Sunday, March 21, 2010

Silvio's -- So Much More Than Just Pizza!

Tom and I had planned to go to Silvio's Organic Pizza a couple of weeks ago, after the Vital (A)(R)(T) exhibit that one of his digital photographs had been shown in; but the food was so bountiful and beautiful at the reception that we got sidetracked and found ourselves eating dinner -- hummus with pita chips and vegetables, fruit, egg rolls, salad, and an array of cookies and brownies -- at the buffet table provided. So this past Thursday night, after I met Tom downtown after work and we were debating our dinner options, Silvio's was the perfect choice.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am the least decisive person on Earth, especially when food is involved. I can make life-or-death decisions instinctively on the spur of the moment, and have unfortunately had to do that more times than I like to contemplate. So my theory is that when I actually have choices to peruse and the luxury of time in which to do so, my brain goes into paralysis.

Thus, in surveying the beautiful simplicity found in Margherita pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil) or Pesto pizza (basil sauce, pine nuts, parmesan); the novelty of the exotic Grape (with Fontina and -- of course! -- grapes); or the generosity of stuffed pizzas (vegetarian or tuna with rapini or cod, just for starters), my mind started to swirl as my soul cried out for all of it. Tom, fortunately, was able to hear potatoes calling him, and so we indulged in the sensuous -- on every level -- and seductive #9: Thinly sliced potatoes covered with blue cheese and mozzarella, with just a sprinkling of fragrant rosemary ... sigh.

Our pizza was brought right to us, with the cheese still bubbling from having only left the oven moments earlier. It smelled amazing, with the rosemary wafting through the air; and when we bit in, you could hear the crisp crust crunching but not resisting. It was hot but not sear-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot, and it held together both when cut or when folded (rather than the cheese oozing off and the entire slice deconstructing and falling apart). And the taste was incomparable, a combination that was perfect (a lot of carbs, yes, but carbs that worked in unison) with no one flavor overriding another. This was so, so much more than just "pizza" -- that stuff you can buy for $5 from a franchise or something you can toss into a microwave to turn to goo. This was a true vision of beauty and love, interspersed with kisses from Tom ... :)

Dessert was yet another indulgence -- a crisp round of puff pastry with a luscious creamy filling, delicately sprinkled with confectioners' sugar. Tom eats very nobly -- a former vegan and vegetarian, adores spinach and kale, eats organic food almost exclusively; and yet, he has a sweet tooth and loves baked goods. So the exceptional array of pastries was as tempting to him as it was to me, the girl who doesn't just have one sweet tooth but a full 28 of 'em (having had 4 wisdom teeth pulled decades ago). Tom had made the difficult decision of choosing from among the croissants and bombas (paczki-like filled "doughnuts") and strudels, thank goodness -- I'd likely still be there, 3 days later, if the job had been delegated to me! We hated to break into it, as gorgeous as it was; and yet, it called, it beckoned, it seduced us ... there was no way to resist, and it was so good that I literally picked at the flaky little crumbs left on the plate after the treat had been relished.

There was live music from a guitar-playing trio, warm and efficient service, and food so fabulous that it is difficult to fully describe. Silvio's ... sigh. Repeat visits will be inevitable ....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

St. Paddy's Day Feasting

I tend to be a traditionalist, but one who likes to play with the tradition as well.  So yes, I cooked Corned Beef 'n' Cabbage for St. Paddy's Day; but I didn't boil my cabbage along with the meat, and I didn't add carrots, and I didn't serve spuds.  For the sake of convenience -- since Tom was coming over for dinner, and Jeremy and his friend Mitch were headed to an evening party soon after I got home from work -- I plopped the corned beast into my Mama Bear crockpot (vs. the Baby Bear one for dips or the Papa Bear one for feeding crowds) and let it simmer all day long.  Ideally, it would have cooked in a good beer; but that was not an option with this group (Anonymous rules prevent my sharing specifics), so I immersed the main course in water.  I was told by the resident expert-in-all-things-corned-beast, Jeremy, that it was the best one I've made; so clearly, my new technique and boring choice of liquid balanced each other out.

