Thursday, September 11, 2014

Childhood Chocolate Chip Cookies: When the color of your childhood changes

For my friend JHP - it isn't good-bye.

I've actually been trying to write this post for over three weeks, but haven't had the words.  I've also not had the time, but I think if I had the words, I would have made the time.  But finally, tonight, I've given myself the time and space to try and put down in words some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head, with no words to describe them.

I'm not a good-enough word smith to put together eloquently the feelings that need to be represented, words to describe what it is like to experience the death of a childhood friend.  There is this profound emptiness that comes over the once full memories of childhood and a change in the color of those memories.  What were steady, consistent, innocent memories suddenly change and become different, more faded and less bright.  My friends and I lost a bit of our childhood in the death of our friend - not that the memories changed, but the innocent feelings about those memories are less so. 

A few of us have been sharing childhood pictures of us, some Halloween, some church retreats, and seeing her present in those photographs pinches my heart because even though she is still in the photographs and our memory, she isn't here on earth.  It's almost like the pictures lie to me - that she existed, but no longer so.  Wrestling with that, with her absence on this planet, is not something that I ever imagined doing.  She left, too quick, too soon, before I was ready.  I do have my reassurance that she is with our Heavenly Creator and Father and that finally her body is at peace.  We will meet again in heaven, and for that knowledge, I am grateful.

My friend loved cookies.  She loved chocolate chip cookies.  And I've made this particular permutation of cookie 11 times since her passing.  It was my own way to grieve I guess, a way for me to feel closer to someone who has gone, a way for me to feel better, to taste sweet innocence again, to share cookies with those whom I love.  Maybe it's my desire to master something of my childhood, to slip back into the past memories, but whatever the reason, I made them each time thinking of my friend.  They are rich, sweet, crumbly, the stuff of childhood.

JHP - When I get to heaven, make sure you pretend to like these cookies.
Childhood Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 4 dozen

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
½  teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½  teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) room temperature butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Position rack into center of oven.  Preheat oven to 375

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat butter until fairly smooth.  Add both sugars and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes until mixture is light and creamy.  Scrape down sides of the bowl.  Add egg beating and scraping the bowl as necessary.  Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine.  Mix in chocolate.

The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for 2 weeks.  Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers.  (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)

Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape dough into balls.  Arrange cookies on pan, and using the pal of your hand, slightly smoosh them down so they will spread.  Bake for 12 minutes or until tops are firm and the edges golden brown.

Serve warm.  Or cold.  Or with a cold glass of milk.

Printable recipe

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Green Goddess Dressing: For all the strong goddesses I know

To all my fellow women who fight the good fight for their children and families - you are amazing.

It's been a tough week for the women in my life these past few months.  I have a friend in hospice after a short but frenzied battle with cancer.  She lives for two young children who will soon suffer an anguish that is like no other.  She battles on to spend any additional day with her kids.

I have another friend who fights to get the best education for her autistic child, who is currently not being served in his school.  She battles daily to get what her child needs, often times being defeated by the system, but she herself, never gives up fighting for more.

Still another friend deals with a child recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  This means that for the immediate future, every carbohydrate, every bit of food has to be measured, calculated, and balanced with insulin. There is an incredible amount of math involved in every single meal (mostly addition and division) and nothing food wise is just picked up and consumed on a whim.  The entire family is on standby and she still calculates, measures, weighs all the food that will go into her child.

There are those moms who daily battle with food allergies.  I'm currently trying to figure out how to keep #2 safe in a classroom where no one seems to have gotten the memo that she is allergic to peanuts without offended or upsetting anyone else's food choices.

There are my friends who have to take care of aging parents while taking care of young children.  They do it with a smile on their face, sweat on their brow, while the burden of two generations weighs on their shoulder.

I have dozens more stories of the amazing women in my immediate circle who are going through great lengths for their families.  They sacrifice and push themselves for they can.  They are the better for it on the other side of the challenge, but the road through the challenge is not easy.

