The winter afternoon we spent at the citrus grove

I wanted this winter break to be special for the kids. Although I knew that I would spend much of the time working (I am in the middle of copyediting the manuscript), it was important to me to schedule activities that were both fun and educational. That is when it occurred to me that I should take them to visit a citrus grove. After all, we live in Florida, the land of citrus, no?

I thought of how excited Jon and Miren would be to pick some of their favorite fruit right of the tree and learn a bit more about where we live. I knew they would.

Then, my next question was… “where do we go?”

I didn’t know where to begin my search. I asked around and searched on the internet. How hard could it be to find a citrus grove in the land of mail-order citrus gift-boxes. I called and called, but got nowhere. It seems things have really changed in the last few years in the citrus industry. After the devastating freezes they had in the mid 80s, many small growers lost most of their groves and since then, citrus-growing has become much more industrialized.

“We don’t allow people to walk the groves for liability reasons, but you can visit our packing house” is the answer I heard the most. “But we really want to see the trees and pick the fruit! Why would I want to see a packing facility?” is what I kept repeating.

I got no answers. Until the day I picked up a bag of organic oranges at Whole Foods.

I saw the name Uncle Matt’s under a big sign that said “Local”. Right then and there, I googled them on my phone. I was so excited to find an organic citrus grower not far from where we live. I sent them an email as soon as I got home to see if we could come visit and shortly I received an email back saying “It would be our pleasure!”

Just like that, we planned a trip to visit Uncle Matt’s.

We decided to make a day trip out of it. Invited my friend Karen and Jon’s best friend Daisy along for the ride. C. even took the day off from work to join us.

The kids were beaming. Cool, sunny winters-day.

When we arrived, the entire McLean clan who is the family behind Uncle Matt’s greeted us. Benny McLean, the patriarch, comes from a long line of citrus-growing Floridians. Who else would have such great insight into citrus farming but him. Matt McLean, Benny’s son and CEO of Uncle Matt’s (the business was named after him) explained to us the genesis of it all and the importance of organic practices.

Annemarie and her daughters and nephew joined us as well. Daisy, Jon, and Miren were excited to find new friends and share the experience with them. The McLean children are used to being in the fields and working the land and that is very obvious. They are naturals.

Benny gave us a thorough explanation of how the citrus industry in Florida has evolved. He explained to us how they address the issues of winter freezes, insects, and disease under organic practices. He spoke about the trees’ immune systems and then, just like that, I wanted to cry out of joy. Maybe because my own autoimmune disorders, anytime a doctor, farmer, or individual addresses the importance of strengthening our bodies ability to defend from disease, it gets to me. I get it. Benny’s words resonated. I loved learning about how wasps are used to fight disease and how wasps live on their property pollenating these tiny white flowers that in conventional farming would be considered weeds and immediately removed.

They have created a harmonious eco-system and we could sense it. There is peace at Uncle Matt’s.

The fruit was outrageously sweet – candy-like and warm from the sun.

We all picked from the trees. The sweetest red navels, Hamlins, honeybells, pink grapefruit, gigantic pommelos, and lemons. The tangelos were still ripening and so were the Valencia oranges. They also grow avocados, blueberries, and peaches. We even spotted some blossoms on the peach trees.

Our kids and the McLean kids bonded over picking fruit.

Such a beautiful sight.

As we were walking around, my mind was spinning thinking about what I was going to make with all this beautiful fruit. The first thing was a fresh salad. Don’t we all crave citrus salads after all the holidays? I know I do.

Simple lobster and citrus salad with tarragon-oil dressing and spicy radishes.

We played at the farm until nightfall. The kids were happy from a day in the sun — in nature. And I was completely inspired by passion and dedication from those who see beyond a mere business and create a healthy and sustainable lifestyle for their family and community.

Back at home, we have been enjoying fresh citrus every morning. A mix of red navel and honeybell is Jon’s favorite. How could it not be right? Just like candy.

Even though it is winter and yes, it finally got down to the 40s, I still craved sorbet. I made pommelo, hibiscus, and vanilla bean popsicles that we had outside under the sun. It felt good.

Also made vanilla and cardamom natillas with sliced of citrus and ladyfingers using all the leftovers from recipe testing.

