Category Archives: Preserving

Apple of My Eye

When I look back on my childhood, I often realize I was not as grateful for certain circumstances or actions as I should have been.  But, I guess that is the benefit of having a pretty good childhood, huh?  You don’t know how bad it could be.

One such situation involved my father’s caregiving for a short while.  In the midst of an extremely trying time at work, he had to take care of my mother while she recovered from abdominal surgery and my brother and I (who were not always the easiest individuals to please).  He did fairly well at doing the duty of two people and I never even realized what a hard time he was having in the office until adulthood.  However, all my brother, Tom, and I knew was that Dad wasn’t doing things like Mom did.

This was especially true of his cooking during this time.  As I’ve grown older and my palate has broadened, I really enjoy my father’s cooking. He’s very confident and creative in the kitchen.  But, when I was small and he was harried, my brother and I could not appreciate what he was turning out for dinner and putting in our lunch boxes.  Dad was well-meaning, but no elementary school kid wants olive loaf on rye bread, even more so when Mom usually put together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on homemade white bread (and sometimes even cut the crusts off) with sweet little notes tucked on the side.  We ate a lot of casseroles for dinner which were so different from what Mom served.  I remember one night in particular actually being a little horrified to see my father scrape leftovers into a casserole dish and place it without ceremony right into the oven.  Then, while the oven door was open and the oven rack was extended (breaking a kitchen commandment in my child’s mind), he roughly cut (by hand not on a cutting board as Mom taught me was the only way to use a knife) both cheddar cheese and raw onion.  I think my brother and I actually shed tears over that one.

Poor Dad.  We made things so difficult for him, but he never made us feel bad for it.  And, we both do now.

Tom and I talked about Dad’s cooking while we picked apples recently and we each have our favorite dishes from him (and some things we hope he doesn’t make again).  I particularly like his applesauce.  I enjoyed it so much when I was young, that I thought he must have created it especially for me.  I didn’t even know you could buy applesauce in the store, and once I tasted the commercial stuff, I felt bad for kids who didn’t have a dad who made it for them.

It is only appropriate that I post the applesauce recipe today.  Happy Birthday, Dad!  Sorry I wasn’t always grateful for what you did for us.  I certainly am now.

Chunky Applesauce
Makes about 4 pints

about 4 pounds apples
2 to 3 Tbsp lemon  juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
about 1 cup water

Peel, core, and roughly dice the apples.

Add them to a large pot with remaining ingredients.  Add just enough water to prevent the apples from burning.

Bring to boil, then turn down the heat and cook slowly until apples are soft.  Probably about 20 to 30 minutes.

If you are canning the applesauce, spoon it into jars while it is still warm and process in a boiling water bath for about 10  minutes.

This applesauce also freezes very well, and it is great served hot or cold.

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Fermentation is My Friend

Salty…spicy…crunchy…subtly sweet.  Mmmm…  I really enjoy eating kimchee.  Kimchee (or kimchi) is a Korean dish of fermented vegetables.  Luckily, my friend Virginia is willing to make it and share her recipe for cucumber kimchee with me.

I understand that kimchee is not for everyone.  Some folks don’t like the heat of the spice.  Some folks don’t like the smell.  I suppose that it could be the fish sauce, but it adds the necessary umami flavor.  (What is umami?  It is a Japanese word for savory, one of the five basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.)

It could also be the fermentation factor that turns some people off the dish.  I think fermentation is fascinating, though. I do not fear the bacteria.  And not just because I enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages.  The ancient person(s) who discovered how to cultivate yeast or helpful bacteria to create delicious foodstuffs deserves a place in our history books.  I, for one, am very grateful.  There is a character in the food world, Sandor Katz, who writes about fermentation and teaches folks how to make things like sauerkraut.  He likes to say, “that without culture, there would be no civilization.”  Of course, he means bacteria cultures, not just art and stuff.