Women - we are doing it all.  We are doing the best we can.  The road has been hard and the battle has been unpredictable.  But we still go at it, strong, fierce and determined to do what needs to be done.  And for these women, I'm so very proud to be their friend and to be a fellow woman.

These women, these goddesses if you will, I offer salad.  Delicious salad with a dressing aptly named - green goddess.  The dressing is creamy, sophisticated, vibrant and fresh.  It enhances almost anything it touches.  (I'm partial to it with carrot sticks and cucumbers.)  The dressing is almost as good as a good woman.

Green Goddess Dressing
Serves 6 

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (7 or 8  scallions)
1 ½  cups chopped fresh basil leaves
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
2 teaspoons anchovy paste (near the canned meat section of your local grocery store)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream

In a blender add all ingredients except sour cream.  Blend until just smooth.  Add sour cream and blend just a bit more.  Use immediately over salad your choice of salad (I like romaine with cucumbers and tomatoes), or refrigerate if not using immediately.  

With cucumbers, tomatoes and romaine, the perfect salad to go with any meal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Miso Slaw: On goodness

Right now, Daughter #1 is in the process of contemplating a run for student office.  There are forms to fill out, hoops to jump through, essays to write, speeches to memorize and votes to be won.  I did not push her into running, because quite frankly, I never ran for anything in my life nor have I won any sort of public office (or private office for that matter) ever.  It's never been something I've desired and although I've seen children of my friends and students of mine all run for office, many of them winning, it's never been something that I've wanted to push Children into.

But I am proud of Daughter #1 for trying.  She hates public speaking, so the speech should be an interesting challenge, and has always been much more about smaller roles vs. the larger roles in leadership.  Some may say that I'm not grooming her for greatness, and my response is I'm not grooming her for greatness.  I'd rather groom her for goodness.

She's decided on her own that she'd like to run for the office of secretary.  She already heard the descriptions of all the offices and decided that the one where she would be happiest doing her job is the one where she neatly takes notes, records accurately the meetings, and conscientiously takes care of all the minutes and processes.  Admittedly a part of me wishes that she would just risk it all and run for president, but she has made her decision.

Should she win as secretary, I hope that she has time to think about goodness.  About being good to others, being kind and generous to those in need, and serving more than the people whom are obvious, but rather those who are invisible.  I hope she uses her position of leadership, albeit a lesser one than president, to teach goodness and to lead through example.  I know that there are many types of leadership, some great, some not so great, but I hope that she will choose to practice goodness in her leadership and that she makes others feel good when they are around her.

Now, this salad is not a salad of greatness; this salad is not going to win me any cooking competitions, recipe competitions, or public office.  It is, however, a salad full of goodness - good vegetables, good flavor, good crunch.  It's the salad that makes you feel good when you see it and feel good after you've finished it.  There is crunch and chew that just makes you feel good.  It's simple chopped up vegetables with a wonderful miso sesame dressing that is at once creamy and light.

Miso Slaw
Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons white miso paste
1 teaspoon grated fresh peeled ginger
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
salt and pepper

6 cups shredded green cabbage or a mix of green and red cabbage
2 large carrots, julienne
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

In a blender or mini chopper, place vinegar, miso, ginger, honey, sesame oil, and vegetable oil.  Blend together until mixture is emulsified and uniform.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl mix together cabbage, carrots, scallions.  Toss with as much dressing as needed.  Add sesame seeds.

Serve immediately.

Printable recipe

Goodness.  Yes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

S'mochi: When it feels right

I know people find this hard to believe, but in my daily life, there are more situations where I feel awkward and out of place than feel at home. I sometimes tell myself that I was not meant for the outside world, as the place where I am happiest is often in the four walls of my home, most specifically in my office (like right now) or in the kitchen (like in a few minutes.)