So thank you Uncle Matt’s and the McLean family for your time and generosity. We will never forget it.

And to all of you, happy 2012!

Pommelo, Hibiscus, and Vanilla Bean Sorbet

makes 10 pops

3 cups (750 ml) freshly-squeezed pommelo juice
1/2 cup (100 g) natural cane sugar
2 teaspoons dry hibiscus leaves
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice

In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup (250 ml) of pomelo juice, sugar, hibiscus, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt over medium high heat until it comes to a boil and sugar has dissolved. Remove pot from heat and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain it through a fine sieve and let the syrup cool for 10 minutes.

Mix the pommelo syrup with the remaining pommelo juice and lemon juice. Stir and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Churn in your ice cream machine for a few minutes until it starts to freeze and thicken, but not fully frozen. Pour into the popsicle molds, insert a wooden stick, and freeze until solid.

Lobster and Citrus Salad

serves 4

1 (14-ounce or 400 g) lobster tail
1 medium pink grapefruit, peeled and segmented
1 medium hamlin or navel orange, peeled and segmented
1 medium red navel or blood orange, peeled and segmented
4 radishes, thinly sliced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup (15 g) watercress
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon grapefruit juice
Salt and pepper

Cook the lobster in a pot of salted boiling water for 13 to 15 minutes. Remove and let it cool until you can handle it. Remove flesh from shell and cut into bite size pieces.

In a bowl toss together the lobster pieces, grapefruit, oranges, radishes, green onions, watercress and pistachios.

In a mortar and pestle, bruise the tarragon with a pinch of coarse salt. Slowly add the olive oil while stirring. Pour the oil over the salad, followed by the grapefruit juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Top with microgreens. Serve immediately while lobster is still warm.

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102 Responses to “The winter afternoon we spent at the citrus grove”

  1. tinajo says:

    As always I love your pics, so colorful and lovely! Seems like the perfect place to spend time with kids. :-)

  2. Yes, yes, yes! I’m always craving citrus after the holidays! This looks like such an amazing day, Aran!

  3. What wonderful pictures Aran – I love how bright and full of light they are, perfect for capturing the headiness of citrus fruits. Thank you.

  4. What a lovely lovely adventure! Up north, I have taken my children apple picking for many years but how delightful to explore an orange grove! Beautiful pictures and lovely bright colors for those of us in the colorless gray dark winter.

  5. beautiful aran, i love seeing the kids running and playing. gosh how i love pommelos, i used to call them citrus balls growing up because they were so big. i never see them here.

    Uncle Matts sounds like a wonderful place to visit and wonderful that the Mclean family are dedicated to organic practices!

  6. What a lovely afternoon at the citrus grove and a refined salad!

    Happy New Year!



  7. kimberly says:

    This is one of the things I love most about you – you so clearly have found your passion. It isn’t just the photography – it is your excitement over the entire process of food, from healthy growing practices to all of the amazing recipes you carry around in your head. In the end, all of that greatness comes through in your gorgeous photographs. You are such an inspiration mon amie!

  8. Ariana says:

    Oh, I can practically smell those bright, gorgeous fruits! These pictures took me right back to my Southern California, where my grandparents have several very productive citrus trees. They were always a huge part of our Christmas celebrations. My grandpa always carries a hefty pocket knife with him, to peel the oranges just like the gentleman in the picture.
    What a wonderful afternoon!

  9. notyet100 says:

    Umm super delicious,wish ya great year ahead

  10. This is so stunning! I lived in Florida for several years, and despite seeing MANY trucks of citrus on the roads, never was able to go to a grove. Too bad I didn’t find Uncle Matt’s! Now I will spend the extra money in the grocery store, though, to support them! Thank you for such a beautiful and moving post. I will be subscribing.

  11. Sunchowder says:

    Beautiful photos as always! I loved reading about our local organic groves :) So pleased that you got to enjoy the day at UncleMatts.

  12. Shaina says:

    Absolutely breathtaking. Oh to be at the citrus grove rather than surrounded by blankets of white snow. I think it’s time to plan a vacation.

  13. C.B. says:

    Beautiful pictures (as usual). It’s minus 40 degrees Celsius here so I doubt I’ll find a citrus grove near my house but your pictures sure make my winter a little warmer.