Jeremy and Mitch didn't even bother eating a sample of each item offered; they went straight to making Reubens.  Jeremy had diligently bought the ingredients himself, and prepared the sandwiches to his own specifications.  I'd show you photos of what I'm told were phenomenal specimens ... of course, that would have required someone other than 19-year-old males being involved in this venture, because no signs of these Yeti-like Reubens can be found.  But I'm told they were amazing!

I ate only one bite of the meat because sodium nitrite gives me migraines, and I wasn't going to pay extortionist prices for chemical-free slabs; ours came from Kroger, personally chosen by Jeremy, which was just fine.  Instead, what captures my heart every St. Paddy's Day -- and which, truly, is incredibly seductive -- is my handmade/home-baked Brown Soda Bread with ... sigh ... Dubliner cheese.  If I had to pick a favorite cheese -- which, of course, would be such a taxing job that my brain would explode -- it might just have to be Dubliner.  It's dry like an aged Cheddar, not too strong, with hints of Parmigiano as well ... familiar in some ways, and yet absolutely its own distinctive and delicious entity.  It is sublime eaten simply on its own or with a lovely selection of fruit (fruit and cheese being among my many food-related weaknesses, and virtually a perfect meal -- breakfast, light lunch, tea-time treat, bedtime snack, whatever); but one might almost think it had been specifically created to be served with my soda bread, because the pairing is so astoundingly "right."  My soda bread is made with King Arthur whole wheat flour, oats, rich buttermilk from Calder Dairy, and raisins (Jeremy's preference) or dried cranberries (my own choice) -- it is hearty, almost scone-like in its crumbliness, not sweet, and absolutely addictive.  Slather some good butter on a slice of bread, add Dubliner cheese ... and find bliss.  If this might ever be my last meal, I could die grinning.

I also served the traditional cabbage with my corned beast, although Tom and I were the only ones who ate it; Jeremy will eat cabbage, but only if it's been transformed into either sauerkraut or cole slaw.  I can eat boiled cabbage, but prefer to do more interesting things with my vegetables than merely soak them in water.  So I melted a bit of bacon fat -- because bacon makes everything better, and is proof that there is a God! -- in a frying pan and cooked sliced cabbage and red onion until they were softened and caramelized ... probably over-cooked to most people's tastes, but perfect for mine.

I didn't drink any green beer or Guinness, not being a) a beer drinker, b) a stout drinker, or c) much of a drinker at all.  St. Paddy's Day isn't about being a lush (and am I the only one who thought's front-page touting of a contributor's day-long attempts at drunkenness was utterly inappropriate and revolting???) -- it's about celebrating one's Irish heritage (I'm 1/4 Irish) ... and, as always, feasting!

Monday, March 15, 2010

My New Favorite Indian Restaurant

I adore -- absolutely adore! -- Indian food!!!  It's a complete sensual indulgence, from the rich colors to the gorgeous aromas, from the tactile experience of eating many items with your hands rather than with silverware to the vibrant tastes dancing on your tongue.

I've eaten at every Indian restaurant in Ann Arbor, I think, and it's been pretty difficult to pick one over another: Jeremy and I went to Temptations for my birthday this past year, and he finally fell in love with Indian food there (after much debate over the years) ... my very dear friend Jayne, who has lived in India and Sri Lanka for periods of her life, prefers Madras Masala, which offers a very fine and extensive buffet for indecisive people like me who love to try everything ... Raja Rani also provides an excellent buffet, in the charming old house with a porch that's perfect for summer lunches ... and Shalimar holds a special place in my heart because Tom and I ate dinner there on our first date, which had begun with breakfast at The Broken Egg, meandered into tea at Sweetwaters (the one on Washington) later that afternoon, and continued through dinner and late into the night as he kissed me while snow fell around us.  I'm always happy to eat Indian food, to cook Indian food, to shop at Indian markets, and to immerse myself in one of my favorite cuisines.

So when Tom's very dear friend Alan invited us to meet Heidi, the wonderful woman who has captured his heart and for whom he'll soon sadly be leaving Ann Arbor (trust me -- she's worth it!), I was thrilled when he recommended Neehee's -- which serves vegetarian street food -- despite the schlep to Canton when we have so many fabulous options here in our own little burg.  A new place on the radar was not a problem, especially since we also needed to visit that wretched circle of hell IKEA to get picture frames for some of Tom's digital photographs; one place was just down Ford Road from the other.