It's part of the reason I tend to gravitate towards the same places to eat meals, the same friends' homes to hang out, the same routines, and the same route to school.  I feel awkward and out of place more often than not in the outside world but I understand who I am and that I have my own idiosyncrasies.  That being said, I try hard not to let my desire to be comfortable stop me from pushing myself when I'm uncomfortable.  I know I grow when I stretch myself, but I also give myself permission to retreat back into my hole.

I do find myself finding unexpected moments of feeling right and in the proper place.  Today, while volunteering at school, Son's teacher asked me to direct the kids in a particular activity, so I had a chance to sit in a circle of kids and discuss a book.  Scrunched up on the floor with 13 kids looking on was a great experience and it made me smile.  And it caught me off guard, that surrounded by tiny kids, on a floor, talking about a book impromptu could make me so at peace.  It felt so right.

This little tasty bite is another one of those unexpected feel-so-right moments.  It definitely caught me off guard as it seemed to be in concept, a conflict between the best of east and west; delicious, melty chocolate, and soft squishy mochi have no business being smooshed together between two crunchy graham crackers but suddenly - one bite?  It feels just right.  It feels perfect.  It feels comfortable.

It's simple to execute but the result is a not-too-sweet, gooey, chewy, yummy something that makes all that is awry in the world straighten up.  I was inspired by this pic  but took it my own direction.  It's the kind of thing you can easily make only one of or you can make a bunch of without much struggle.

These were the mochi that I found at my local Japanese market.

Makes 3 (but just as easily you can make 1 or 6)

3 graham crackers, broken in half (I found a knife made cleaner cuts than trying to rely on simply breaking)
3 pieces of hard mochi
45 semisweet chocolate chips (15 chips per s’mochi)
1 teaspoon cooking oil

In a fry pan over medium heat add oil.  Add unwrapped mochi and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until it is golden and puffed up and squishy.

While mochi is cooking, place chocolate chips on top of graham crackers.  Add hot mochi on top of chocolate chips.  Allow mochi to melt chocolate chips for about 30 seconds, and then squish the graham cracker on top.

Open your mouth and take a huge bite.

Printable recipe
S'mochi S'more S'il-vous-plait

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lemon Mascarpone Torte: Sometimes you really just need it to be easy

My readers will notice I did not post much in June.  That's because June turned out to be the craziest month of all time for me with a teaching schedule that went completely haywire, with multiple school districts with different calendars letting their students out at varying times, which affects me because suddenly half of my students want morning lessons.  Add to that summer students, my kids STILL in school, and church VBS and my stress levels go through the roof.  There were many moments when I felt like the world was reeling around me so quickly that I couldn't keep anything in place and intact.

All the while all of this craziness was going on, I still kept on riding my bike as much as possible.  It's a way for me to keep my stress levels under control because on my bike, you just can't help but smile.  I can't help but smile.  I wear the goofiest helmet of all time and it makes me happy and it makes me laugh.  (Should you want to emulate my incredible fashion sense, buy it here.)

Every once in a while, one of my friends will look at me as we are in the middle of an intense conversation and say something like, "I can't take you seriously when your head looks like a watermelon."  Then I'll take it off.  But while I'm on my bike, moving around my neighborhood, back and forth between school and home, my helmet stays on my head.

Unfortunately I can't do Costco shopping on my bike, so I usually run home, leave my bike and then hop into the car.  During my most intense time in June, I discovered I need something at Costco, so as it is my habit, I dumped my bike and excess equipment at school and went  to Costco.  I parked, flashed my membership card, and with my mind on figuring out and calculating how quickly I could finish what I need to do at Costco, I barely noticed the people giving me funny looks. As I ran towards the fruit section, I happened to pass a mirror section, which I quickly moved past, when I caught a flash of green on my head in the reflection.

Green as in my watermelon helmet.  Green as in the watermelon helmet that I DROVE to Costco with, got out of the car with, and ran around half of Costco with.  I sheepishly began laughing at myself, removed the helmet and shook my head at my own nuttiness.  Was I that intensely insane that I couldn't remember to take off a helmet?  Evidently yes.  My life had reached a fever pitch that made things so crazy that a watermelon helmet in the middle of Costco could completely happen.