  14. Danielle says:

    Aran, these photos are just stunning. I think I’ve said that before, but it’s still true! I am just dying to find myself in an orange grove now (not likely, here in Canada)!

    Happy new year!

  15. Anna says:

    You are so lucky to live near citrus groves. We have lots of apple trees, but nothing so exotic and wonderful for eating in winter. So beautiful!

  16. I know I start every comment I post on your blog with … “lovely and beautiful pictures” … well this time it is no different … lovely pictures … wonderful idea and it looks like a lovely day!

  17. Valentina says:

    Я никогда не видела цитрусовых рощ, впечатляет красота желтых плодов, яркой зелени, счастливые лица владельцев, которые любят свое дело.
    Хорошее время и место для отдыхы с детьми, они естественны.

  18. what a great excursion! I’m glad you didn’t give up on your adventure -we all benefited from the experience! Juicy!!

  19. Mi says:

    What a beautiful way to spend a day with your family. The grove is simply beautiful and your pictures wonderfully illustrate the man and his citrus grove. Lovely recipes, too.

    Crazy enough, I’d rather choose snow right now (love my seasons) but I am looking forward to my next chance to spend a day like this.

  20. jacqui says:

    Absolutely beautiful! What a lovely place! I live in the NW, but have family in California that have an orange tree in their back yard. Seriously nothing like the experience of eating a fresh picked orange!

  21. Alexandra says:

    Aran, would you adopt me? I’m sleep-trained and already eat solids!!! I just wanted to be at that grove too. Thanks for another gorgeous post.

  22. What a visual feast, Aran! Absolutely gorgeous and edifying photos and what a beautiful day in the citrus grove… stunning.
    Happy 2012!

  23. Misti says:

    One of my favorite things about Florida was finding old citrus groves where old homesteads used to be. I miss it. Thanks for the beautiful post!

  24. This is a quality, well-written article with engaging content full of original, distinctive and tangible views. Much of this content falls in line with my own views. Thank you for sharing your knowledge this way.

  25. Kimberly- well thank you! yes, food and the growing of food is very dear to me. perhaps because it reminds me so much of the way i was raised? it’s an emotional connection that i have. thank you for noticing my friend! xo

    FashioNatalie- yes, it’s sad to see so many groves yet have no access to them. it really made me think of what it is that they are doing back there that they don’t want us to see. all the spraying that goes on, trees with almost no roots… Sad.

    Mi- that is not crazy at all. I love snow and I miss cold winters, so enjoy it!

    Sunchowder- you should go visit them. I bet you could make amazing marmalades!

    Alexandra- I’d give anything for a full night’s sleep actually… :)

    Happy 2012 and thank you!

  26. Kiki says:

    Ah! This makes me want to abandon my beloved Pacific Northwest home for sunshine and produce year round!! So beautiful, thank you for sharing!

  27. Kiki- Although Florida is gorgeous right now, don’t be fooled. We don’t grow all year. From about may through november nothing grows here because it’s so hot. The PNW is beautiful and guess what, we might be there soon… :)


  28. Stunning! I love the photos. BTW, I lend a couple of photos and wrote a few words about your blog on my blog. You can find it here.

  29. Sukaina says:

    Oh what an amazing day. How I wish I could visit an orange grove now. I took my 2 1/2 year old to an organic farm and she loved loved it. So I can only imagine how much fun she would have picking her own oranges (which she loves). Too bad something like this is impossible in Dubai.

  30. Gretchen says:

    Citrus is the only thing that breaks me out of the winter blahs. The lobster salad sounds delicious!

  31. It would be such a dream come true to have my own citrus grove (or at the very least have a family member who owns one).

  32. God, it’s December and the kids wear short sleeves and sandals… Practically you don’t have winter, in Florida…

  33. Isn’t it such a relief and excitement both when one find an organic (or beyond) organic grower? One reason why it is clearly important to support such small family farms. Living in Virginia, I get to pick peaches, cherries, berries in the warm month. But picking citrus is only a memory from childhood. I used to get a couple of cases of Florida citrus from my local high school band booster, but I stopped since they wouldn’t/couldn’t get organic citrus. This year, I yielded to nostalgia and ordered on-line from a small biodynamic farm, and I have had a great time making all kind of things with Meyer lemons and limes.
    Enjoy your bounty (and it’s always a good time for homemade sorbet!)