Now, go cultivate some bacteria. Mmmm…

Virginia’s Cucumber Kimchee

6 to 10 smallish unwaxed, thin-skinned cucumbers (pickling, Kirby, or Korean)
1/4 cup salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup shredded carrots
2 Tbsp sugar
Glass container(s) tall enough to hold the cucumbers upright with lid

Wash cucumbers, and trim the ends.  The cucumbers need to be sliced to expose the center, but stay whole.  Stand each cucumber upright on your cutting board and slice through the center down almost the whole length, but stop before you cut all the way through.  Rotate the cucumber and repeat the slice in a perpendicular direction.

Fill a large bowl with water.  Add the salt and let it dissolve.

Fully submerge the cucumbers in the salt water for 30 minutes.

You may want to put a plate on top to keep the cucumbers under the surface of the water.

While the cucumbers are soaking, make the stuffing.  In another bowl, combine garlic, chili powder, fish sauce, carrots, and sugar.  Mix well.

After about 30 minutes, remove the cucumbers from the salt water.  Don’t rinse them.

Fill each cucumber between the connected pieces with spicy stuffing, and place them in a glass container next to each other.  Virginia often uses gloves when she fills the cucumbers so her hands do not smell like fish sauce for days on end.

Once you’ve used all the stuffing mixture, don’t rinse the bowl.  Add one to two cups of water to the bowl so you can get the last of the spice mixture and then pour it over the cucumbers.  They should be almost submerged.

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and store at room temperature for at least 12 hours.  (Sometimes Virginia leaves it on her counter for about 18 hours.)  Then, move and store in the refrigerator.

Cucumber kimchee is good by itself, but I also enjoy it with rice or as a garnish for other dishes.  We even like it on hot dogs!

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A Cocktail on Whole Wheat Toast

I recently went blackberry picking with friends.  This year did not seem to be a good one for the berries.  They were small and unusually tart.

I was disappointed by the slim pickings, but I still had fun.  I think my friend Jamie had a good time, too.

While I did not bring home a bonanza of sweet berries, I knew they would be great in jam and baked goods.  Last summer I brought in a big haul of blackberries.  My husband and I enjoyed them many ways, including in two luscious cocktails.  When making the drinks again this year, I realized how much I enjoy the flavors of blackberry and gin together.  And then I thought, why not add some gin to my batch of blackberry jam?

Rolling down the street, smokin’ indo, sippin’ on gin and juice
Laid back with my mind on my money and my money on my mind.” 

Let me tell you – this jam is smashing.  Note that I didn’t say it made me smashed.  It was just wonderful on a slice of whole wheat toast…tart blackberries with a hint of herbal, bitter juniper balanced with the sweet of the sugar.   And, I didn’t even get tipsy at the breakfast table.

PS – Humming Snoop Dogg may help as you prepare your jam, but it is not necessary for its success.

Blackberry & Gin Jam
Makes about four 1/2 pint jars

4 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp gin (I used Tanqueray)

Add blackberries and sugar to a large non reactive pot.  Turn the burner on medium heat.  Lightly mash the berries as they cook, I used a potato masher, but a wooden spoon will work.  Stir occasionally.

Turn up to medium high and stir.  Continue stirring as the mixture bubbles and thickens.  Add gin and lime juice.  Take care that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.  After about 25 minutes of bubbling and cooking, your jam is likely ready.  If you don’t trust your eyes, you can use the freezer test as I describe in my strawberry jam recipe or you can use a candy thermometer to measure when the mixture reaches about 225 degrees F.

Once you are happy with the consistency, turn off the heat and ladle the jam into sterilized jars and seal.  Process in a water-bath for about 10 minutes.  Listen for the pings as the jars cool.  Now, enjoy.

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Peach Throw-Down

Last month, several entries on this blog highlighted dishes made with one of my favorite summer fruits, peaches.  This was due, in part, to the generous gift of Georgia peaches from my friends Dave and Laura.  Well, I have even more entries from Peachapoolza to offer you, dear reader.

