Saturday, 31 December 2016

Easy New Years Eve Cocktails

Looking for the perfect drink to help bring the year to a close? I've chose a few cocktails to share that are easy to make at home and don't require a lot of ingredients. Hopefully this collection of cocktails will help you to keep your party going until midnight or block out the horrors of 2016... it's been a tough year, right? 

This is a picture of a mixture of spirits including gin and rum

This is a picture of a whiskey sour cocktail in short glass

Clermont Whiskey Sour

The Clermont Whiskey Sour is a variation on the classic Whiskey Sour and doesn't need to be served with egg white which I'm not fond of putting in drinks. The sour evolved from the practice of adding lime juice to rum rations to prevent scurvy among sailors in the British Navy in the 1700s.  You will need sugar syrup for this cocktail but it is simple to make yourself. Just add equal quantities of sugar and warm water to a jar and shake until dissolved. This syrup mixture will keep for up to one month if kept in the fridge. 

50ml parts Jim Beam
15ml part fresh lemon juice
25ml part fresh orange juice
15ml part sugar syrup
Orange wedge for garnish

Add ice, fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice, sugar syrup and Jim Beam Bourbon to a shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange wedge and serve.

This is a picture of a bramble cocktail in short glass

Bramble

The Bramble is the first cocktail I opt for on a night out, gin is my tipple of choice and the bramble is light and refreshing. The Bramble is the brainchild of Dick Bradsell, aka ‘The Cocktail King.’ The blackberry drink is the most famous of his creations from his time at Fred’s Club Soho in the 1980’s. The name is said to be taken from the winding nature that the liqueur takes when it’s poured from the top to the bottom of the glass, as though it were winding through brambles.

25ml Chambord
25ml Gin
20ml Fresh Lemon Juice
Lemon wedge
Crushed Ice

Take a short glass and fill to the top, with crushed ice. Pour in the gin and lemon juice. Stir, add the Chambord. Finish with a lemon wedge. If the drink is a little sour for your taste you can add a little sugar syrup. The drink is traditionally made with creme de mure but I've substituted it with Chambord because I already had some at home. 

This is a picture of a dark and stormy  cocktail in long glass

The Perfect Storm

This is another drink with sailor origins and is also the national drink of Bermuda.

50ml Rum
Ginger beer
Lime wedges

It doesn't get easier than this, just add all the ingredients to a glass and stir. Et voila!

I'm going to be having a night in this year with a good movie, board games, nibbles and a few cocktails. I hope you have a wonderful New Years Eve and here's hoping 2017 is brighter and less tumultuous that 2016. Onwards and upwards! 

Gemma
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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

First Christmas in the new house

I didn't leave the house for three days over Christmas and it was absolute bliss. Martyn and I don't have a large family to dash around and visit or who expect us to eat separate dinners with them on Christmas Day. We did the rounds on Christmas Eve, delivering presents and visiting Sookie so we were able to have a relaxed Christmas and Boxing Day on our own in our new home for the first time. 

As we were't expecting any visitors I didn't get up until about 9am and didn't feel the need to get really dressed up. As is traditional in my house we had a full fry up for brunch and a late dinner at around 4/5pm. It's tiring enough just cooking a Christmas dinner, I don't know some of you cope driving around all day visiting relatives. 



I was so pleased with how festive the house felt and I felt really content in my home, pottering about, making dinner and celebrating Christmas with the one I love in a really low key way. The only thing that would have made it better would be a little fur baby, I'm dying to get a puppy to complete my little family. 



The only real extravagance of the day was prosecco with Chambord (I had a few glasses whilst cooking dinner) and goose fat roasties instead of my regular Aunt Bessies.  I was spoilt rotten by friends and family and received some gifts that I know I will treasure. I didn't spend my Christmas Day online shopping for sale items as I was far too engrossed in watching Harry Potter and Star Wars but I do have my eye on this bar cart and I'm going to treat myself to it with some vouchers I received. 