  34. anna k. says:

    Ah, colour – much needed in this gray Stockholm right now!


  35. So beautiful. I love the photos and the story along with them. The picture of the fruits, whole and cut up, on the white plate is especially love.
    It is 12 degrees in New Hampshire, where I live today. Your post served to warm me up.
    Thank you.

  36. Rebecca says:

    Wonderful that you finally found an organic grove that would let you in. I’ve heard that the citrus industry uses pesticides more heavily than any other, so I can only imagine what those others were hiding. Sadly, here in CO we don’t have much access to good, organic citrus. Really makes me miss living in FL. Your lobster salad looks so fresh and clean. A tasty start to the new year!

  37. Benthe says:

    All these photos are so, so pretty. Another dream of mine: getting old in a lovely large farm kinda house with a huge back yard. Lots of fruit trees and other home grown products. My grandpa has his own large garden and I love getting there, just looking around, getting some fresh products. That’s how I want it to be for my grand children as well.

  38. Now you’re just rubbing it in our faces. Oh what I’d give to be in a citrus grove right now!

  39. Wonderful photos and what a wonderful day for your children.

  40. Supal says:

    I’m from Florida [recently moved to NYC] and my family and I only get Uncle Matt’s oranges from WF! It’s a tradition, when I’m over in the summer, to make freshly squeezed orange juice and/or orange spiced scones :)

    In honor of your trip, I’m having a clementine right now!

  41. Oh my! This looks exactly like where I would like to be right now Aran! It is 20 right now outside of my place. Thank you for bringing some warmth into my house. Happy New Year!

  42. Holy those pommelos are massive! Love the pictures, very impressive. And to think they were grown without any pesticides or fertilizers. I am always for supporting local, organic produce.

  43. Nisrine M. says:

    All this citrus brings warmth and sunshine to a very cold January day. Lovely post, Aran.

  44. K says:

    This was such a lovely post. It made me feel emotional and I almost teared up! That’s rare when I am simply relaxing and enjoying various internet reads. I think this is my first time commenting on your blog, but I have been following for a long time. Keep up the fantastic work. You are an inspiration!

  45. Saucy says:

    That’s really cool. I like the idea of a family farm. My husband grew up on a corn farm in Southern Canada. Family owned farms are scarce now and it’s sad.

  46. I’m definitely craving some citrus now… great post!

  47. rahel says:

    Thanks for this lovely story and the beautiful pictures. I live in Israel and there’s nothing like eating a fresh orange, pommelo or grapefruit straight from the tree! Luckily I have those trees in my surrounding and I don’t need to buy (those ones in the stores are for sure not organic). Happy new Year!

  48. Marta says:

    the pictures are so beautiful that it’s hard to concentrate on a post :)

  49. Maja says:

    Aran, this is so amazing! Not just the pictures (I’m always thrilled with them), but also an excitement in your posts! I have feeling I was there :) I know how you feel in that enviroment – so natural!
    I must ask you (I always want to aks, but I always forget) – where did you buy theese lovely white platter? It’s so lovely, I immediately fell in love! I recognize some Anthropologie stuff, but this platter is amazing :)


  50. Carla says:

    HI Aran, Adore this shoot. Full of light, happiness and colour. Seems incredible sitting in the rain and low light in Paris. Love your photos and wish you every success with your manuscript.. Carla

  51. Fabulous pictures, great colours and sunshine. Makes wet and windy England seem very dull.

  52. Maja- the platter is made by ceramist Monika Dalkin.She makes gorgeous pieces.

    I know that many of you are in the middle of dreary winter but know that I am jealous of that too… I love a cold season myself. :)

    Thank you!

  53. Jessica says:

    Aran, these are BEAUTIFUL photos and how cool that they ended up being THAT close to you!?

    Thanks for the recipes too! I definitely crave citrus in the winter…it helps pick-me-up when the winter blues set in!

