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Cottage Pie (4 persons)

1 lb minced beef
1 large onion (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 tablespoon plain flour 
Beef stock cube dissolved in half-pint hot water
Frozen mixed vegetables medley (small cut) Enough to suit the cook!
Red wine 
Cooking Oil 
Potatoes boiled and mashed.
Grated cheese
Salt & pepper.

Heat a small amount of cooking oil in a large saucepan.
Add minced beef, making sure it breaks up well.
When mince has browned slightly, add the finely chopped onion and mix thoroughly.
Add the flour and mix to soak up the juices.
Top up the beef stock with enough red wine to make 1 pint and add to pan. Stir well.
Then tip in the frozen vegetables
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer for about an hour stirring occasionally to stop it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
While mince is cooking, boil the potatoes and mash them thoroughly.
When mince is cooked, allow to cool, then tip into ovenproof dish
Cover with mashed potatoes and top with the grated cheese.
Place in the centre of a hot oven and cook until piping hot throughout. (About 30 minutes) Cheese will have melted and turned a golden colour.

This is an age-old recipe, but the wine makes all the difference. 
Adding the frozen veg to the mince, means you don’t have to cook anything extra - it’s all in one dish.
Can made early and frozen if using a freezer-safe dish.



Death on Tyneside - Review by Martha A. Cheves

"You want to be involved in solving this murder case.  Hasn't it sunk in yet how close you came to being murdered yourself, the last time you poked your nose into a murder inquiry?"

"Alan, I know I very nearly got myself killed a few months ago."  Agnes took his arm and they restarted their walk down the corridor.  "But I got through that.  Look at me.  I'm still here - alive and well, and ready to be involved in this case.  If the body had been found by someone else, then I might have stayed out of it.  Might,"  she repeated, wagging her finger at him.  "But it wasn't.  It was found by me.  And now I want to see it through."  She stopped walking and swung around in front of him.  "Alan, please, I need to see this through."


Agnes Lockwood has returned to Tyneside after spending a few weeks visiting her sons in Australia.  This is where she was from and the ties were pulling her back.  Or was it Chief Inspector Alan Johnson who was connected to those ties?  The two had gone to school together and Alan had always had a crush on her.  Now, after marriages and many years, they met again and Alan finds his feelings are still there and stronger than ever.  

In her first visit, she and Alan had eaten dinner and were walking back to her hotel when they found a body laying on the sidewalk.  The investigation into this murder almost got Agnes killed.  Now she's back and finds herself in the middle of yet another murder.

I've read everything Eileen Thornton has written and must say that she grabs me from the beginning and all the way through to the end.  She fills her writings with twists and turns that keep you guessing and flipping the pages to see what happens next.  I love her work and can't wait for Book 3 of the Agnes Lockwood Mysteries.
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Colombian Avocado Salsa

1/3 cup Chili (aja dulce, fresh, seeded and chopped)
1 ½ tsp. Habaneros (fresh, finely chopped)
6 Tbsp. White vinegar (distilled)
2 hard-boiled eggs (large, coarsely chopped)
1 ½ cups Avacados (firm, ripe, coarsely mashed)
1 cup Tomatoes (ripe, chopped)
1 cup White Onion (sweet, chopped)
¾ cup Cilantro (fresh, chopped)

Purée chiles, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a blender. 
Transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining ingredients.

Chill until ready to use.

My Life for Her - Review by Martha A. Cheves

With so many commuters bustling about, it was difficult to catch sight of the supposed drug dealer, but Tex spotted him as he slipped onto the train at the last minute.  As Rob followed him to the seats closest to the front door, Tex lowered his voice to a whisper and said, "That dude's either a crooked cop or a member of the cartel.  Worse, I think he's onto us.  We've gotta get rid of him, before our cover's blown."

Rob looked toward the rear of the car.  "Yeah, the dude gives me a bad feeling too."

Tex was silent as the attendant came around to check their tickets, but then he whispered, "Listen, Doc, if he comes into this car, we'll get up and head to the one in front.  You go through the door first, and I'll wait for him behind it."

"Then what?" Rob asked.

"Then... Well, I think I can handle it from there," Tex said with a grin.

Rob Marrino, is a 31 year old Vietnam Vet who is now a Pikeville, NJ policeman.  Life has had its up and downs as he and his wife Beth Anne deal with wartime memories and paranoia.  They have settled down quite well with Beth Anne working at the hospital while their two children are in school.  Then the bottom falls out when Rob does a high speed chase with a car that not only contains 2 Colombian drug runners but more drugs than the Pikeville police have ever seen.  It gets even worse when one of the  dealers is shot and killed with the surviving one promising Rob that he will pay for his interference.  Those words come back to haunt him when his worse nightmare comes true and he, along with a fellow Vet, end up in Columbia.

