Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

Cookies and Kittens and Other Cute Stuff

Hi all. We’ve been busy around here the past week or so.

First before I do anything else, here is Agnes’ grave marker! It was installed in time for us to visit on Memorial Day. It is so pretty. We are very happy with it.

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Octopus and shark cookies, with interested facial features.

Octopus and shark cookies, with interested facial features.

Okay. Since I made those cute lamb cookies for the Holy Ghost parish Easter dinner, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to make more cute cutout cookies. Finally this week I found an excuse: the celebration of Stephen’s baptism day! He was baptized on May 28, 2011 when he was just barely three weeks old. We want to celebrate these sacramental anniversaries in our family, so we took the opportunity to throw a little party, complete with cute animal cutout cookies. I wanted to do octopuses and sharks because those cutters appealed to me this time. If you are interested, the set of cutters I bought is this one from Wilton. It has any animal you could ever want. Any. Animal. The cookie recipe I use now for these cutouts is the “Glazed Butter Cookie” recipe from The New Best Recipe Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. I haven’t talked about those guys for a while, but I want you all to know that they are still a big part of my life. Especially now that I can’t live without these cookies. I like this recipe because the dough is easy to work with, you don’t have to chill it for hours before you roll it out for cutting, plus the directions say to roll the dough between two sheets of parchment which is pure genius. Nothing sticks to anything and the dough rolls out perfectly even with very few tears. That’s “tears” rhymes with “pears” not rhymes with “beers,” though this recipe certainly cuts down on that kind of “tears” as well.

Nap time

Nap time

Also this past weekend we went to visit my Aunt and the new kittens one of her cats recently birthed. There were four kittens in the litter and we wanted to adopt one of them! It was a fun trip. Stephen enjoyed playing with all four kittens, who were all energetic and very adorable. We decided relatively quickly that we wanted to take the fluffy one, the only kitten that has long fur. We had been discussing potential kitten names for a while so it was pretty easy to decide on a name. At this point in the story I would like to stop the narrative in order to fill you in on a bit of history. As you know, we already have a cat named Sashimi. We adopted Sashimi a few years ago when we lived in Billings, MT, and we thought it was funny to name him after the Japanese raw-fish appetizer “sashimi.” Ha ha. Aren’t we funny and so witty. Anyway so. We wanted to continue the ethnic food theme with our new cat as well. We tossed around some ideas like Pakora, which is a chickpea flour fritter from the East Indian culinary tradition. We considered Cannoli. Taquito. Nori. Ramen. As you can imagine it gets ridiculous very quickly. Frijoles Refritos, “Frito” for short. Combo Plate #2. Gravlax. Wonton. I refer you back a few lines [ha ha aren’t we funny and so witty]. We named the fluffy kitten Pakora and vowed to bring her home with us.

Oh, but all the other kittens are so cute and look at that one, he really gets along well with Pakora and my Aunt says he’s even more snuggly and I really wanted to get another snuggly kitty. But then, if we get another kitten, what should we name it? Gravlax? Jeremy said no way. I quote directly from Jeremy’s mouth: “That is the worst name for a cat ever.”

Gravlax (left) and Pakora (right)

Gravlax (left) and Pakora (right)

Guess what we ended up naming the kitten? Gravlax! I’m so happy we did because every time anyone says the name Gravlax everyone in the room kind of titters. It’s hilarious. Also, it’s very much in keeping with Sashimi’s name, since Gravlax is a fermented fish that is also eaten raw. I think the name is awesome. Pakora and Gravlax. It rolls off the tongue so well. And they really do get along well with each other. Sashimi did take a few days to get used to the idea of two new kittens, but I think they have already worked out their differences. They have all played together a few times, and they can all eat in the same room without a throw-down occurring.

stephen and iconsFinally, we hung up our icons in our new house. It took awhile to get around to it, but I’m so happy we finally did it. It looks great! There is plenty of room to continue adding icons as our collection grows. So long as add to it symmetrically! We plan to have icons for each of our children’s patron saints, as many as that may be, plus whatever else we decide to add. I’m excited for the possibilities.Gravlax likes Mary!