    Thanks for the post…truly beautiful:)

  54. Maja says:

    Aran, thank you so much!
    Like you, I love each season!
    Again, stunning photos :)

  55. Absolutely beautiful pictures that convey a most wonderful trip. Incidentally, there is nothing simple about that lobster salad other than it being simply stunning. Perfect start to the year – thank you for sharing.

  56. Beautiful photos! Your kids must have loved the ride and the time you dedicated to them!


    Luiza Mallmann

  57. magierin says:

    wonderfull pictures, wonderfull fruits, very good ideas about the fruits and a real good mother. i wish you best times and ideas for books and this blog.magical ute

  58. a. maren says:

    ha! i wish this was how i spent MY winter days! thank heavens for uncle matt! :)

  59. luby says:

    adoro gli agrumi!!!!
    e quelle meravigliose insalatine-frutta mista ancor di piu!

    che foto incantevoli!

  60. Mimi says:

    these photos are all so beautiful! going to an orange orchard sounds like such a wonderful way to spend the day! :)

    <3, Mimi

  61. These images are just extraordinary. I love the bright burst of orange in the midst of winter; it always seems so exotic in the bleak grey blizzards. Brilliant post!

  62. These photos are so incredibly sweet. Lucky kids!

  63. evi ge says:

    love your blog…its amazing…please make a fan page on facebook so as to follow you there too dont have twitter or flirc and dont have the opportunity to see your updates ….My respect for your work im so jealous of your life and your blog keep writting

  64. What a great trip for you and your children! So glad you were able to find someone local who would be happy to share their work and produce with you.

  65. Silène says:

    J’adore vos photos. Quel merveilleux, merveilleux post.
    J’adore !

  66. Que artista eres!!!! :) un beso desde San Sebastian

  67. What a delight to read about Uncle Matt’s on your blog this morning. I love their citrus!!

    I’ve lived in South Florida for almost 20 years, and I too have always been amazed at the lack of access and/or the seeming citrus behind the scenes. Moving here I thought it’d be much more prominent!

    One thing I do love is hubby bringing home the occasional avocados or citrus from a friend’s tree. It’s rare, but I love it when it happens. When I first moved here, my father in law had a grapefruit tree in the yard. I’m always amazed at how expensive they are in the store…even right here in Florida.


  68. Rowaida says:

    Amazingly beautiful post love love the photos. Wishing you a blessed and successful 2012 xo

  69. Michelle P says:

    There’s something magical about people who are so passionate about what they do. Thank you for sharing!

  70. Evi ge- Thank you for reminding me. I do need to start working on a facebook page. I signed up a couple of years ago but I never use it. I think it’s another good way to keep in touch with readers like you suggested, so thank you!

    Denise- yes, isn’t it sad? not sure how it all happened but things will have to change. The land won’t be able to sustain so much toxicity and abuse. I guess it’s up to us to change it, one purchase at a time!

    Thank you all for your kind words!

  71. I did this as a child in Florida – some of my best memories – and your post brought it ALL back. Thank you for sharing your beautiful day.

  72. I’m shivering in my cold Philadelphia apartment, looking wistfully at those citrus groves and the beautiful children in their shirtsleeves. That salad is so elegant and beautiful, I may just have to make it and close my eyes, pretending I’m somewhere warm. Thank you for a lovely post!

  73. Isabelle says:

    Amazing photos! I really needed this! Makes me happy during the coldish swedish winter.

  74. Sini says:

    Lovely pictures from a surely amazing trip! I’m a bit jealous (it’s freezing outside…).

  75. rentacrowd says:

    Hi Aran,
    Thanks for the beautiful recipes! Can I ask where you got your popsicle mold from? I have been looking for ones like that :)

  76. Judy- I got those at Amazon. Do a search for popsicle molds and you will get a large selection.


  77. The way that you catch the colors is beautiful!

  78. ary says:

    Beautiful post and recepie! Love your blog, I just dicovered it a few days ago!!
    May I ask you where did you get that fantastic violet spoon “à pois”? I love it!