This book is so intent!  It's filled with action and narrow escapes.  I would like to see this one made into a "Made for TV Movie."
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Potato Soup

3 lbs. new red potatoes, washed and cut into chunks
2 qts. water
4-6 strips of uncooked, lean bacon
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 - 1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
Salt & Pepper to taste

Remove as much fat from the bacon as possible and cut into small pieces.  Place potatoes, water and bacon in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Lower heat and cook until potatoes are tender.  Mash the potatoes leaving a few small chunks here and there.  Mix milk and 1 Tbsp. flour until smooth and pour into potato mix.  Bring to a boil to thicken.  Add another 1/2 Tbsp. of flour if needed.  Stir in cheese, sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. 

Comment:  The whole secret to this dish is boiling the bacon with the potatoes.  It cooks the flavor throughout the potatoes giving the dish a delicious smoky taste.

These Haunts Are Made For Walking - Review by Martha A. Cheves

The next morning was my first day as head librarian in Devil's Moon.  I'd been back in town for a couple weeks before I'd had to start work at the library.  That had given me time to start the haunted tour.  As soon as I'd moved back to town I'd decided to fulfill a lifelong dream - start a haunted tour.  This town was crawling with ghosts.  Well, not literally crawling, but you know what I mean.  So by day I was the mind-mannered librarian and by night I was the queen of spooky.  At least that was what Tammy told everyone.  I was ok with that description.

Ripley Van Raden has moved back to her hometown after a breakup with her ex-husband-to-be.  She has always loved the feel she got when surrounded by books, so what better job than being head of the library.  She would also be working with her best friend Tammy and a woman named Leslie.  Tammy would be enjoyable but after meeting Leslie Ripley knew things just weren't going to be that great.  She isn't sure but thinks it may be because Leslie possibly wanted the job as head librarian herself.

All goes well until the evening of her first day on the job.  The "Bookworms" book club came for their monthly meeting to discuss the book they are reading.  The outcome of the meeting put a true damper the day that started out so smoothly.

Oh yeah, there is also a 'library' ghost that not only can Ripley see but one who also sends her text messages.  This combined with the ghost tour ghosts, give Ripley a very interesting life.

This is a fun book to read full spirits, murder and a touch of humor.  Now I'm ready for Book 2 - A Walk on the Haunted Side.
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Sugarland Peach Cocktail Syrup

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 ripe peach
Pinch of salt

You only need one peach for this syrup so pick a good one. It should give a little to pressure, but not be soggy at all. Rinse it off slice it into big wedges.  Add the wedges to a medium pot with the water and sugar. Put this over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved. No need to bring it to a boil or anything. By the time it’s hot, the sugar should be dissolved.  Once the mixture is hot, you should be able to just pick out the peach skins which you definitely don’t want in the syrup. They should come right off!  The key to making this syrup really nice is to pulse it well in a blender. This emulsifies the peaches and makes a really smooth syrup.  Be sure to let the syrup cool off a bit before blending it!  Once the mixture is blended and cool, you can store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. It might separate a bit in the fridge, but just give it a shake before pouring it and it’ll be great. 

Drink Options
You can use this easy peach cocktail syrup in SO many drinks.
For starters:
2-3 oz. bourbon + 1 oz. peach syrup + dash of orange bitters + club soda
2-3 oz. gin + 1 oz. peach syrup + tonic
2 oz. tequila + 1 oz. peach syrup + 1/2 lime + 2 oz. lemonade + salted rim
2 oz. peach syrup + 8 oz. club soda or sparkling water

You get the idea. It’s incredibly versatile!

The Haunted Heist - Review by Martha A. Cheves

Frankie had the power to show me the supernatural world.  With his help, I'd been able to see and interact with some of the ghosts here in town.  We'd saved my house; we'd solved a murder.  Two of them, actually.  We'd made some positive changes in Sugarland, not that he cared about helping anyone but himself.  And I had been trying to free him.  It was just that nothing had worked yet.

So who is this Frankie that has the power to take Verity Long into the supernatural?  Why is she trying to free him and from what?  These are just some of the fun questions that you can find the answers to by reading the Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries Series.  I will tell you that Frankie lives in a trash can and Verity lives in a house she inherited from her grandmother.  But the fun part was learning how Frankie ended up in the trash can and why Verity is living in a house with no furnishings.