We met Alan and Heidi in the parking lot, having arrived just moments after they had.  She was wonderful -- with a radiant smile despite the cold drizzle, and after having visited with many people throughout the weekend -- and Alan is clearly very smitten with her.  They both seem to be adventurous eaters, which I always like to see -- picky eaters, as I mentioned in my very first post here, are the bane of my existence.  Although Alan had eaten at the Farmington Neehee's and could make some recommendations, he seemed as overwhelmed by the extensive -- well over 100 items! -- menu as Tom and Heidi and I did.  Everything sounded good, the photos posted on the walls of various items (with descriptions) looked amazing, and the aroma of freshly cooked food was tantalizing as we perused our many, many options.

Tom and I had been thinking of potatoes or perhaps spinach as we drove to the restaurant, so it wasn't too difficult (well, it was difficult but not wrenching!) to settle upon splitting the Masala Dosa -- a gigantic, crispy and yet pliable, lentil and rice crepe with a luscious spiced potato-onion filling.  It came with two chutneys as accompaniment, one coral-colored (presumably tomato-based) and the other a pale green (possibly a coconut variation, from my after-the-fact research online); both were delicious and spicy without being too hot.  And it also came with a soup which contained a variety of vegetables; we had no idea what it was, though I now know it was sambhar -- a broth made with tamarind -- which I also might have found out if I'd read the fine print on the menu.  We debated whether to ask, but frankly were too immersed in relishing our food to be able to move from our table.  I used it in a fashion similar to the "jus" of a sandwich served "au jus" ... in other words, I happily dipped my dosa in it.  Please forgive me my ignorance, but I just simply was engrossed in what I was eating!  Remember, I'm not a reporter seeking investigative details; I am merely a near-omnivore seeking to share my varied and blissful dining experiences.

We also split the Aloo Tikki Chole, some fabulous spiced potato pancakes (aloo tikki) smothered in a gravy with chickpeas (chole) and beautiful red onions, with crispy vermicelli on top.  It was absolutely divine -- spicy but not too hot, and readily complementing bits of the dosa (crepe) which I used to pick up portions of the dish.  We had originally thought we'd start with just a few things, reserving the option of going back up to the counter to order more -- with service being so quick that it would hardly be worth going back to the table to wait.  But the quantities of food for astoundingly fair prices ($4.99 for a crepe twice as big as the plate, accompanied by soup and chutneys and the fabulously generous serving of potato filling!) more than filled us up.  We did finish our lunch, but dinner was not going to be necessary.

Alan had initially recommended the Bhel Puri (pictured at the top of the page), which we all shared; it's a salad-like snack made with puffed rice, chutney, tomatoes, and onions.  It's crispy, it's very fresh-tasting, and it's a unique combination of ingredients that just really seems to work in unison.  He and Heidi had also ordered the Special Chaat (sorry, I forgot to take a picture of it!), which were like Indian nachos: crisp triangles topped with chutney and potatoes and onions and cheese, which were tremendously good!

Neehee's is in a strip mall on Ford Road just west of Canton Center Road, and conveniently located right next to a fabulous Indian market that I need to visit again and devote some time to perusing.  The seating capacity is 15, and take-out is absolutely an option.  The service is quick and efficient; and the trays, paper plates and plasticware not only make the self-bussing easy, but they clearly demonstrate that the focus -- in terms of time, labor and money -- is devoted to the fabulous, fabulous food.  What the place lacks in ambience it more than makes up for in amazing dishes that I will likely dream about as I doze off in a little bit (being so enthused about writing this to share the information that I'm up even past my own ridiculously late bedtime) ... :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Moveable Feast That Was "Plentiful and Free!"

Last night, Tom and I went to a really lovely reception at which some of his digital artwork was featured. We attended Vital (A)(R)(T), a curated exhibition presented in conjunction with the "Depression on College Campuses" Conference sponsored by the National Network of Depression Centers, of which the University of Michigan is a member. One of Tom's pictures had actually been featured in the advertising for the conference's national tour, though it wasn't physically present among the very few offerings that space allowed for.  But another, which I really loved and hadn't seen before -- "The Fires Burn" -- was featured (shown, viewed, admired!) during the meet-'n'-greet-'n'-eat at the end of the first day. It was SO fabulous to see the piece displayed publicly! And it was also great to meet Lindsey, the woman who'd acted as curator for the very poignant and touching exhibit of works representing a "diverse group of voices shining a new light of hope on mental illness and social stigma."