I had lots of brilliant new board games for Christmas including The Great Game of Britain which compliments my other railway game Ticket to Ride really well. The Great Game of Britain is a nostalgic race around the historic railway networks of Britain. The aim is to be the first commuter to travel from London to each of your mystery destinations and back again. Watching out for station closures and hazards along the way. I highly recommend this game, it is great for a family or just two players and may result in a few tantrums and tears like all the best games do.



I've enjoyed relaxing in my fluffy robe and drinking chocolate Baileys like it's going out of fashion but I'm back in work now and so sad it's all over for another year... I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and have amazing plans for 2017, make it your best one yet!

Gemma
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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Easy cheese fondue

I had my first ever cheese fondue whilst on holiday in Grenoble over three years ago and it's been a long wait to have one again. Grenoble is known as the Capital of the Alps and a popular ski resort so fondue can be found in many restaurants across the city. Fondue is great served after a long day on the slopes but you can enjoy it at home too so I'm sharing my recipe for a Swiss/French fondue. 



Serves 4

You will need


225g chopped or grated gruyere cheese
225g chopped camembert (remove the rind)
225g emmental cheese, grated
300 millilitres white wine
2 tsp cornflour
3 tablespoons kirsch (optional)
1 clove garlic (peeled)
Pinch of black pepper

To serve
Cubed bread
Potatoes
Charcuterie
Whatever vegetables you have - tomatoes, peppers etc

Method


Rub the fondue pot with the garlic clove, you can either discard the garlic or leave it in the pot for some extra flavour.

Put the chopped and grated cheese into the fondue pot with the wine and heat until boiling on the hob, by which time the cheese should have melted. 

Turn the pot down to a simmer. Mix the cornflour with the Kirsch in a small bowl, and add to the fondue pot.  I used wine instead of Kirsch which is just as tasty but less traditional. 

Season with the pepper, stir well and place the fondue pot over a flame at the table. 



Once everyone is at the table tuck in and prepare to enter a CHEESE COMA. Cheese fondue is the best but you may need a little nap after consuming this amount of cheese. I think as long as you have gruyere in the mix you can add whatever cheese you have at home and create your own fondue mix. It might not be typically Swiss if you add cheddar but who cares?



A cheese fondue mixture should be kept warm enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid but not so hot that it burns. When the fondue is finished there will be a thin crust of toasted cheese at the bottom of the pot. This is called la religieuse (French for the nun). It has the texture of a cracker and this can be lifted out and eaten. Martyn bought us a fondue pot but you could keep a pan and your cheesy mix warm by popping it on a grill rack or wire cake cooling rack with some tea light candles underneath.

Remember, don't drop your bread in the fondue because if you're a woman you kiss your neighbours around the pot and if you're a man you buy a round of drinks for everyone at the table. 

Gemma
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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

My Festive Home

Martyn and I purchased our first home back in March and there is still a lot of work to do until it is just right. I would love a new kitchen, the roof needs some work and there are some cosmetic things that require a touch up too. Despite the long 'to do' list the house is starting to feel like home and we can't wait to enjoy the first Christmas together in our own home. 

Martyn and I are big kids so we started to get the house decked up for Christmas this week (before December *the horror*). I think our preferred style of decorations could be described as Scandinavian/Alpine and draw influence from our Austrian and German holidays. I like a traditional feel  for the decorations as our home is Edwardian but there are a few modern and glittery bits added to the mix. 

A lot of our items have been picked up at Christmas markets and whilst on holiday but I'll try and link to items where possible if they are still available on the high street. 

this is a photo of a dining room with a christmas tree and fairy lights

Martyn treated me to the Gilmore Girls print as a Christmas present but caved in and let me have it early. I was guaranteed some new Gilmore Girls (4 new epodes, yay!) but there's no guarantee I will get some snow so this might be the closest I get. I've got all my fingers crossed for a white Christmas. 

 "Everything's magical when it snows, everything looks pretty. The clothes are great. Coats, scarves, gloves, hats."