From the very first two books in this series - Southern Spirits and The Skeleton in the Closet, I found myself caught up in the suspense of a murder with a touch of humor.  I've laughed at the very odd pet that lives with Verity and how Frankie tends to get her into trouble in a world that most would never dream of visiting.  I feel for her as she struggles to make ends meet after her almost mother-in-law took everything away from her.  I feel joy for her as her feelings for Ellis grow.  And I hold my breath as she risks her own life to bring justice to those who need it.  This is a series that I hope will never end and I'm really looking forward to reading Book 4 in the series - Deader Homes & Gardens.
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Beef Pot Roast
(A favourite in the ill-fated Slimani household)

1 dessertspoon olive oil
1 (2kg) silverside roasting joint
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 160 C / Gas 3.
Heat a casserole pot on the hob over medium high heat. Add oil, and sear meat in the centre of the pan for 4 minutes. Turn meat over with tongs; sear all sides for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove meat from pan.
Arrange onion, garlic, and 1 bay leaf in the bottom of the pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return meat to pan, place remaining bay leaf on top of meat, and cover.
Cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 150 C / Gas mark 2, and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Remove roast to a platter to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice, and top with onions and gravy.



Last Train to Lime Street - Review by Martha A. Cheves

The funeral of Joey Slimani was indeed a low-key affair.  The small chapel wasn't even half-full as his wife, Trixie and two ex-wives led the small group of mourners, the three women sitting together at the front of the room, with Mary-Beth and Lana flanking the widow, like a pair of personal bodyguards.  

Dressed in black business suits sat Heinrich Braun and Stefan Schmidt, the two German pron producers who'd both had the recent business dealings with the dead man.  In the same row sat Michael Powell, the dead man's solicitor, William Jennings, the Slimani's butler/manservant/part-time lover to Trixie and an unknown man who Ross surmised was Slimani's American lawyer.  On the opposite side sat half a dozen men and three women who were adult movie actors and actresses who regularly appeared in movies made by Joe Slim Productions.  Seated behind the group of porn stars was a rather stiff-looking individual, the captain of South Mersey Golf Club, Graham Bull, here to pay his last respects on behalf of the club and its members.

Joey Slimani's nude body had been tossed from a bridge to be mutilated by an oncoming train.  He had been drugged and someone had cut his throat before the toss.  Detective Inspector Andy Ross and his Special Murder Investigation Team were called in to solve the mystery of why someone would commit such a horrible form of death and mutilation.  With Joey being a porn producer who produced movies of his present wife as well as his two ex-wives, the suspect list starts to take shape and the team proceeds with the idea that someone within the industry had a real hatred for Joey.

As always, with books written by this author, it became a page-turner, with me trying to make sense of just 'who done it?'  The culprit was a bit of a surprise to me, as was the reason.  This is Book VI of the Mersey Murder Mysteries.  It is a stand alone but I suggest you consider starting with Book I and follow this team through some truly interesting mysteries.

Last Train to Lime Street
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Classic Hot Toddy

¾ cup water
1 ½ ounces whiskey
2 to 3 teaspoons honey, to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons lemon juice, to taste
1 lemon round
1 cinnamon stick (optional, for garnish)

In a teapot or saucepan, bring the water to a simmer. Pour the hot water into a mug.
Add the whiskey, 2 teaspoons honey and 2 teaspoon lemon juice. Stir until the honey has disappeared into the hot water. Taste, and add 1 teaspoon honey for more sweetness, and/or 1 teaspoon more lemon juice for more zing.

Garnish with a lemon round and cinnamon stick (if using). Enjoy!

A Merry Mersey Christmas - Review by Martha A. Cheves

Unable to contain himself, Andy Ross took hold of his wife, one hand on each shoulder, and pulled her to him, gave her a short but loving kiss and whispered in her ear, "Someone just killed Santa Clause!" 

"Andy, don't play silly buggers with me.  Come on, what's happened to drag you out at this time of night?"

"I just told you.  Someone killed Santa," he looked her in the eyes and Maria could tell he was deadly serious.

So, why would someone kill the most loved person in the world?  Who would kill the most loved person in the world?  Of course this Santa is really Daniel Thomas, a mall santa that someone decided to give the gift of a knife in his neck.  But again I ask - why?