My friends Dave and Wendy are always going on about New Jersey peaches.  They claim they are the best in the country.  They claim they are even better than Texas peaches.  I finally asked them to prove it.  So, they brought back a peck of freshly picked peaches from their recent trip home.  They bought a mix of both white and yellow cling-free peaches.

We ate several right away, and as the juice ran down my chin I asked Wendy if there was a particular peach recipe she wanted me to make.  At this point Dave chimed in.  You see, I hadn’t directed my question to him because he is allergic to the fruit.  But, I discovered that he can sometimes eat peaches if they have been cooked.  He asked if I could can peaches.  Yes, I said.  Then Dave wanted to know if I could make sugary, syrupy peaches that he could spoon onto ice cream.  Yes, yes I can.

I altered slightly my father’s spiced peach recipe to work better for ice cream or cereal topping.  Delicious.  I still prefer Texas peaches, but I’m willing to admit to just a slight bias for my home state products.

Canned Spiced Peaches
Makes about 4 pints 

about 4 lbs fresh, ripe peaches
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
4 cinnamon sticks, broken
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp whole cloves

To make it easier to peel the peaches, I blanched them.  Place whole peaches in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes and then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the fruit from cooking and make them cool enough to handle.  The skin should slide right off of ripe peaches.  If it doesn’t you can finish peeling them with a paring knife.

My father cans his peaches whole, but I decided to slice and pit the fruit for this batch.  Set them aside and prepare the syrup.

In a large saucepan, combine sugars, water, vinegar, cinnamon, and cloves.  Bring it to a boil, then stir and turn down heat to a simmer.  Let it simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.  You can take this time to sterilize your jars and lids.

Add the peach slices to the syrup and let them cook for about 5 minutes.  Take it off the heat and spoon the peaches and syrup into your prepared jars.  Make sure the threads of the jars are clean of syrup so you’ll get a good seal then screw on the lids.

I use a water bath process to seal the jars by submerging them in boiling water.  For pint-size jars, I let them stay in the boiling water for about 20 minutes.  Then I lift them out of the water and place them on a towel.  As they cool down, you should hear an occasional pinging noise as the lids pop from a vacuum forming.  After a couple of  hours of cooling, press down on the center of each lid.  There should not be any flex.  If the lid flexes, repeat the process and re-submerge the jars in boiling water for another 20 minutes to reach the vacuum seal.

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Scavenged Berry Jam

I have a dirty secret.

I made jam with berries that I scavenged from neighbors’ yards.  My husband calls them alley berries.  Berries from trees growing in our alley that he feels must be watered with cat piss and malt liquor.

But I know the truth.  What he calls alley berries are actually delicious and delicate mulberries.  And, yes I did scavenge the berries, but it is just that the neighbors don’t know how lucky they are to have these trees in their yards.  They think the dark colored berries are a nuisance that make the sidewalk sticky.

Too bad for them.

I learned about how sweet mulberries are in childhood.  My grandparents had two large trees beside their house in North Texas – one dark purple and one white mulberry.  They were both delicious, but I preferred the purple.  It was sweeter and more flavorful.  I would climb the branches to eat berries and by the time I climbed back down, my hands and mouth were stained purple.  My dad says he did the same thing as a kid.

This berry is very popular in Asia, but not so much here in the US.  I think here in the Eastern part of the country, we have mostly purple or red mulberries.  They look a bit like blackberries or raspberries, but they are usually smaller, have fewer seeds, and a milder flavor.

Most folks I asked had never tasted a mulberry, which is a shame.  Well, on second thought…maybe it is good that I don’t have much competition for my scavenged berries.

One thing that may contribute to mulberries unpopularity is that they are quite fragile.  They start to deteriorate the minute they are picked.  So, pick only what you are willing to eat or process right away.  I mean it, right away.