You can pick up this print from WindowShopGal on etsy. 

this is a picture of a red christmas bauble

Many of my tree decorations are handmade or personalised but Wilko is a great place to get some filler baubles at a bargain price and I've picked up loads from there. I've added a few new decorations to my collection this year including the one above from John Lewis. I'm really loving their Chamonix range this year. The print below came as a freebie with my bigger Gilmore Girls print and the cute wooden Christmas Market scene was a TK Maxx bargain last year.


My last house had a modern fire with no mantelpiece which was impossible to decorate so I was really excited to get my new one looking festive with a garland. I'll definitely be hanging my stockings up on the fireplace this year. The garland was only £15 from Matalan (you can find it here) and the nutcracker was a steal too, the one I have is no longer available but they have some other colour options

This is a picture of a festive fireplace with a snowy garland

this is a picture of a tall wooden nut cracker
this is a picture of alpine themed cushions

I want all the rooms to have a festive feel and bedding is a easy way to do this. the above cushion and mountain scene bedding are once again from the John Lewis Chamonix range which Martyn and I really love. 

The set below was from George last year but they have a great selection of prints this year and a double duvet cover only sets you back about £12 which is a relatively cheap way to spruce up a room. 

This is a picture of festive bedding with christmas tress and snow


My wreath is from Sainsburys and has just been reduced to £16 

this is a picture of a festive wreath with red berries

I think this might only be the first phase of Christmas decorations. I fancy another tree for the living room, loads of white lights around the windows and a garland winding its way up the stair case. I basically want MORE of everything and to turn my house into a grotto but I'll try not to get too carried away.

PS I know some of you may be judging me because my decorations are up so early but I think advent started on Sunday 27th so I figure I'm allowed. 

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Gemma
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Sunday, 27 November 2016

#AllAboutThatLace Festive Party Dress - Kaleidoscope

Finding the perfect party dress which can fill you with confidence, make an impression but also be appropriate if you are partying with colleagues is a tall order. The dress I'm wearing to my office Christmas night out manages to tick all the boxes for me. We wear formal/business wear in work so I feel like this needs to be reflected in my outfit choice. I've opted for a midi length lace dress which is an appropriate length but the lace makes it feel more opulent than my normal work dresses. 

My dress if from the Kaleidoscope party wear range and they had a great selection of dresses to chose from with plenty of sequins, sparkle and embellishments but this intricate lace dress was the one that eventually lured me in. 


Even though the dress has plenty of detail in the lace it is all one colour so I added a necklace with hints of berry, pink and grey for a bit of interest. 


Dress: c/o Kaleidoscope - Shoes: New Look - Necklace: Dorothy Perkins - Ring: gift



I think this dress would take you from cocktail parties to black tie events and is demure but fun at the same time (the big net skirt is perfect for swooshing on the dance floor). Kaledeiscope have a handy guide if you want to incorporate more lace into your wardrobe which you can read here.


When i'm wearing a dress and cardigan in work I'm not overly bothered about a sleek silhouette or smooth lines but as this dress is pretty fancy I'll be wearing this waist Maidenfom waistnipper with it. This has the best sucking in power of any shape wear I've ever tried. I might get one in nude for my wedding as my dress is quite floaty and light so this will help to create a lovely shape.


Whether you chose lace, sequins or an LBD I hope you all have a wonderful time at any Christmas parities you may be attending. A big fat Welsh Nadolig Llawen from me!

*some items in this post were provided by Kaleidescope but all words are my own
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Gemma
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Thursday, 24 November 2016

Travel - Budget friendly Berlin

Berlin is a wonderful place to visit if you are on a budget. As one of the cheapest capital cities in Europe, Berlin offers visitors the perfect opportunity to enjoy a short break without worrying about your spending money running out. There are plenty of cheap flights from the UK to Berlin, my return cost just £60 from Cardiff with flybe and you can get even cheaper flights if you are flexible with your place of departure. I loved my time in the city and a 3 night break set me back just £230 including food and attractions whilst on the trip.. This could have been even cheaper if I had opted for a budget hotel or hostel.