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Awesome Roast Chicken

I made a roast chicken for dinner tonight less than a week after making the same roast chicken. It is that good.

I followed the “Simple Roast Chicken” recipe in The New Best Recipe cookbook from American’s Test Kitchen. These are the people behind the Cook’s Illustrated magazine. The cookbook is called the “best recipe” because the recipe for each item really is the best way to do it. The test kitchen works out scientifically all the possible ways to roast a chicken, for example, then they figure out the way to roast the chicken that results in the most awesome chicken, and that’s the chicken that makes it into the cookbook.

So, I made it. It was AWESOME! I only did one thing different from what the recipe says: I put carrots in the bottom of my roasting pan instead of a roasting rack.

Here is how you make the most awesome roast chicken you ever tasted ever.

100_20691. Brine your whole chicken. Dissolve 1/2 cup of table salt in 2 quarts water and soak the chicken in the fridge for at least an hour. This is the most important step. Your brined chicken will be tender and juicy, never dry.

2. Put your roasting pan in the oven and preheat to 375. It is important to preheat your pan. I used the deep covered baker from Pampered Chef. But without the cover.

3. Cut up the carrots and melt 2 to 3 Tbsp of butter. Set aside the butter. Put the carrots in the preheated pan and drizzle with olive oil. Get the chicken out of the brine and pat it dry. Rub the melted butter all over the chicken. You can season with pepper. Put the chicken on top of the carrots, on its side so a wing is sticking up.

4. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken so the other wing is sticking up. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn up the oven to 450 and flip the chicken on its back, breast side up. Roast until done. For a 3 1/2 pound chicken, 20 to 25 minutes more. For a 4 1/2 pound chicken, 35 to 40 minutes more. Meat thermometer stuck in the fat part of the leg should read 160 to 165.

5. Get the delicious crispy golden chicken out and rest it on a cutting board for 10 minutes. You can keep the carrots warm in the oven while you fix the rest of the sides and set the table. Carve the chicken at the table and prepare to enter chicken bliss.

6. You can shave more meat off the carcass to make sandwiches later, or to put in tacos. The carcass will make a killer chicken stock. Don’t throw it away!

The only criticism I have with this recipe is it results in flabby back skin, but since no one really lines up to get the back off a roast chicken, I’m willing to overlook this.

Please promise me you will make this chicken for your family. That is all. Thank you.

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7 Quick Takes: December 6

What? She’s posting during the week? Luckily it’s Friday which means I can sit back and enjoy a quick takes post, about 7 random things, none of which have to make any sense or complete an entire post on their own.

Linking up with Conversion Diary for this one. Head over there to read more link ups.

1.  Jeremy and I took some more recent pictures of Agnes this week. It was difficult because she’s sickly and she often looks kind of crummy. But we managed to snag a pretty good one:

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2. Jeremy and I are scheduled to complete our 24-hour care tomorrow from 8am Saturday to 8am Sunday. We still aren’t quite sure who will be sleeping when during the time since one of us has to be “on” at all times–no help from nurses or doctors. This is the last thing we have to do to get ready for Agnes to come home. My dad is finishing some rewiring in the house to accommodate life support machines, and the home care nurses are completing their training. Agnes is tentatively scheduled to come home Wednesday.

3. I say tentative because she must be in medically stable condition. She has been set on the ventilator for the required two-week time frame, so there’s no problem with that. However, she has lately presented with some distention in her belly that is not resolving despite the numerous strategies employed by the intensive care doctors. They tried draining her stomach contents with and without suction to remove excess gas. They took a bunch of tests (x-ray, ultrasound, echocardiogram) to rule out all the possible causes. There is only one obvious cause left: her shunt. Accursed shunt. So the plan is to give Agnes a dose of diuretic to see if that helps, and watch her closely over the weekend. The neurosurgeon is okay with her carrying on if her belly doesn’t get any bigger, but if it does, he will want to externalize her shunt. Again. And send away for cultures of Cerebral-Spinal Fluid. Again. And wait a few days then reinternalize the shunt. Again. Only this time, he would thread the catheter into Agnes’ heart rather than into her abdomen, which is absolutely the very final option because they hate to do VA shunts, especially on trach kids. It will have to be revised in six months because they can’t put extra tubing like they can for VP shunts. Plus trach kids have a 10% risk of infection with VA shunts. 10 percent. Holy freaking cow. So that’s not awesome and it all depends on whether or not Agnes’ girth continues to measure 47 cm or less.