I'm always grateful for the month of July because life slows down for me.  No more lunches to pack, students flit in and out of my life on vacation and then back off vacation, and a general slowing of the mayhem that is motherhood.  And during the slowdown I find myself feeling lazy and wanting simply to do less and do things simply.  It also gets warmer so it's less compelling to be in the kitchen.  I decided to go ahead and try and do a no bake cheesecake recipe, drawing inspiration from a bunch of different sources, but mostly this one.   
The result?  Summer easy yummy fun.  The main commitment is time to chill and set it, which clocks in at around 8 hours, or overnight (or up to 3 days ahead of time) but the end result is totally worth it, and it's easy!  No ovens to turn on and nothing complicated to do except layer, and you can probably even do it with a bike helmet on, should you feel so compelled. 

Lemon Mascarpone Torte
Serves 5 to 6

2 cups (16 oz mascarpone cheese)
⅔  cup heavy cream
⅔  cup prepared lemon curd
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Kosher salt
About 15 whole graham crackers
Blueberries, for serving

Line a 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing 4 inches of overhang.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the mascarpone with the heavy cream at medium speed until smooth and just firm; do not overbeat. Fold in the lemon curd, lemon zest and a pinch of salt.

Spread a 1/4-inch-thick layer of the lemon cream on the bottom of the pan.  (I used a broken off piece of graham cracker to do this - YUM!)  Arrange a single layer of graham crackers on top, breaking them to fit.  For a prettier edge, break the crackers a little bit short of the edge so that the outside will be cream and not a layer of graham, essentially leaving a border around the edge of your pan.   Repeat the layering with the remaining lemon cream and crackers, finishing with a final layer of cream.

Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Uncover and invert the cheesecake onto a platter. Remove the plastic wrap. Serve with blueberries.

Printable recipe

Cutting into yumminess.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Korean Spicy Pork Sandwich (돼지불고기 sandwich): Unexpected outcome

 For EK - my first drum teacher, who assured me that if I mastered one beat, I could play drums in praise for the rest of my life.  You were right.
For DK, EBK -your support and encouragment!

I started fiddling with the drums almost 4 years ago.  I got it in my head that long while ago, that given enough practice and discipline, I could be good enough to play in front of my church with our praise band.   Our praise band needed a drummer as there were none, and I was motivated to fulfill this role.  I practiced diligently for a while, then the drums sat idle for a long while, and then recently, in the last six months or so, I've been practicing far more regularly and trying a lot more to get my rhythms and my coordination together.  But I'm very much not that good.  A novice at best and an uncoordinated old lady at worst.  I've actually played excitedly in front of friends and family before and their immediate response isn't "You're good" but rather, "Don't you have any other beats or fancy stuff you can do?"  Deflate my ego.

However, because I am stubborn, I kept on practicing.  Still only novice level, but a confident novice.  And on a whim, one day during praise team rehearsal, where I have always been a pianist or keyboardist and sometimes a vocalist, I offered to play the drums while my guitarist took the lead on the song.  Everyone perked up on the team, and we decided to give it a go.  I helped establish the rhythm and I kept the beat for the entire song and the guitarist said, "You're great.  Why don't you play Sunday for service?"  My jaw dropped.  My face turned red.  My armpits got sweaty.  Piano in front of service was easy, a no brainer, and simple to follow through.  I had no worries when I played piano, but drums was a whole new perspective and I began to silently freak out.  "Can I do it?" I asked the team, and they all nodded encouragingly and said, "You were great!  Do it!"  After rehearsal was over, I asked, "Are you guys only saying to play drums because you're trying to keep me happy or do you actually want me to drum?"  They all said, "JUST PLAY!  It'll be GREAT!"