Mulberry Strawberry Jam
Makes a little more than two 1/2 pint (8 oz) jars

2 cups freshly picked mulberries
2 cups strawberries, washed, cored, and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Rinse the mulberries gently so you don’t damage the fruit.  When you pick mulberries, it is pretty hard to avoid bring the stems with you.  And, they are a pain to remove when you are washing the berries.  That’s okay, I think the stems add a bit more pectin to your fruit, so I leave about half of them attached.  It thickens the jam in a way that I don’t think you notice the stems.

Combine the fruit and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat.  I use a 2 to 1 (fruit to sugar) ratio  in my berry jam recipes so you can adjust according to how much fruit you picked.  You could also combine mulberries with other tasty fruit, if you don’t like or don’t have strawberries, or just use the mulberries by themselves.

The sugar will melt and start to bubble.  Stir frequently and let it cook until juices are no longer cloudy-looking.  It took me about 5 minutes.

Turn down heat to medium and add lemon juice.  Stir frequently and let it cook until thick.  It took my batch about 20 minutes to get to the right consistency.

Spoon into sterilized jars and seal.

I use glass jars with a vacuum seal for my jams and preserves, and I provide directions on that process on the post on strawberry preserves.

For a small batch recipe like this, however, you may not want to go to that much of effort.  You can put the cooked jam in a sealable container with a lid and keep in your refrigerator for a couple of  months or in your freezer for close to 12 months.  But, because it hasn’t been processed, you cannot store it on a shelf in your pantry or cabinets.

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I Cannot Tell A Lie. I Like Cherries in My Booze

As regular readers of this blog know, my husband and I really enjoy bourbon.  And, while it is certainly pleasurable served neat, we also imbibe a cocktail or two.  Or so.

Our drink of choice the past few months has been the Manhattan.  Simply, it is the melding of bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, and a lovely Maraschino cherry.  My brother makes an excellent version – shaken, not stirred – just the way I like it.  Recent visits to a couple of upscale cocktails bars, though, gave us a sample of some small batch Maraschino cherries.  They tasted dramatically different than they bright red versions we’ve always had.  And, with that another mission was conceived…

First, to get the fruit.  Luckily, tart cherries grow locally, and I harvest some myself every year.

My husband calls this shot, “A cook walks into a tree…”

Yeah, that is me in there…I’m crawling towards the inside of the tree to grab the ripest cherries.  What’s a few scratches and hair tangles when it comes to good food, right?

We took our haul home and now, for the preservation part…the cherries are steeped in alcohol.  Maraschino liqueur is traditional, but folks use brandy, rum, bourbon, and other good-tasting stuff, too.  I found a decently priced bottle of Maraschino liqueur from Croatia, and decided that was the way to go.

Finally, for the technique.  My husband and I did a bit of research and weren’t entirely convinced on a specific method or process.  Stemmed and pitted or no?  Hot or cold?  Additions of sugar or lemon?  We elected to experiment and create two jars.

We left the cherries intact – stems, pits, the whole shebang.  We simmered the alcohol for one jar, and left the other cool.  We didn’t add sugar or lemon – just cherries and alcohol.  Finally, one jar was just Maraschino liqueur and the other was an even mix of Knob Creek bourbon and the liqueur.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries
Makes 1 pint

1 pint tart or sour cherries (I recommend fresh, but the season is short and limited, so in a pinch go with frozen, jarred get too mushy)
1 cup alcohol (Maraschino liqueur or other lovely spirit)
pint-sized jar with sealable lid

I recommend preparing your jar and its lid by submerging in boiling water for about 10 minutes before using.  Fill your prepared jars with washed cherries.  You decide if you want stems and/or pits.

My pickling experiences have taught me that using cold materials will leave your end product crisper.  If you want a crisper biting cherry, leave your alcohol and fruit cold or room temperature.  Just put the cherries in the jar and pour the spirits over them.  Seal and refrigerate.