After admiring and schmoozing we meandered our way over to the food tables, which had been beautifully presented by the ever-amazing The Moveable Feast.  We'd originally planned to go to Silvio's for pizza afterwards; but when standing right next to a gorgeous buffet table, we debated our options: handmade, organic pizza ... free food that looks soooo good ... pizza ... free food ....  And for once -- truly a rare occasion because I am absolutely the least decisive person on Earth, particularly when given choices among food! -- I took a stand: "This is plentiful, and it's free."  Who were we to turn down such generous hospitality???  And my sweetie agreed with me that the offerings we were perusing looked and smelled amazing ... and so, we set ourselves to the task of eating dinner.

There was an extraordinary fruit tray with pineapple (my personal favorite), cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, and both red and green grapes -- everything was perfect and delicious.  We moved on to red pepper hummus with both cucumber slices and very light/airy pita chips for dipping.  Next were spring rolls, as well as some (presumably?) taquitos; they were very good, whatever they were!  There were barbecue meatballs with just the right amount of zest, some puff pastries with a luscious creamy filling, and also some exceptionally good bruschette with fresh mozzarella, pesto and tapenade-topped tomatoes (love that alliteration!) ... sigh. 

I was greatly impressed (both visually and taste-wise) by the cute little Asian salads -- shredded lettuce, Mandarin oranges, chow mein noodles in a light ginger vinaigrette -- which were served in small Chinese food take-out boxes ... a simple touch, but a brilliant one!  I can cook, but presentation is admittedly not my strongsuit; I loved this idea, and will likely abscond with it at some point ... hey, at least I'm giving credit where it's due!

And then, as though all of the savory options hadn't been sufficiently tantalizing or filling, there was dessert -- and not just little mini tidbits and tastes of dessert.  Full-sized brownies ... oh, and chocolate chip cookies ... oooh, and oatmeal cookies ... (gasp!) and sugar cookies!  Tom (lover of baked goods that he is, which is just one of his very many exceptional qualities) very astutely selected one of everything, and we split each treat in half with much glee.  The rich brownies -- with just a dab of frosting -- were my personal favorites, devotée of chocolate that I am.  I was a very happy and giddy girl!

And so, another round of indulgence in fabulous food sadly came to an end ... until the next adventure!  We do still owe Silvio's a visit, and pizza is sounding really, really good right now ... :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Day-Long Food Fest

Oh, man, Sunday was an incredible festival of food!  Tom, Jeremy and I started out in Berkley, at O'Mara's Irish Restaurant on 12 Mile at Coolidge (as opposed to Coolidge at 12 Mile ... inside joke, after my father corrected me for phrasing it improperly).  It was an occasion for Tom to meet my parents, for me to visit with Tom's dad and stepmother again, for Jeremy to meet some of Tom's family ... it was -- as Tom succinctly put it -- "Lunch with the In-Laws" despite there not even being any engagement let alone a marriage.  It was a convenient way to phrase a complicated arrangement ... and it's kinda sweet, too.  And we needed to play yenta and get all of the old(er) folks together, since my parents live in Birmingham while Tom's live in Royal Oak ... they're practically neighbors!

I'd never been to O'Mara's before, but it was well worth the schlep across 696; Jeremy -- who has recently embraced being 1/8 Irish with a manic devotion -- has now declared it his new favorite restaurant.  There was a beautiful mural of charming Irish doorways along one wall, a gigantic Guinness mirror on another wall, and just a warm, friendly atmosphere with no one rushing anyone out the door.  I never got to look at a menu, because a Sunday brunch that was exceptionally good -- with lots of choices for everyone (from good eaters to picky nuisances) -- was already waiting for us: a beautiful assortment of breads and rolls, a lovely green salad, a gorgeous fruit tray, tuna pasta salad, macaroni and cheese, bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, hash browns, French toast, a variety of cakes and pastries, and -- the absolute pièce de résistance -- some of the best scalloped potatoes I've ever eaten (which both my mother and Monica, Tom's stepmother, had raved about before we went up to the table to peruse the offerings).