Then Sunday came.  I told Children I was playing drums but to keep it a secret from Husband so that he could be surprised when the beats came during our service.  I led a song on the piano, then moved from the piano to the drums and BAM!  Began playing!!!  And it was both thrilling and completely freaky at the same time.  It was only one song, probably about two minutes of beating the drums, but it was one of the most thrilling minutes of my life.  I was focused, concentrated and completely unable to do anything but focus on the two sticks and all the rhythm I was to create.

I got offered another opportunity to play again today, and I drummed TWO songs today.  And still, I'm not an expert drummer with fantastic beats or fancy embellishments.  But the praise leader this week made the interesting observation that what is needed isn't the fanciest drummer.  What is needed is the steady beat to help keep the song together and not mess it up with fancy solos.   In my head and in my arrogance I wanted to be the fanciest most spectacular female praise drummer the world had ever seen.  What I am is the steady and consistent amateur rhythm maker who helps keep the team together. Somehow, God used my small ability and used it to do what was actually needed, not what I wanted in my head.  I don't need to be fancy for God to use me.  I only need to be consistent and faithful and God uses me in the most effective way.

Unexpected outcome, but oh what a blessing.

These sandwiches were also an unexpected outcome.  I had made Korean spicy pork (돼지불고기) for Husband for dinner, and Girls complained that it was KOREAN FOOD AGAIN.  I quickly grabbed pretzel buns, sliced them in half, and said, "It's not Korean if it's on a sandwich. Make yourself a spicy pork sandwich."  Something about the pretzel bun must have intrigued them for they both decided to make themselves a sandwich and within seconds were oohing and aahing at the flavor.  It looked so good to me I threw some Korean perilla leaf on mine and was blown away at the yummy amazing flavor.  They are easy to make and the pretzel bun (which I picked up at Costco) is the perfect foil to the saucy and spicy pork.  It's a great dish to make for a large group.
Unexpected outcome.  But oh so good.

Korean Spicy Pork Bulgogi Sandwich (Dweji Bulgogi 돼지불고기Sandwich)
Serves 5 to 6

1 1/2 lbs thinly sliced pork shoulder (also called pork butt) OR you can use pork belly for this (your local Korean market will have the appropriate cut of meat)

1/3 cup Korean chili pepper paste (gochujahng 고추장)
3 tablespoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon hot pepper flakes (omit this to reduce the heat)
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon crushed toasted sesame seeds
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 scallions, cut into 2 inch lengths

12 pretzel buns (small so 2 per person) (or another type of soft roll)
24 perilla leaves and/or romaine lettuce leaves for serving on top of the sandwich.

In a large bowl, mix together gochujang, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, sake, sesame oil, honey and sesame seeds.  Add thinly sliced pork and using your hands, making sure each piece is evenly coated.

Add onions and scallions and mix well.  Allow to marinate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Heat a heavy fry pan over medium high heat.  It is better to cook this in batches, than trying to cook it all at once.  Cook half the pork until the onions are translucent and the meat is fully cooked, about 6 minutes.  Transfer to a serving plate and cook the other half of the pork.

While the pork is still warm, slice pretzel buns in half, and scoop a nice hefty portion of pork onto the bun.  Add perilla leaves and romaine leaf.  Place bun on top and move sandwich to the mouth.  Chew. Chew. Chew.
Printable recipe

Great outcomes, unexpectedly

Friday, July 11, 2014

Korean Style Red Bean Shaved Ice Patbingsoo (팥빙수): Obsessions come home

There was a summer during college, when I went to Korea in order to figure out if teaching was what I wanted to do.  My aunt helped line up a series of students for me to experiment on, and I landed in Korea and had my own tiny little room in another aunt's house.  I spent my days teaching and my evenings hunting down Seoul's best version of their summer time dessert, patbingsoo, or red bean shaved ice.