  79. So beautiful pictures!! We just discover your blog! amazing!


    Atelier Decor

  80. marla says:

    Well I am so happy for you guys that you found a citrus grove to visit & that we got to enjoy it through your eyes! Uncle Matts is such a wonderful company & now I think even more highly of them for allowing you and your family this experience.
    Just like candy and wayyy better! xo

  81. jen laceda says:

    …and that’s how your winter looks like? so jealous. In my neck of the woods, we are covered in ice and frost (Canada). We don’t have any orange groves nearby…what I would give to have a citrus grove near where I live…ahhhh…Thanks for sharing your personal adventure!

  82. pierre says:

    bien rafraichissante balade !!Pierre de Paris

  83. Amy says:

    Wow, that’s amazing! I live in Florida as well. My family lost their entire grove in the 80s. They were located in Eustis. It was a very hard time. We now live in Manatee County, and there are still groves here. I have never thought of making popsicles out of citrus before! Awesome!

  84. Jennifer says:

    Love the photos and all the fun your kids are having on the citrus grove. Can I send my kids to you for a few days of Aran’s organic summer camp? :)

  85. Gorgeous photos and a fun day!

  86. Liz says:

    What an amazing story – of your persistence in rooting out a citrus farm that is a farm, not an ‘industry’ as the perfect kiddy playtime place.

    I have to say, I never realised just how lucky I am to be living on a micro island in the Mediterranean (Malta) with citrus in almost every garden! I don’t have citrus as it happens, just olives, so my neighbour offers up her over supply; I hang a basket over the old stone wall and hoist it up full of zingy scented citrus.

    Also, I take my son to play in a government gardens of an old Palazzo. It grows mainly lemons and sweet oranges but has still a few rows of bitter (marmalade) oranges, which no one seems to want. The Arabs introduced citrus here, bitter oranges in 870 A.D. The gardeners pick them for me for free! I’ve just made a zillion jars of marmalade.

    I find small islands hard to live on all year round, but boy, they can have their up sides!

    Wonderful blog btw – I’ve just come across you! will be homing in often as love the recipes and photos! Thanks for your amazingly detailed posts.

  87. Liz- sounds like you live in an idyllic place. Yes, things in the US (or at least in part) are too industrialized these days and not so easy to access farms and groves. That’s wonderful your children have access to nature like that. Thank you!

  88. beautiful photos and post Aran! I have been craving citrus lately and all these juicy pictures are driving me nuts!!!

  89. Shelby says:

    what a beautiful and enlightening post.. as a Floridian myself I grew up to the smell of Orange Groves and citrus aplenty…what a brilliant idea to visit the source of nature’s gifts.. lovely pictures and insight.
    Thank you!

  90. angelica says:

    i wish you lived in greece to welcome you, your kids and friends to our organic citrus grove. uncle matt’s sounds like our american twin. your photos are just lovely. keep looking for small growers and feeding yourself and your loved one with organic food. love from greece.

  91. Angelica- I would love to visit your citrus grove. I have actually never been to Greece, but would love to. Thanks for commenting!

  92. Ann Plough says:

    Thanks for the inspiration to get out there and enjoy the fresh citrus available this time of year! Where did you find the popsicle molds in your pictures? I’d love to find something similar.

  93. Ann- I got them on Amazon. Search for Popsicle molds. They have many.thanks!

  94. […] Image Share this: This entry was posted in Personal and tagged discovery by Celeste Rosenlof. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  95. […] of my fondest memories is when we visited the Uncle Matt’s citrus grove in Clermont and we picked the sweetest oranges right from the tree. Must plan a visit […]

  96. […] welcomed 2013 at the beach with friends and a bonfire followed by a trip to our favorite citrus grove. We spent the rainy afternoon picking fruit and letting the kids enjoy nature, mud and all. The […]

  97. […] be sure to click here to see the most beautiful citrus grove- a virtual Tuesday afternoon […]

  98. […] Let’s spend an afternoon in a citrus grove […]

  99. […] came to visit Uncle Matt’s in January. They drove all the way from South Florida to visit us again and we were more than happy to spend time with Aran and her family, sharing our organic philosophy […]

  100. […] Leave it to Aran of Cannelle et Vanille to use this fragrant citrus perfectly in the form of Pomelo, Hibiscus & Vanilla Bean Sorbet Pops. The recipe is easier than it sounds and will work beautifully, although not quite as pitch […]

  101. […] be sure to click here to see the most beautiful citrus grove- a virtual Tuesday afternoon […]

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