Now, anyone who encounters me for even a few brief moments knows at least two things about me: I'm not shy about being the first one up at the buffet table, and I'm also not shy about going up for seconds.  But I didn't want to be a glutton -- not to mention being unable to eat the breakfast meats because the ubiquitous sodium nitrite gives me migraines -- so I exhibited restraint and stuck to salad, fruit, mac 'n' cheese (it was home-style, with real cheese on top ... how could I resist???), the divine potatoes, and splitting small pieces of luscious mocha and lemon cakes with Tom.  (Still recovering from the hamantaschen binge of Purim, no massive quantities of food were on the agenda.)  I enjoyed myself immensely, always happy to eat and to converse and to eat a bit more.  And everyone else seemed to enjoy both the food and the company, as well; our parents even compared notes on afternoon naps and having doctor appointments as their primary source of entertainment ... groan.  My father and Gary (Tom's dad) were similar sorts who long for the good ol' days and an old-fashioned work ethic, while my mother and Monica were the last to leave the table because they were so congenially engaged in conversation with each other.  "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match ...."

After that, we went to my new favorite grocery store: One Stop Kosher Food Market at 10 Mile and Greenfield in Southfield.  I'd been there once before, a few weeks ago, and only had sufficient time to peruse the perimeter ... but that was enough for me to fall in love at first sight.  I felt right at home, as though I were back in NYC where I grew up, shopping side-by-side with Orthodox Jews wearing yarmulkes and wigs and tzitzit and black hats.  And the food -- oh, the food!!!  Bagels and rugelach (crescent-shaped cookies, usually with a chocolate or a fruit filling) and babka (an exceptional coffee cake) and knishes (single-serving savory "pies" with a variety of fillings, from potato to cheese to -- oh, my God!!! -- pastrami) ... I was in my gluttonous glory just absorbing it all!

I bought some Bazooka gum (sugar and all, I'm sorry to say) because the writing on the wrappers was in Hebrew.  I bought some cotton candy (more sugar, virtually nothing but sugar) because it was made by Manischewitz (which has a very special place in my heart after inviting me to be a semi-finalist in its 2nd cook-off) and the container would be perfect -- priceless! -- for bringing lunch items to work.  (I have a very strong sense of whimsy, it seems.)  I bought chocolate-covered matzahs, because that's one of my favorite Pesach (Hebrew for "Passover") foods and the price was better at One Stop than I find it to be in Ann Arbor.  And I bought another box of my beloved Alef Beis (alphabet) cookies so that I can not only have a treat to enjoy with cocoa or with tea, but so that I can practice reading Hebrew by forming words with the cookies ... my equivalent to eating Alpha-Bits or alphabet soup and playing with my food!  I even bought a container of something called "Whip," which is a non-dairy cream.  In order to make baked goods that are pareve [PAHRv] -- neither meat nor dairy -- for my Jewish friends who keep kosher, as well as being able to provide treats for one who has a dairy allergy, I use Earth Balance vegan butter substitute and soy milk or yogurt; but now I can melt some pareve chocolate chips with Whip and even make a glaze or ganache or frosting, as well.  It takes so little to make me happy ... :)

And then, once we got back home, it was on to my food for the Oscars.  I'm not much of a t.v. fan, but will admit to watching the occasional movie on Turner Classics (usually an MGM musical), baseball (lots of baseball ... lots and lots of baseball!), the Tonys, "Monk," and the Oscars.  I care a bit about who wins the awards, but not a lot since I usually haven't seen many of the movies.  But I love to see the clothes, even though I know this makes me seem very shallow and inane ... oh, well, we all have our moments.