I actually remember the first time someone offered it to me and I was immediately put off by the idea of red bean and ice.  WHAT?  Weird!  It's like refried beans that are cold?  Gross!  No way!  But when my cousin insisted that I try it, I did and I was so hooked I became obsessed.  My cousin suggested that we attempt to eat one red bean shaved ice each day and compare our favorites and find out which we liked the best.  It sounded like a great challenge and I'd even skip dinner some nights (as it was super hot anyways) just so I could go out and hunt for a great shaved ice with my cousin.  We ate cheap ones from mini corner stores that had a ton of fruit cocktail dumped on top, to fancier versions in hotel restaurants that had expensive and beautifully cut fruit arranged on top, much like one would decorate a cake.  We would eat them in bakeries and we would hunt them down in bookstores.  It became a ritual to hunt down another place where we could have them and we fulfilled our daily intake of shaved ice that summer.

While living in Korea, I also would occaisionally grab one during the summer, but for some reason I wasn't as crazy about it as I used to be.  Perhaps it was my anti-bean husband who didn't much care for it, or the fact that it's one of those dishes I associate with solitude and peace, and children don't equal solitude and peace.  For whatever reason, I didn't eat it much.

Last week, on the 4th of July, I had some friends over, and my friend brought this dish as a dessert.  There were a good number of people over, but she prepared an awesome selection of fruits and toppings and brought it over to share.  I shaved ice for folks and people got to decide what they wanted on their patbingsoo.  It was Children's first time ever seeing a manual ice shaver (yes, we've never been to Hawaii) and it ended up being super exciting for them.

In short, I had to go out and get everything so that I could begin my love affair with patbingsoo again.  I tried grinding the ice in the Vitamix as an initial solution, and it kind of worked, but not as well as I wanted.  I went and got a manual ice shaving machine from our local Ranch 99 along with a bunch of other ingredients readily available at the market.  Children became experts at creating the shaved ice dish of their dreams and I began creating the shaved ice versions from my own memory.

I personally favor the simpler shaved ices, which focuses more on fresh fruit and fewer toppings like this one.  With shaved ice, watermelon, red bean, mochi, and a little scoop of sweetened condensed milk it's the most refreshing one that I enjoy.

 Some people like a more complicated, more topping-filled one which has a variety of fruits, nata de coco (coconut jelly), lychees (canned), mochi, sweetened condensed milk and a sprinkling of cereal.

There is also the option of a scoop of vanilla ice cream to add to your shaved ice.

 Then you have my nutty kids who refuse to eat the red bean (which is sort of the whole point of the dish) and proceed to enjoy their shaved ice with a ton of fruit and a ton of syrupy soaked toppings.  Go figure.

The range of choices is super wide and people seem to have their own preferences of what they like so you can set out a bar of choices and let people construct them.  The key is to have cold everything - fruit, canned items, and condensed milk.  The colder everything is, the less ice meltage you have, which is the desired effect.  Prepare and wash your fruit and cut it and stick it back in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

The important ingredient is the ice itself.  Ice shavers come in a variety of permutations, but the best ones are simple to use, simple to clean, and simple to replace.  I found one for $11 at Ranch 99, and a lot of Asian markets will have one for less than you can find online.  In addition, try to find one that includes the ice molds so that you can create large disks of ice that shave the most efficiently in your ice shaver.  You can also find them on Amazon for a little bit more money, but if you're not close to a Chinese or Asian market, it may be your best option.

 As for my canned ingredients, here they are.  The red beans, although probably even tastier if I made them myself, taste very lovely in this dish from a can.  Sweetened condensed milk is the final sweet and creamy touch on top.  Nata de coco are coconut jellies and are currrently the obsession of both Daughters.  They also like the lychees in syrup, even though I'm not a huge fan.  All these I got at my local Ranch 99, with the red beans and condensed milk coming in at above $3.

Some people even like a little sprinkling of cereal. I think the tiny bits of mochi, which are at your local Korean market or Japanese market, are the most important.  But choose what you like and arrange cold toppings on a tray or a table and let your guests go to work!

My obsession at home!  I'm ready to mix this up!


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