4. With the help of all our friends and family and our church, and everyone who made a gift through our website, wee are going to buy  this van for Agnes:

It’s a 2004 Nissan Quest with 76 thousand miles. We tested it and it drives very well, and the dealership recently had a ton of work done on its brakes. It doesn’t make any weird sounds when running, which is already better than the cars we drive now. There is a ton of room inside for all of Agnes’ medical equipment! We can’t thank you all enough for your gifts and support to help make this happen!

5. I’m having a hard time thinking of anything to write for takes 5 and 6. Well, I cooked macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight from The New Best Recipe cookbook. I love America’s Test Kitchen with all my heart, except when they tell me that the way I’ve always made a certain recipe is total crap. Or when they tell me that an ingredient I always use is not even fit for dogs to eat. But other than that, I love America’s Test Kitchen.

6. Can someone please consider getting this for Agnes’ Christmas present? kthxby

7. Okay, finally, I wanted to put the pictures from our trip on the Polar Express last because there are quite a few. The Palliative Care Team at Akron Children’s Hospital gifted our family with tickets for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Polar Express. We took Stephen and he had a grand time. If you ask him if he had fun riding the train, he replies “Yeah! Goldfish crackers. Gummy Bears.” We bought those snacks from the cafe car before the train left the station. I guess that is more interesting than the elves, or Christmas carols, or the “North Pole,” or meeting Santa. Whatever. Goldfish crackers. Gummy bears.

walking to our car to board.

walking to our car to board.

Jeremy was probably more excited than Stephen to ride the train. Name me a boy who doesn't adore trains!

Jeremy was probably more excited than Stephen to ride the train. Name me a boy who doesn’t adore trains!

We're happy!

We’re happy!

At the "North Pole," aka Peninsula, Ohio. A bunch of volunteers stood along the track, dressed as elves.

At the “North Pole,” aka Peninsula, Ohio. A bunch of volunteers stood along the track, dressed as elves.

Stephen met Santa and made strange faces at him. Weird kid.

Stephen met Santa and made strange faces at him. Weird kid.

Every kid got a "bell from Santa's sleigh," like in the Polar Express book.

Every kid got a “bell from Santa’s sleigh,” like in the Polar Express book.

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Happy Birthday! Surprise Party!

I was so proud of myself this week. I managed to plan a surprise birthday party for Jeremy’s 40th birthday, and I didn’t give anything away, and he didn’t suspect anything was up, and he was surprised. I’ve been working on it for a week, emailing our friends and shopping for party supplies, and cooking extra food all on the sly. Shazam.

100_1530At least Jeremy already knew I was baking a super-fabulous cake, so I didn’t have to be sneaky about that. I ended up making a coconut cake from a recipe in The New Best Recipe (that book again. I’m not linking it again). Jeremy wanted chocolate frosting, so I took the coconut frosting in the recipe and added two squares of unsweetened bakers chocolate. Then I toasted some coconut and sprinkled it all over the cake. So pretty. So delicious. O my gosh o so delicious it was so good and so delicious and coconut chocolate it was amazing.

100_1553Let me just lick up the drool. Sorry. I didn’t actually run into any major problems when I was baking this cake. I think the cakes did fall in the oven because I opened the oven to rotate the pans and they weren’t quite baked as far as they should have been at that point. They firmed up well after that, but the damage was done. They still tasted great, but they looked a little flat. And because they were a bit on the thin side, it was really difficult to split the layers to make a four-layer finished cake. The first cake I tried to split almost fell apart; thank God for frosting repair. So I just put the second cake on un-split. A little unconventional, but still acceptable.