If you want to rush the maceration, bring liqueur to a simmer in a saucepan on stovetop.  Pour over cherries, let mixture cool,  and seal jar.

Store jar in refrigerator.  Wait at least two days before using.

Manhattan
Makes 1 drink

2 oz bourbon
just shy 1 oz sweet vermouth
couple dashes bitters (I like Angostura, Mr. Cook in a Bar likes Fee’s Orange)
Maraschino cherry

Add all liquid to ice-filled shaker.  Strain or serve on the rocks.  Garnish with cherry.

Here’s a comparison between the homemade (bookends) and store-bought versions of Maraschino cherries…

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Berrylicious Jam

I finally went to pick strawberries this weekend with my friend, Virginia.  We had a compressed strawberry harvest this year with smaller and fewer berries, but I still managed to bring home almost 15 pounds.  Some might say I have a problem.  I say be prepared for several more posts on strawberries on this blog.

I must admit, though, that I was a bit daunted by the 15 pounds of strawberries last night.  You see to take advantage of the wonderful just-picked flavor of the berries, I need to start processing and preparing them quickly after getting home.  Well, washing and coring that many strawberries takes a while.  It seems to take even longer when you’re tired and sore from home renovation.  Oh, but the smell of my kitchen when I’m making jam makes it so worth it.

Of course I made a batch of strawberry preserves again, but I also decided to experiment and make a small batch of strawberry blueberry jam.  I’m very glad I did.

This is an easy recipe to get started with making preserves and it isn’t a big commitment of time and resources since it makes 2 small jars.  You can also use this as a guide for your own kitchen experiments and vary the fruit and the amounts staying to the 2:1 ratio for fruit to sugar.  You can also use an orange or lime instead of lemon.

Strawberry Blueberry Jam
Makes 2 1/2 pint (8 oz) jars

1 pint (2 cups) strawberries – washed, cored, and chopped into bite-size pieces
1 pint (2 cups) blueberries – washed with stems removed
2 cups granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Combine fruit and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium-high heat.

The sugar will melt and it will start to bubble.  Stir frequently and let it cook until the juices are no longer cloudy-looking.  Probably around 5 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and turn off the heat.  Let it sit for about an hour to macerate some more and get really juicy.  Then, turn the heat back to medium and cook the mixture.  The amount of cooking time will vary slightly depending on the type of fruit, the amount, and the pot you are using.  But, you cook it until it is the right consistency.  How do you know it is the right consistency?  Well, I use a couple of different methods…

One is the “freezer test.”  I put a small plate/saucer in the freezer when I start to cook the fruit.  When the mixture has thickened and I think it is ready, I dribble a bit of the jam (like a 1/4 tsp) on the cold plate and then put it back in the freezer.  Thirty seconds later, I remove the plate and run my finger through the blob of jam.  If my finger has created a clear path through the jam, and it does not run back together, it is ready to jar.  If the path disappears in a puddle of jam, I know I need to cook it longer.

The other method is to use a candy thermometer.  The temperature to strive for will vary slightly with the fruit  you use, but 220 degrees F, is a safe bet for this particular recipe.

This batch was ready to jar after about 15 minutes of cooking and stirring.

I use glass jars with a vacuum seal for my jams and preserves, and I provide directions on that process on the post on strawberry preserves.

For a small batch recipe like this, however, you may not want to go to that much of effort.  You can put the cooked jam in a sealable container with a lid and keep in your refrigerator for a couple of  months or in your freezer for close to 12 months.  But, because it hasn’t been processed, you cannot store it on a shelf in your pantry or cabinets.

Happy preserving this summer!

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Pepper Vinegar

Making pepper vinegar is so easy.  You can even make just one bottle at a time, or make two – one for you and one to share – like I did.