Berlin isn't very traditional or what you might expect from a German city. If you're looking for steins of beer, forests and fairytale castles you will need to head to Bavaria. Berlin is mostly new because it was virtually destroyed during WWII by the Allied forces. The city is still being rebuilt and you'll see loads of construction cranes all over the city. What the city might lack in terms of traditional beauty it makes up for with an interesting history, vibrant nightlife and plenty of museums and attractions all of which can be enjoyed without spending much money.


Bebelplatz


You can find the state opera, Humboldt University Buildings and the green domed St Hedwig's Cathedral all located on Bebelplatz. The university has been associated with 40 Nobel Prize winners and has notable alumni and lecturers such as Karl Marx and Albert Einstein. On the square you can find a sunken glass plate between the pavement that provides a view into a room full of empty bookshelves. The bookshelves could accommodate about 20,000 books and serves as a reminder of the books from the university which the Nazis burnt on May 10th, 1933. These works were by  writers seen as a threat to the Nazi ideology.

this is a picture of the humboldt university building on bebelplatz

Alexanderplatz


You can find this weird-looking TV tower which was built in the late 60s on the famous Alexanderplatz. It is the tallest building in the city but I wouldn't recommend spending 12/13 Euro to get views of the city from the top. You can climb the Victory Column for 3 Euro and get equally as wonderful views. You can stroll around the immediate area of the tower and find the very grand baroque Neptune fountain, St Mary's church which dates back to the 13th Century and the impressive red brick Rotes Rathaus where the Mayor of Berlin works. 

This is a picture of the tv tower in berlin

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church 


One of Berlin's iconic buildings, the half-ruined Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is located on Breitscheidplatz in the centre of western Berlin. The church was partially destroyed during a bombing raid in 1943. Following the war, several different options for the church's redevelopment were considered, including the construction of a new church made from glass in the old church's ruins, and also its complete demolition and replacement with a new structure. Eventually it was decided to leave the ruined tower as a memorial to the futility of war, and create a new church around it. A little interesting fact is that the new church was consecrated on 25th May, 1962 - the same day as the new Coventry Cathedral - and features a cross made of nails from the old Coventry Cathedral. The church and an exhibition is free to visit and the new worship hall is very impressive inside with hundreds of blue glass window panes.

this is a picture of the kaiser wilhelm memorial church in berlin

this is a picture of an east berlin watch tower


This is a photo of a train going over a bridge in berli

Visit the East Side Gallery


The East Side Gallery is located in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and is a 1.3km long section of the remaining Berlin Wall which was painted in 1990. This open air art gallery features graffiti artwork which turned the defining structure of the Cold War era into a positive symbol of hope and a reminder of Berlin's dark past.

this is a photo of the east side gallery

Climb to the top of the Reichstag


It’s free to enter the Reichstag and all you have to do is register online in advance to secure your ticket. It’s well worth checking out this unique building which was designed by Norman Foster. It has a unique design of the old building blended in with a glass roof that represent political transparency. You learn about all the cool features of the building if you pick up a free audio guide before heading to the top. Make sure you book this attraction well in advance because the only slot available for me and Martyn was at 9.45pm. 


Enjoy a free concert


For music fans, there are free lunchtime concerts at 1pm on Tuesdays in the foyer of the Berlin Philharmonic. They’re performed by members of the orchestra and music students and last around 45 minutes. Make sure you get there early though as they’re limited to 1500 spaces.

Gaze at the Brandenburg Gate


Built in 1791, The Brandenburg Gate is the symbol of Berlin and the reunited Germany. During the period when Berlin was a divided city, the Brandenberg Gate was located in no man’s land behind the Berlin Wall. It now serves as the centerpiece of Pariser Platz where you can find various embassies and the infamous Michael Jackson baby blanket dangling hotel.

this is a picture of the brandenburg gate at night

Splash the cash


There are loads of free things to see and do in Berlin but there are a couple of things that are worth paying for but won't break the bank. The number 100 bus drives through the centre of Berlin and on its way passes many of the most recommended attractions. For the price of a single AB ticket you'll get your own cheaper guided bus tour of Berlin for a fraction of the alternative.

this is a photo of a currywurst shop in berlin

Berlin has some amazing street food and the easiest to find are kebabs and currywurst. You can get a super filling lunch for around 3 or 4 Euro. I recommend Curry 61 which is close to the Hackescher Markt S-Bahn station. It is close to the Ramones museum and you can pick up a Berliner doughnut on the way back to the station from one of the market stalls outside in the square. You can find some other things to do in this area (Mitte) here

If you're looking for something a bit different head to Street Food Thursday at the Markthalle Neun to sample some of the best street food Berlin has to offer.