This short story will take you into the usual murder mystery that Andy Ross and his Specialist Murder Investigation Team are known for solving, but it also takes you to a kinder side of the team that you don't normally see.  It shows both sides of the writing art that evolves from Author Brian L. Porter.  And if you like this short story, you'll love the other books in the Mersey Series.  I sure have.
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DUCK CONFIT - Serves Four

Ingredients

4 Duck breasts.
Tbsp Freshly chopped thyme
3 Cloves garlic finely chopped.
Salt.
Freshly ground black pepper
Three jars of goose fat.

Method

Sprinkle duck breast skin sides with plenty of salt and pepper Turn over and rub with more salt, sprinkle over thyme and chopped garlic. Cover with clingfilm and leave in refrigerator overnight.
Melt goose fat in a pan or slow cooker and turn heat down low.
Add a little oil to a skillet and seal duck breasts both sides.
Drop into the goose fat so they're completely covered and slow cook for four hours. 
Turn off heat and leave fat to set. You can leave it like this for a couple of days if necessary.
When ready to serve just remove breasts from fat, shake off excess and reheat in pan until hot.

Serve with red cabbage and potatoes cooked in the goose fat with a fat glass of red.

The Songbird Girls - Review by Martha A. Cheves

When steel struck the back of her head, Polly's brain briefly took her to a safe place.  She thought she was sitting at home in her armchair, the lounge quiet except for the clock ticking.  The sensation of the cushion beneath her seemed so real but consciousness and reality surged quickly back... She tried to scream, to alert the man who had got out of the Toyota but a hand was over her nose and mouth and her panicked exclamation was held inside her head.

Three years ago Detective Inspector Tom Fabian had put Christopher Wisher, infamous London serial killer, behind bars.  He'd murdered nine people.  Mutilated them in a way only he understood.  Wisher had confessed to the murders and each had his signature - a bird laying near the body with its neck broken.  This was withheld from the public so when Polly's body was found with the signature bird and Wisher in prison, Fabian could only believe this was a very well informed copycat.  And when Wisher passes on a special item to Fabian, he finds his life will be changed for a long time.

Have you ever picked up a book, started reading and decided you know the outcome after just a few pages?  That is what I thought about The Songbird Girls.  I just knew I had this book figured out from almost the beginning.  I was sure up until the last couple of chapters.  Boy was I wrong!  This book took me totally by surprise and I must say that I've finished the book and still don't know the ending.  This book is leading me into the next book that I hope will be out very soon!  I must see what I've missed and who is truly behind the story.  So, Richard Parker, please hurry and give us all the next book in this series.
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ORZO AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE ALA LINDA

Cook up a box of orzo pasta, al dente. Fluids will be taken up when added to casserole.
Sauté 4 pkgs of mushrooms (choose the ones you like, a mixture is good) in 1 stick of butter. Brown lightly. Add 2 cups of white wine and reduce the mixture to a thick soup.
Arrange a large casserole by layering 1 bag fresh baby spinach, the mushrooms and the orzo.
Liberally lace with shaved parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle bread crumbs you have browned in butter on top.
Bake at 400 until bubbly. Add more wine if necessary.

You can add strips of barbequed chicken, shrimp, steak or salmon to this to make a hearty one-dish meal.


ENJOY!

The Mystery of the Lost Avenger - Review by Martha A. Cheves

Charlotte Wheeler suspected that sabotage was happening at the Grumman plant.  She was able to figure out the faulty hinges for the Avenger's bomb bay doors were being randomly replaced for the good hinges, by someone who had access to the plant.  Charlotte and her buddies checked all the planes and prevented the faulty parts from being switched.  They did their best to stop the saboteur, things got rough and Charlotte was attacked one night while she was waiting to catch him in the act.

Charlotte Wheeler was a WASP during WWII.  She not only helped build the planes, she also flew them to their destination where they were turned over to the fighting pilots.  She was scheduled to fly one of the bombers out but noticed a problem with the bomb bay doors.  While she went to check on something the plane was given to another WASP to deliver.  Her name was Brenda McPhee and she never made it to her destination.  Her plane disappeared.

Many years later Annie, who is Charlotte's great grand-daughter, finds out that the plane has been found and there was a letter inside that was written by Charlotte.  Through further research and the help of her boyfriend Ty, Annie decides to solve the mystery of the downed plane and who the saboteur was.

As with all of the Annie Tillery Mysteries, this one kept my interest.  It not only had some history, it also had a great mystery and of course a ghost.  Looking forward to reading the next in this series.
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Honey Cake (Amber's favorite)

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/8 cup milk
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/3 teaspoon lemon juice


Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange rind. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into diamond shapes. Pour honey syrup over the cake.
For the Honey Syrup: In a saucepan, combine honey, 1 cup sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.