First, wash the peppers and trim the stems.
Drop the peppers into your bottle.  I am re-using some nice looking Grolsch beer bottles.
Then, just cover with vinegar.  You can use whatever vinegar you prefer.  I used white distilled vinegar.
Finally, just let the bottles sit for 10 days or so and you are ready to go.  You can use the pepper vinegar on braised greens, salads, potatoes.  Enjoy!

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Bar Stool Fridays – Pickles for My Cocktails

Well, actually these pickles will be for my brother’s cocktails.  I’ve been making lots of pickles lately and I hope that it is because they taste good that I’ve gotten specific requests and suggestions from our dinner guests including my little brother.  He requested some spicy pickled onions that he could use for his gibson cocktails and perhaps just for snacking.

I found recipe inspiration, as I often do, from James Beard.  His recipe for pickled onions was a bit large for my purposes, but I liked his inclusion of white wine.

Here’s what I came up with, Red.  I tried to make it spicy, per your request.  I hope it works for you.

Pickled Cocktail Onions
Makes 1/2 pint jar

8 oz small pearl onions (I used a mix of red and white for variety)
1/4 cup kosher salt
cold water
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp dried minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 black peppercorns

Fill large saucepan with water and bring to boil.  Add onions, turn off heat, and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.  Test to see if outer husk with slip from onion.  When it does, immediately drain onions and rinse in cold water.  Slip from outer skins and cut away root ends.  Don’t trim away so much that the onion starts to come apart, though.

Place the onions in a bowl, sprinkle with 1/4 cup of salt and cover with cold water.  Loosely cover and let stand overnight.

Drain and rinse well with cold water.  Pack the onions in a clean, sterilized jar.

Bring wine, vinegar, and sugar to a boil.  Add spices and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Carefully pour hot liquid into jars to fill within 1/4-inch of top and cover the onions.  Seal the jar.  Keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Here is one way to enjoy your pickled onions…

Gibson
Makes 1 drink

1/2 oz dry vermouth
2 oz gin
pickled onions garnish

Place martini glass in freezer until frosty.  Once cold, coat inside of glass with dry vermouth and shake out excess.

If you don’t keep your gin in the freezer, then pour your two ounces of gin in an ice-filled shaker and shake to make icy cold.  Strain and pour into prepared glass.

Garnish with pickled onion and serve.

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A Friday Flop

So, not at all of my kitchen experiments work out perfectly.  In fact, sometimes they are a total flop.  Luckily, my latest project was not a complete and total flop…just a minor one.

I’ve been obsessed with making my own pepper jelly lately.  I just love the stuff, and I think it tastes good on or with so many things.  But, I’d never made my own before, and no one that I asked confessed to any experience with it either.  So, I did some research and read through many recipes (including several from my folks, thank you!) and came up with a formula that I thought would work.

Well, it didn’t.  I mean, it tasted good…a nice combination of sweet and hot, but the consistency was all wrong.  It ended up not like jelly, but more like honey.  Disappointing to say the least.

Unfortunately, I’m still preoccupied with the challenge of making pepper jelly.  So, I’m looking to you for help, dear readers.  I would appreciate it if you would review what I did and offer suggestions for improvement or advice on what I could do differently.  Thanks in advance!

Pepper Jelly
Makes 6 half-pints

1 cup green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 cup jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups white sugar
1 box of pectin

I finely chopped and seeded both kinds of peppers.  You can see I wasn’t too careful about the seeds.

I combined the peppers with the vinegar and sugar in a big heavy pot, and brought it to a rolling boil.  I let it boil for about a couple of minutes.

Then, I took it off the heat and added the pectin.  I used one box of Sure-Jell.  I stirred some more to get rid of all the lumps and then I spooned it into sterilized half-pint jars and sealed.  I processed the jars in a boiling water bath to complete the seal.  Once the jars were vacuum-sealed, I turned them over and around a bit to distribute the peppers throughout the jelly.  I could tell it was thickening, but only so much.

I’m guessing I didn’t let it cook long enough.  Thoughts?

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