoured ice-cream weighing one tonne is prepared (twice) by experts and craned onto a waffle-coated steel structure. Then Heston and his lad-mag boys fire ‘flavour bombs’ at it with cannons and paintball guns. There is a ludicrous and lengthy preamble to all this where he attempts to make a giant cone out of the normal cone-stuff that will support the vast weight – when it is clear to the viewing public, as it must be to him, that such a thing is impossible and another solution must be found. He gloomily goes through with the TV convention anyway. One tonne of ice-cream in a public park, rapidly melting. There aren’t enough kids in the crowd to eat even a fraction of it. His imagination is rampant, but the vast expense and wastefulness of this programme, in the lingering tail of a recession, in a country where seven million tonnes of food are thrown away every year (to the point where the government has launched a campaign to reduce it) borders on the obscene.

Please. Heston. Stick with what you are excellent at. Refuse to compromise with the idiots who run the idiot box. Stay in the public eye. Stay on television, but show people about work and perfection and glorious English cookery. Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve done a great deal for food and food culture in this country. You don’t need to do rubbish like this too.

 
 

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STICKING OUR FACES IN IT

Here up on the eighth floor at BdGTTt Towers we don’t just snark and drool at the telly box – no, just occasionally we get out and about into the ‘real’ world. So this Sunday past me, Fanny and guest Brenda Cheesecake went on a blog outing (blouting?) to the heaving Good Food Show at London. Although, given how tied in with the telly box it turned out to be, this was an entirely appropriate day trip.

The immense Victorian shed that is the Olympia Exhibition Centre was packed to the gunwhales with stalls, people, and tasty samples. Real wonderland stuff, the full flowering of the home-and-garden wing of the British Food Revolution. Everywhere we looked, the ‘artisanal’, the ‘bespoke’, and the ‘all-natural’ beckoned.  Whitley Neill gin, orangey and exotic. Vestal elderberry liqeur. Mr Todiwalas pickles (Christ, these were good). Clonakilty black pudding. 9bar honeyish, yummy energy bars. Diablo’s curious toastie waffle irons (bakelite!). Sipsmith’s gin and vodkas. RealAle.com. The Artisan Smokehouse and their smoked oils which I can’t wait to try with some roast potatoes. The Garlic Farm plaits, The Cornish Cheese Company and whoever was doing the funny little beetroot candies that tasted a bit like the post-dessert thing they give you at The Square   …all got a lot of interest or a sale out of me. Upstairs was ‘The Wine Show’, where I was particularly taken with an Argentinian Torrentes from Cupari Wines. SALE. There was a ‘VIP section’ with some more serious dinners which didn’t look very VIP, like every temporary ‘VIP’ section ever installed, anywhere. Pleasingly, pretty much everything bar a couple of the sponsors were mostly small, independent stalls – you were usually talking to to the people who made whatever you were gulleting. Big Food mostly kept its nose out.

But that was only the half of it. There was a (ta da!) MasterChef ‘pod’ where all our favourites banged a few pans and smiled for the audience. We caught a glimpse of Ash Mair (MC Professionals winner 2011) doing his stuff (isn’t he busy with his new restaurant?), and watched Shelina (MC winner 2012, lest you need reminding) bang together a red snapper dish with crab courgette flowers with the usual Mauritian seasonings and a couple of great tips about not letting fish curl. The ‘pod’ was MC’d by James Nathan (MC winner 2008), who asked Shelina how her post-MC career was going with just a hint… just the tiniest hint, of…. what’s that?…. hmmm… anyway, Shelina explained what she was doing with her hotly-awaited new cookbook and her cookery school as James explained that he’d been cutting fish for Rick Stein for the past couple of years. Such is the way of things.

Anyway, all that was just a warm up for the special event in the kitchen-equipped ‘Supertheatre’ out back. We take our assigned seats (this was an extra fiver) and even get a warm-up man. We missed Hollywood & Berry on Friday, but on Sunday we get Wallace & Torode’s Laughter Show. They dance on their entrance! They hug! They banter! They tell us they actually met fifteen years ago, but have been working together for only eight! John cooks fillet steaks with plenty of excellent tips (beef being, of course, his chosen specialised subject) while Greg bangs out some Turkish-ish biscuits with enough ‘sweethearts’, ‘darlin’s’ and ‘angels’ to pad an entire Eastenders story cycle. The visibly lighter Mr. Wallace informs us that he’s lost two stone, but doesn’t tell us why. Both of them seem to be actually enjoying themselves. First class family entertainment, anyway.

We wander out, and Fanny squeals at the sight of Michel Roux Jr. just walking about, like a normal person! Anyway, there’s more things to nibble on, and plenty more to see (we don’t even get round everything in several hours). A cynical person could survey this temple and see a lot of middle-class people gorging themselves on free Yakults and pickles like Daily Mail Roman emperors, being sold to, indifferent to the wider problems of British food. Theatre. Entertainment. Bread and circuses. There’s some truth to that. But there was also a sense of possibility and connection and inspiration that I hadn’t seen at similar things previously. A sense of joy, actually. Food in Britain. Everything you need.