PS:  I Love You: A Paranormal Romance (Roxanne's Ghost Saga Book 2) - Review by Martha A Cheves


He should have brought his tools with him.  Without their aid, he couldn't hear the whispers clearly enough.  Turning, he looked back at Ben's house on the hill, debating whether he should go back to fetch them or not. The portal might shift in the time it took him - they were not absolutes carved in stone - and he'd miss the opportunity.  He'd have to make do without the tools and channel his powers of concentration that much harder.

Slowly walking toward the headstone because it seemed the logical place for the portal to be, he kept his mind open and blank, receptive to any words that might fall into it like seeds into fertile ground.  He sensed someone talking.  Choosing a spot roughly equidistant between the three headstones, he sat down and crossed his denim-clad legs, his hands open-palmed on his knees.  

As in book one of this series, Jessica is still at the home that had belonged to Ben and Roxanne where she had gone to take up the position of the Nanny to their daughter.  In this second book Jessica is tortured by the missing Roxanne's sisters, especially the twin who has her sight set on taking Roxanne's place in her marriage to Ben and becoming the mother of their child.  And the tale continues from there.

This book is one that kept me going as I tried to make the connections between Roxanne, Daisy, the sisters and Ben.  And when the connection did come through, it was one that I never guessed making it a total surprise!  If you like a good love story, if you like a good paranormal story, if you like a good combination of both - this is a must read book.  I loved it!  But, read book one - Goodbye, My Love - 1st so you have the full story from the beginning.  You won't regret it.
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Double-chocolate brownies
Carrie often makes double chocolate brownies for family occasions
12-16 brownies


INGREDIENTS
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2  cup sugar (I prefer Sugar in the Raw)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 –1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli chocolate chips)
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  •  

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease and line 8” square pan with parchment paper
  2. Stir eggs with sugar, vanilla and butter.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder and salt and stir into egg mixture.
  4. Add chocolate chips and nuts to mixture.
  5. Spread mixture evenly in pan.
  6. Bake 20-25 minutes. Test with toothpick. Brownies done when toothpick comes out slightly moist.
  7. Let cool, then cut into squares.

Note: if you like, you can melt the chocolate chips before adding them to the mixture.


Read and Gone - Review by Martha A. Cheves

Jim sat down at the kitchen table while I made up a plate with slices of turkey and ham.  I also warmed up a huge piece of lasagna in the microwave.  He ate quickly and neatly as usual.  My father was a thief, but he believed in good clothes and good manners.  When he asked me to serve him more, I knew he probably hadn't eaten since yesterday.  "Coffee?" I asked.  "Please, Black, two sugars."  "As always," I murmured before I could stop myself.  I was annoyed that I'd kept his habits close to my heart.  He shot me a grin.  "You remembered."  "Why are you here? I asked as I slipped a French roast pod into the Keurig.  "I need your help, Caro."  "Do you know Benton Parr, the jewelry?"  "I've met him since he's on the Library Board with Uncle Bosco.  And I've spoken to him a few times on the phone.  He's giving a talk Tuesday evening on 'Gems: How to Tell the Real from the Fake."  "Benton Parr's a thief!"  I started to laugh but immediately froze when I caught his furious expression.  "We nabbed seven million dollars worth of perfect loose stones.  My retirement fund.  Parr took the lot for safekeeping.  I've tried contacting him several times this past month, but he refuses to answer my emails and calls.  I'm afraid I need to ask you to act as a go-between and retrieve my share of the stones."

Carrie Singleton has had her father come in and out of her life for as long as she can remember.  She spent her childhood being ashamed of him while he served time in and out of jail.  Now, just a few days before Christmas, he has shown up at her home wanting her help to recover jewels that he and another man have stolen.  Who does he think he is?  She should just tell him to get lost, which she hopes he will do soon but not before he is attacked and hospitalized, leaving her to take care of him while he's in town.

The first book in this series, Death Overdue, was a very enjoyable read.  Carrie moved to her father's hometown and found herself a job working as the Program and Entertainment Director for the local library.  She also found herself becoming the major factor in solving a murder.  In Read and Gone, Carrie is again involved in several murders as well as the search for the jewels her own father helped steal.  The question is, was he involved in the murders too?

This book takes you around many curves.  There are many suspects to choose from, keeping the reader running from one to the other until the end.  I must say I was surprised.
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