100_1534As for the rest of the party, I didn’t try to go too fancy on the set up. I just had some friends come over and congregate on the lawn outside our building. Then at the appointed time, I had Jeremy “go outside to take a look at this” and the group said, “Surprise!” He was surprised. Then everyone came up and we had dinner. I was agonizing how I would explain to Jeremy why I was preparing two pounds worth of chicken taco meat, but it turned out I never had to lie. He took the car to the shop and to the carwash this afternoon so I had plenty of time to cook the chicken in the microwave, chop it up, and hide it in the oven where it kept warm for the rest of the afternoon. During that crucial time frame, I also stuck the secret pop two liters in the freezer to get them a head start, then hid them in the cooler we keep under the kitchen sink, chilling with a bag of ice cubes and a couple sacks of frozen veggies.

One of our friends suggested we do a pinata, so she graciously brought one along. The kids had a lot of fun beating the heck out of it.

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100_1535For Jeremy’s birthday gift, I got him a six pack of exotic Italian beer I remembered that he liked, but we never buy it normally. Actually, the gift was supposed to be from Stephen but I forgot this handy fact on the trip where I took my opportunity to buy the gift. How did Stephen know Jeremy likes Peroni? Huh. And the other funny thing is, one of the families I invited to the party also got him the same kind of beer. I guess it must be good stuff. I tasted it, and it is very nice. Too bad I can’t really help him finish his Peroni before we move…

So Jeremy was technically the star of the show, but Sashimi the Cat was actually the true guest of honor. All the little girls in the families we invited were obsessed with the cat. He is super cute with long, luxurious fur, and he does tolerate being petted by strangers and picked up, and he walks around with big blue cat eyes saying “Meow.” I can totally understand why they were obsessed. It was pretty funny. And it gave us adults some opportunity to just chat with each other, so I guess it was win-win, except maybe the cat didn’t win, but I don’t think he cares.

All in all, we all had fun, and Jeremy will definitely remember his 40th birthday fondly!

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Baking Adventures

Today was Empanada Day! I have never made an empanada before, and I don’t know what an empanada is supposed to be. I looked up “empanadas” on allrecipes.com and came up with lots of different ways to do it. Some recipes made a pie crust type dough. Some made a pizza crust type dough. Some recipes were baked, others deep fried in hot oil. Most of the recipes involved some sort of shredded meat filling. So I took all that information, synthesized it, and then I did whatever the heck I wanted to do. I made a pie crust type dough following the recipe for pie dough in The New Best Recipe, aka the cookbook I use when I feel like humiliating myself. I had to prepare the dough in kind of a hurry because we were heading out the door to run some errands and I realized at the last minute that it would be too late to start the dough when we got back, because it has to chill for at least an hour in the fridge before you can use it. My excuse for what happened next is that I made it in a hurry.

100_1518The recipe calls for the usual cast of characters: flour, sugar, salt, cold shortening, cold butter, and ice water. So apparently it’s very important to use chilled shortening. I just grabbed my tub of Crisco solid from the cupboard and slapped it into the food processor. It cut into the flour pretty well. Then I diced up the butter super small like the instructions told me to do, and when I cut the butter in, something strange happened. Instead of turning crumbly and forming little pea-sized butter chunks, my dough actually started to hang together, right there in the food processor bowl! What the heck! That is not supposed to happen! So I dumped the stuff out into a bowl to fold in the 6 to 8 tablespoons of water, but the dough was already so cohesive that I only added 4 tablespoons. I was pretty miffed. And at that point I was totally convinced I had completely ruined my pie dough.