Afterwards, we repaired to the nearby Cumberland Arms which managed to serve me the best pub roast I have ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot. Well done.

 

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GREAT

BOOOOOOOM. What a final. Everything. Tears. Drama. Brendan. Cake. Brendan! Fondant. Intrusion into personal living arrangements! (leaving at least *one* question unanswered…) ‘Soggy bottom’ disasters. BRENDAN! John finally nailing it! Contestants coming back! Exclamation marks! Tabloid bullshit!

I’m gonna miss GBBO. This time round they seem to have got the balance perfect, and assembled a finals team of people you could feel warm about and interested in. If Brendan was precise and practiced, James was innovative and seat-of-the-pants, John was quietly… just very good, and he delivered exactly when it mattered. But over the weeks, it was all about Brendan, and the triumph of practice, planning precision and drive over TV-friendly cheer. British values, indeed.

The Guardian summed the final up really well here.

 

HOLLYWOOD NIGHTS

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WE’RE down to the semis in TGBBO, and we all know who the winner is already. That’s right: Paul ‘Inside’ Hollywood. Mel & Sue are fun and sparky and dry. Mary Berry is dotty and posh and particular. John is flustered, Danny is pragmatic, James is coquettish, and Brendan is… well, Laurence Olivier playing Christian Szell in Marathon Man. But it’s The Big Bear that takes it, every week. Alright, I didn’t know he was apparently a gay icon until the Guardian mentioned it today.  He’s the only judge they all fear – you know Mary Berry isn’t going to tear your head off with a look, and she’s going to find something good to say, however pisspoor your St. Honoré. But PH never gives the impression he’s going to say anything other than the absolute, unvarnished truth.

Confident MC contestants can face down the Torode / Wallace blockade, because they know that it’s hokum and that they might well be right or lucky. But no-one dares to gets as much as a langue du chat past Hollywood. In interviews, he appears completely normal, and unaffected or just plain embarrassed by the fame and Twitter nonsense or whatever. In fact, he appears to be that rarest of TV creatures: a completely bullshit-free zone. This is a victory. A victory for rounded personality and unfiltered expertise that’s not been pushed through the dumbed-deeper-and-down TV drool-sieve. And people like that. Five million viewers (apparently) can’t be wrong. Apparently he’s just wrapped a new series for the BBC called – with presumed Liverpudlian irony – ‘Bread’. Which is good, because one thing that is missing from TGBBO is him masterclassing his own hot oven skills.

Anyway, Brendan. (Yeah, I was a bit harsh above. Anything to get a laugh). OK, he’s self-obsessed, aloof, eerie, curiously kitsch, and machine-like – or at least, that is the role the producers and editors have created for him. Yes, he insists on dominating and stamping his individuality on everything, rather than sitting back and letting his talent speak for itself. And yes he takes criticism appallingly, usually accompanied with an ‘I could have you killed’  dagger stare. But strangely, I’m starting to get the impression that he’s actually an extremely warm and genuine man who has just been waiting years to show the world that his pernickity, precise approach to cookery is best. Unselfconscious, nerdy talent FTW. I’m hoping he takes it all the way.

 

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NIGELI$$IMA

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After reading John Crace’s glorious kickabout this morning, I was keen to watch another episode of this hugely successful, slightly bizarre ‘Italianate’ show. But not much had changed. This isn’t cooking. This is advertorial.

‘Her’ kitchen (at least they aren’t pretending) is grand beyond the imaginings of emperors, but even that’s nothing special these days, so the producers have decided to shoot almost the entire show at the magic hour; with sunlight (actually mega-lights, probs) streaming in and making a series shot in Bristol look a bit more Tuscan-porny.

After that, things get a bit confusing. The music shunts between daytime TV jazz, Meters funk, 40s Dixie and folky tinkling. The banter shifts between the phone-sex innuendo satirised years ago by Ronni Ancona and slightly forced gags and filler-guff about markets. “Sooooo easy, it makes itself…” well yeah, apart from the bit where you have to individually shell each broad bean by hand. The pitch of the cooking veers between oh-really-you-must-it’s-so-authentic and sod-it-do-whatever-you-like…like-me! She breezes things like: “Polenta, which we’re all familiar with…” – but many other bog-standard Italian ingredients are gushingly explained to the proles. Even the cameraman can’t choose between the lens smeared with Vaseline and the one that isn’t, so he just mixes and matches as he sees fit. At least she’s not claiming it’s ‘real’ Italian. The food? Oh, whatever. It’s all good easy fun.

So many things they can’t seem to decide on, but one thing that stays rock-like is Nigella-as-brand. She’s flogging herself and her heaving bits and her effortlessness and her bussed-in, gruesomely smug ‘lifestyle’ friends as well as ever, and Christmas is coming, and there’s a bit of the gleam for sale. It’s just entertainment, I know, but she doesn’t seem quite as joyful or silly or self-aware as previous series. There’s a slightly workaday feel to the golden glow. Back to business.

 

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