Obviously the cheapest way of getting around the city is by walking but Berlin is a sprawling city and can be very chilly in the winter so I recommend making use of the public transport. For travel within the city, the Berlin WelcomeCard gives unlimited free travel on Berlin’s S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses, trams and ferries. This also gives you discounts to many tours and attractions so worth picking one of these up at the airport when you arrive so you can make use of the discounts and trains straight away.

If you have any Berlin tips or just want to share your thoughts, leave your comment below.


Gemma
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Monday, 7 November 2016

Outfit post - Simply Be Scarlett and Jo sweetheart dress

I know we have only just got past Halloween and Bonfire Night but I have started thinking about Christmas already. I've been buying lots of festive bits for the house as it will be my first Christmas in the house I bought back in March with Martyn. I've also been stocking up the cupboards with Baileys and lebkuchen. It's is also time for me to start thinking about partywear as I've already got a few work parities lined up for the festive period and I'm hoping to host a few parties at my house as it is nearly complete in terms of renovation.

Most of my parties and social occasions tend to take place an hour or so after work. I commute around an hour to work so I'm always getting ready in the bathroom in work rather than rushing home and back. I much prefer wearing something to work and just adding a little more lippy and some sparkly eyeliner to make the look more party appropriate. This Scarlett and Jo dress from Simply Be is perfect as a day-to-night dress and would really pop with some heels and a retro hairdo. 

this is a picture of a scarlett and jo plus size dress

The skirt has some netting underneath which gives a lovely, full shape. I love the bold colours in the floral pattern as I tend to wear a lot of grey and black in winter which gets a bit dull and repetitive. The sweetheart neckline, elasticated belt waist and three quarter length sleeves are all super flattering on my shape and I feel really comfortable in this dress. The dress comes in saes 12-32 and in a few colour and pattern options (I'm loving this one).


Dress: c/o Simply Be
Shoes: Mel similar here


I wore this dress on a rare day off together with Martyn, we went to visit my family and my beautiful baby Sookie the labrador and had a date night including a glass (or three) of wine. This will definitely be my go-to date night dress and going for drinks with the girls dress this winter. 

this s a picture of a golden labrador

Isn't she a beaut?!


Have you got your eye on any partywear at the moment? I'm still on the look out for some festive dresses to wear on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and a new winter coat because my one from last year is looking a little tired.

The dress was provided by Simply Be but all opinions are my own.
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Gemma
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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Travel - 72 hours in Berlin

This is a picture of the Berlin Dom

This is a picture of the Bundestag in Berlin

This is a picture of The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

this is a photo of the berlin wall

This is a picture of currywurst

This is a picture of a glass of hot gluhwein


This is an interior photo of a bedroom at the Andels by Vienna House Hotel in Berlin


Berlin has been described as “poor, but sexy” and that's a description I certainly agree with after spending some time in the city a couple of weeks ago. It isn't as pretty as Rome, Budapest or cities I've recently visited like Salzburg but it has its own unique charm and a interesting history linked to World War II and the Cold War. Almost 90% of Berlin was destroyed during World War II and because East Berlin was under Soviet rule for over 40 years after World War II, Communist or Stalinist architecture can be seen in many buildings and monuments in what once was East Germany. Not always breathtaking in terms of beauty but very interesting. 

The city has attracted many artists and writers; David Bowie and Iggy Pop notably lived in Berlin (you can read more about this here). Berlin has a really young and creative vibe and doesn't feel very stereotypically German at all.