So I chilled it, and rolled out the dough as per usual, and it worked okay. The dough was pretty sticky. It actually reminded me of when I make sugar cookie cutouts. I used a smallish round dish to get circle cutouts and I heated up some leftover taco meat and rice and stuff we had in the fridge and stuffed my little pie dough rounds. I folded the rounds over to make half-moon shapes and baked them. They turned out really yummy! The crust has a really nice flavor, but the texture is totally wrong for pie crust. It was pretty crumbly and sandy; it reminded me of a shortbread cookie. Stephen was able to totally bust apart his empanada and reduce it to crumbs with only his bare hands. And forget about holding the thing and taking bites; it would fall apart if you picked it up with anything other than a wide spatula.

So, mixed reviews on the empanadas. Definitely tasty, but definitely a “pie crust” fail.

 

The other baking adventure I tried lately was Coco Wheats Brownies. Do you remember Coco Wheats? They are such a nostalgic food for me. I used to eat it sometimes as a kid, so when I saw a box in the store a couple years ago, I had to buy it. Then my parents thought that I loved Coco Wheats, so they sent me a box last Christmas. Now we’re moving, and I had to use up a box of Coco Wheats because you eat it for breakfast a few times then realize that you’re an adult and you don’t like to eat chocolate flavored cream of wheat for breakfast.

So I made the brownies. The larger size package used to print the recipe right on the box, but I had to look it up here. I’ll tell you one thing right now, this recipe has a lot of room for error if you follow their “tip” and soak the cereal in cold water before adding it to the recipe. I did this, and the cereal soaked up enough water that it would have taken an eternity to drain the excess water through a fine strainer. So I just stirred it up and dumped it into the batter.

My brownies turned out more like a cake, and they are pretty crumbly (what’s with the crumbly baked goods around here lately?). However. These things taste delicious. If you have a box of this stuff hanging around your kitchen and you want to use it up, make these brownies. Maybe not soaking the cereal would result in a more brownie-like texture. If you end up soaking the cereal, maybe try using a 15×10 inch pan rather than the smaller size called for in the recipe. I also had to increase the baking time to about 55 minutes. I also used butter and shortening instead of margarine. Who bakes with margarine? Anyway, this was a fun experiment that I don’t regret.

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This is the Night!

Happy Holy Saturday! Tonight’s liturgy is absolutely hands-down my favorite liturgy of the entire year. We get to do all sorts of cool stuff that we don’t do any other time of the year:

a. Light a bonfire.

b. Process around holding little candles.

c. Sing songs in the dark.

d. Listen to up to seven readings taken from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Romans, a Gospel, and maybe some other books I can’t remember off the top of my head.

e. Use lots and lots of incense, bells, candles, and holy water.

f. Sing the Litany of Saints and the Exsultet (Easter Proclamation).

As for the Exsultet, I just lovelovelove this piece of music. Tonight is the only time it is ever sung during the entire year. It is liturgically most appropriate for a priest or deacon to sing the Exsultet, but it can also be done by a lay person cantor. If the cantor is a lay person, they omit a small section of the text that should only be sung by clergy. The music is a cool chant that I don’t think comes around for any other music or prayers. So, it’s really special and such a treat to hear and to sing. I’ve been fortunate enough to sing it myself several times in my career as a church musician, and I just love it. I even got a little sad last year when the priest at the church where I worked was able and excited to sing it himself! I’m so happy that he wanted to do it, but I was sad that I didn’t get to!

The text pretty much says: tonight is really awesome because tonight is the night Jesus rose from the dead and saved all humanity, through his gift of love perfecting God’s covenant that was established with Adam. We are so excited about this night, that we made this huge candle to offer to God, with the help of the bees who produced the wax. This candle is a blazing torch that represents the glory of Christ among us and we hope it burns forever! Amen!

Here is a real excerpt from the text, taken from the beginning of the hymn:

“Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph! Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples. Therefore, dearest friends, standing in the awesome glory of this holy light, invoke with me, I ask you, the mercy of God almighty, that he, who has been pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites, may pour into me his light unshadowed, that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises.”