For the show, I offered a buffet with not much of a theme other than simply not requiring any utensils -- I'm not Wolfgang Puck, after all, making Oscar-shaped pumpernickel bread toasts with lox or mini gold leaf-covered chocolate statues!  (In a previous life, I might have tried; but now ...?)  We ate a tropical chicken salad (minced chicken, papaya, pineapple, toasted coconut, and a curried coconut milk sauce to kinda/sorta/maybe bind it together) dolloped onto crispy rice crackers, fruit, an assortment of vegetables for dipping, some exceptionally good salt-and-pepper kettle cooked potato chips, and an experimental dip for which I should win some sort of prize:

1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon each cumin and paprika
1/2 teaspoon Ras el Hanout -- a Moroccan spice blend
a splash of Tabasco
a pinch of kosher salt
a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon of my new favorite condiment -- Polish Mustard From Hell

And I made peanut butter cookies -- adding both chopped honey-roasted peanuts and peanut butter chips -- because ... well, who needs a reason???  They're fabulous, soft, crumbly, rich, delicious, and addictive.  It's sort of surprising that there are any left, but then I did bake a lot of them ....

So, that was my Sunday -- eating food, buying food, making food, eating more food.  Not a bad way to end the weekend!

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Babette's Feast"

"Babette's Feast" is one of my very favorite movies, and watching it is on the "to do" list for my boyfriend and me because Tom hasn't seen it yet (which surprised me greatly when I learned that).  Yeah, I took it out of the library, oh, maybe 2 weeks ago; and we keep saying "We need to watch this" ... but it doesn't seem to happen. 

But it needs to, because this movie addresses issues of great interest to me -- belief in God, how best to worship (austerity and asceticism vs. gratitude for bounty), sacrifice and obligation ....  And, obviously, there is the sumptuous porn of the food in the feast of the title!  Needless to say, I vote for relishing abundance (while also seeking better distribution of resources such that the "no need for ... hunger" that John Lennon sang about might one day come true).

We've just celebrated Purim, and been immersed in the requisite hamantaschen.    Every year, there are debates about the merits of sugar cookie dough vs. yeast dough, of poppy seed filling vs. prune ... and why???  They're cookies -- enjoy!  Don't make some of them feel rejected because they might not be your very favorites.  I can't imagine turning any of them down, unless I've simply eaten too many and am on the verge of a diabetic coma.

I've known people who don't like chocolate (gasp!!!), who won't eat orange food, who haven't liked cheese on pizza, who would only eat tuna salad with oily tuna that hadn't been drained, who won't eat chicken unless it's boneless, and who've told me they don't like foods that they haven't even bothered to try -- people with food issues are very, very high on my "naughty" list, unless they've got health or religious reasons to justify their refusals.  It's one thing if you CAN'T eat a particular food, but quite another if you CHOOSE not to ... especially if your whims are going to inconvenience others, and you seek to impose your will upon them.  Eat what's put in front of you, or hit the McDonald's drive-thru for a Big Mac if you're still hungry after playing with the food on your plate rather than eating it.

So, clearly -- after my disbelief at the prospect of rejecting any cookie, and after my rant about picky and particular people -- it should be clear that I am truly a Food Floozie to the depths of my Pooh Bear-like rumbly little tumbly.    (Watch my favorite Pooh scene, in which he tries to do some exercises: "Up, down, touch the ground, puts me in the mood/Up, down, touch the ground, in the mood ... for food!"

Any food -- from soup to nuts to chips to chocolate to cake to cookies to chicken to roast beast to salad to cheese -- has the potential to lure me in, singing a Siren song until I can no longer resist temptation.  I go on curry kicks, will eat Sander's milk chocolate fudge sauce (that my maternal grandmother used to bring as a gift when she'd visit us in NYC) straight out of the jar, obsess about Montmorency and Balaton cherries at the Farmers Market each summer, and generally spend far too many of my waking hours contemplating what I'm going to eat, how I'm going to prepare it, what newfangled treatment I can give it, and how much I enjoyed it.

I do consider fat or sodium or sugar contents, but then do my best to simply enjoy myself despite any warning signs; if I exercise moderation as a rule and am in good health, then I can certainly indulge my whims and cravings without regret.  Really, there are just too many wonderful, delicious things to eat in this world -- from fruits and vegetables to pasta and fish, and from Indian and Ethiopian to Turkish and Irish ... I wax rhapsodic, I effuse, I enthuse, and I relish the complete sensual experience that food provides.  It is not just about nutrients; food can truly be good for the soul.

And Girl Scout cookies only come around once each year, after all, so who am I to refuse ... or to only eat just one???

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