We were able to get some really cheap Flybe flights from Cardiff for around £30 each way and picked up the Berlin WelcomeCard when we arrived at Berlin Tegel airport. For 27.50 Euro we were able to travel around the city on trams, buses and the underground for 72 hours and get discounts on over 200 attractions.

See & Do


Martyn and I only had three days in the German capitol so we knew that we would need to cram in as much as possible. On our first day we headed to Alexanderplatz for a Fat Tire Bike Tours to take in as many of the main sights in one day as we could. Our tour group of 10 set out with our tour guide and headed off for a whistle stop tour of the sights. 


Our itinerary included stops at Bebelplatz, the site of the Nazi book-burning in 1933 (look out for the memorial in the floor); Gendarmenmarkt, where you can find the French and German Cathedrals; Checkpoint Charlie, the former border crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War; the Topography of Terrors, the site where the Nazi Gestapo and SS headquarters once stood; the Berlin Wall, one of the small sections still standing; the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial); the Bundestag, home to Germany’s parliament; and Brandenburger Tor/Gate. After a quick pitstop for lunch we had time to squeeze in museum island which is an ensemble of five world-renowned museums and the Berlin Cathedral on an island in River Spree and the Victory Column before heading back to Alexanderplatz to end the tour and hand our bikes back in. 

I would highly recommend this tour and you get a 25% discount if you have WelcomeCard. The tour was a great way to quickly get a feel for the city and get our bearings. Berlin is a very bike-friendly city so I never felt scared when cycling on the road, even in the shared bus and bike lanes. The only downside was wobbly legs after a few hours of cycling. 

Eat & Drink

Currywurst is a dish you can find served on pretty much every street in Berlin. For those of you who haven't tried it before it's German sausage topped with ketchup and a dusting of curry powder. It normal comes served with a side fries too. Currywurst and another Berlin favourite, the kebeb aren't exactly gourmet but they hit the spot after a day of sightseeing and are delicious street food options. 

The story of currywurst can be traced back to a lady named Herta Heuwer. Supplies were very low after the war and Berlin struggled to get back on its feet. In 1949, after she obtained ketchup and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany in exchange for alcohol she mixed these ingredients and came up with the now famous currywurst. This inexpensive meal quickly became a firm favourite with the builders and labourers helping to rebuild the city after the war because it was cheap, filling and tasty. My favourite currywurst of the trip came from Curry61 and had a particularly fruity sauce. They also serve up veggie currywurst too and prices range from about 3-5 Euro. 

Other food highlights include Scheers Shnitzel located close to the East Side Gallery where you can get a great lunch for around 5 Euro including Schnitzel, fries and a side salad or double up on the schnitzel for 9 Euro. They also stocked my favourite Austrian soft drink called Almdudler which you have to try if you visit Scheers. 

The Kaufhaus des Westens, always known as KaDeWe, is continental Europe’s largest department store and has an impressive food hall with 34,000 different foods on sale. The food hall takes up the store’s entire sixth floor and is a labyrinth of tasty treats. I loved strolling around this store and browsing all the incredibly appetising food. 

If you're visiting Berlin in the summer taking time out in a beer garden is a must. It was a little chilly when we visited Schleusenkrug beer garden so sat myself by a heater and I ordered a Gluhwein to warm up and Martyn chose a Allgäuer Büble Bier. It's located in the Teirgarten and the perfect place to try some German food and drink huge beers. 

Stay

We stayed at Andel's by Vienna House which had stylish rooms, a spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant and sky bar with fantastic views across the city. The service was friendly, the breakfast was amazing (there were mini Berliner doughnuts and waffles!) and it was only a few stops away from Alexanderplatz on the tram. The hotel was perfect for myself and Martyn and cost around £63 a night. I would recommend a stay here if you would like somewhere quiet to stay, if you're looking for a little more action and late nights out you might want to find a cool Airbnb in Kreuzberg. 

I'm going to do another post sharing some of my favourite sights and attractions in Berlin because I just couldn't fit them all in to one post. 
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Gemma
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