100_1447Tomorrow is Easter and I made us a special treat. It’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake from The New Best Recipe Cookbook by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. I believe I did utter the words, “I’m never making this again! It’s too hard!” while I was assembling the cake, but when I tasted the o-so-yummy batter I may have revised my decision. I would just do a few things differently since I don’t have the straight sided tube pan the recipe asked for. I ended up going out to buy a pan, and I couldn’t find a tube pan! So I bought a large springform pan instead. I think that’s what made the assembly so tricky. You put some batter in the bottom, then a layer of streusel  then more batter, more streusel  more batter, the topping. The batter is so thick it wouldn’t really spread out over the streusel  It was frustrating, but I am confident the cake will taste amazing. It’s been taunting us all afternoon with its delicious aroma and toasty nutty appearance. I can’t wait.

I think I’ll be able to post tomorrow but if I don’t make it, have a happy Easter!

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Crab Batter

The subtitle of this post is “Or: The Inherent Hazards of Substitutions.”

Today was National Crabmeat Day. Woohoo! I think I already mentioned that this holiday enabled me to write in crab cakes for tonight’s menu, which is great except I have never ever before made a crab cake, and I had no idea how to do it. I knew that I liked crab cakes because there was this amazing restaurant in Billings called Bin 119 that served crab cakes with a coconut curry sauce that was to die for. When I did my grocery shopping early this week I bought a can of crab meat (located with the canned tuna and spam!) because I was planning ahead, but I didn’t really have a clear idea what I was going to do with it.

I started my research in The New Best Recipe, which is the definitive selection of a wide variety of recipes. I knew that book would steer me in the right direction, and sure enough, it has a recipe for crab cakes. Of course, one of the first sentences in the recipe’s write-up is, “Canned crabmeat is horrible.” Well, I was stuck with it and there’s nothing America’s Test Kitchen can do about it. Neener neener. Like the “pound cake” I made a few days ago, I had to make do with what I had in the kitchen, so I pretty much followed the recipe except:

Instead of jumbo lump crabmeat, I used a can.

I used dried minced onion flakes instead of the scallions.

I omitted the Old Bay seasoning.

I used finely crushed cracker crumbs instead of bread crumbs.

I more than halved everything because the recipe calls for 1 pound of crab, but I only had a 6 ounce can. But then I forgot to halve the egg, so I put the whole egg in the mix.

…oooooops….

my crab batter

 

At this point the recipe says, “Divide the crab mixture into 4 portions and shape each into a fat, round cake.” Yeah, that isn’t gonna happen. So Jeremy suggested I glop spoonfuls into the frying pan and make pancakes. Luckily he has a lot of experience making things like potato pancakes so he knows about these things.

So that’s what I did. It actually turned out really well because I made Jeremy finish cooking them when it came time to do the flip. I knew they would probably end up half in/half out of the pan if I did it.

finished crab meal

To go with the crab cakes, I made a coconut curry sauce that I hoped would at least come close to the Bin 119 miracle on earth. Of course I couldn’t find any existing recipe so I had to adapt something. The closest thing I found was actually a marinade recipe in The New Best Recipe–a marinade intended for grilling shish kebab. So, instead of buttermilk I used coconut milk, and reduced all the amounts of the spices, and turned it into a spin off a bechamel sauce. It turned out really good, except it’s not quite perfect so I will be tweaking it in the coming weeks. I will admit, I’m impressed that a marinade turned bechamel variation ended up being so good, because it could have gone all kinds of nasty. I’ll post the recipe for my sauce on the Favorite Recipes page in case all y’all want to have a go.

I also went whole-hog with the coconut curry theme and made some curried rice I found on allrecipes.com while searching for a sauce recipe. It was good, too, except I forgot to put in the onion. And the recipe does have an error as printed, so I fixed that. If you go look, the liquid/rice ratio is off; you need twice as much liquid for your rice (1 c. rice, 2 c. liquid, for example). But nevertheless, even Stephen liked the rice!

All in all, I would say it was a fitting celebration for National Crabmeat Day. I learned a lot and took some brave steps in the kitchen.

Tell me about the last cooking adventure you had! I can’t wait to hear!

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