Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese (and bacon)

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So there I was, minding my own business, catching up on foodie blogs, when I saw it–the recipe for butternut squash macaroni and cheese. I love squash–all squash. And this seemed like a fun and delicious new way to incorporate some squash into winter comfort food. Ellie rolled her eyes when I mentioned it, but in the end, she had two helpings so I figure it must not be the end of the world 🙂

The original of this recipe was on Sugar Dish Me’s blog, and I know if she has posted it to the universe, it must be good. I made some modifications to allow for what I had handy and what I needed to use up in the refrigerator (namely, bacon). I also roasted my squash instead of peeling it and boiling it because I am both lazy and unable to cut the rind off squash without causing myself bodily injury. HERE is the original recipe, which qualifies for Meatless Monday and is lower in fat than my version–you can probably make up your own delicious variations of this to suit your taste and what you have handy.

The end result was a bit sweet from the squash, but also smokey from the bacon and caramelized onions. This is going into my “must repeat” file!

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon (makes 6-8 main dish servings)

  • 1 12 oz. package of mini rotini pasta (or your favorite shape)
  • 2 organic butternut squash
  • 4 strips uncured, local bacon
  • 1 organic, yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk
  • 2 cups Swiss/Gruyère cheese, shredded (Trader Joes has an excellent blend)
  • 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  3. Cut both squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Put the squash pieces on the baking sheet, cut side down and roast in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. When squash is tender, remove from the oven and let cool. Scoop the pulp into a bowl and mash. Set aside. NOTE: squash can be roasted ahead of time and refrigerated up to 3 days.
  5. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  6. Cut the strips of bacon into small strips, about 1″ wide. Brown in a skillet until crispy. With a slotted spoon, remove bacon pieces to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
  7. To the bacon drippings, add onion slices and cook on medium heat about 10-12 minutes, until they begin to caramelize. Remove onions to plate with the bacon.
  8. In a large bowl, mix the squash, bacon, onion, milk, spices, salt and pepper.
  9. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of the cheese. Set bowl aside.
  10. In a large stock pot, bring pasta water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente, according to the directions on the package. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  11. Return pasta to the pot and add the squash mixture. Stir well to blend. Add some pasta water if the mixture seems too dry.
  12. Pour pasta mixture into a casserole or baking dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Mix the butter and bread crumbs together and sprinkle on top.
  13. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of your baking dish (mine took a full 45 minutes).
  14. Serve immediately.

Shrimp, Fish and Andouille Jambalaya

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It isn’t Mardi Gras yet, and the Super Bowl is still a week away, but I’m in the mood for some spicy, smokey jambalaya! There’s nothing like spicy cayenne and red pepper to clear your head of any winter sniffles and with the chilly weather here, we can all use something hot and spicy. I picked up some NC shrimp and fish at Locals Seafood this week as well as some andouille sausage from Mae Farm. We are using our frozen tomatoes and peppers, homemade chicken stock and our own homemade cajun seasoning. The end result? Yum-a-licious! And enough food to feed us during a busy week! I had never made jambalaya with fish before–it tastes a lot like spicy cioppino, if you’ve ever had that. Ellie wasn’t fond of the seafood, so next time, I may try just chicken and andouille sausage, but Tom and I liked it as is! Which is good, because we have a ton of it!

I adapted the recipe below from THIS recipe on allrecipes.com

Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya (8-10 main dish servings)

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 1 organic, yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup diced celery (we used fennel instead because we had it on hand)
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 roasted red pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup roasted tomato sauce (or tomato paste)
  • 3 roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1 tbsp. cajun seasoning (see below)
  • 6 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 2 cups organic, basmati rice
  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lb. white fish, cut into bite size chunks
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley

Cajun seasoning mix (from THIS recipe at allrecipes.com)

  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients together. Set aside.

Jambalaya

  1. In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. When foam has subsided, add the sausage and cook until browned, 3-5 minutes. Remove sausage and set aside.
  2. Add onion, celery/fennel, and green/red peppers to the pot and cook until onion is soft–about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Be careful not to let garlic scorch.
  4. Add tomato paste and return sausage to the pot. Stir well to combine. Add the tomatoes and spice mix. Stir again and cook about 15 minutes.
  5. Add chicken broth to the pot and stir well. Raise heat to medium/high and bring to a boil.
  6. Add rice to the pot, stir well to combine. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 25 minutes.
  7. Add seafood to the pot, increase the heat to medium/high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for about 15 more minutes–longer if your mixture is too soupy. It should be thick.
  8. Season with salt and pepper (if necessary) and plate your jambalaya into bowls. Sprinkle with parsely and serve!

Week 5 Budget and Menu

English: Cucurbita pepo (butternut squash). Lo...

January is going out like a whirlwind here in central North Carolina. This week we are expecting days with freezing temperatures and days in the upper 60s. Hard to know how to dress, hard to know what to cook! My weekly trip to the farmer’s market was hampered by icy weather. I made it to the market, but none of the vendors were there! So, I shopped more at Trader Joes than usual. We’re using a lot of our frozen and canned food this week, which should be great! Can’t believe it’s almost time to make room for spring veggies. Our budget this week was $83.19–not too bad!

Budget

  • Locals Seafood (shrimp, fish): $18.00
  • Mae Farm (andouille sausage, ham steak): $18.00
  • Trader Joes (butternut squash, cheese, frozen fruit, soy milk, penne pasta, organic split peas, wine, green peppers): $47.19

Menu

  • Sunday–shrimp, fish and andouille jambalaya with organic basmati rice
  • Monday–grilled cheese and soup
  • Tuesday–split pea soup with ham
  • Wednesday–leftover jambalaya
  • Thursday–butternut squash macaroni and cheese (from THIS recipe)
  • Friday–leftover buffet
  • Saturday–late cookie booth; eating out

Pierogi with Crispy Broccoli and Brown Butter Sauce

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It is very cold here in central NC (in the mid-20s) and icy. And all my boeuf bourguignon is gone (dang). I’m craving carbs and comfort food, but I’m too busy during the week to make a big pasta production. So this week I experimented with cooking some locally made pierogi.

At last week’s farmers market, I visited the booth for Melina’s Pasta and found some delicious-sounding pierogi stuffed with blue cheese and bacon. I had never made pierogi before, but I was assured that it was easy. Boil like pasta and toast lightly in butter. I can do this.

You can use this basic recipe with any kind of pierogi or ravioli. If you live in central NC, find Melina’s Pasta–I HIGHLY recommend the blue cheese and bacon pierogi (how could that combination go wrong, I ask you?). It was a terrific blend of flavors–not too strong on the blue cheese.

Pierogi with Crispy Broccoli and Brown Butter Sauce (serves 2 as an entree or 4 as a side)

  • 12 fresh or frozen pierogi
  • 2-3 cups finely chopped organic broccoli florets
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste
  1. In a stock pot, heat water for pasta until boiling.
  2. Add pierogi to water and cook according to package directions (8 minutes for our frozen pierogi).
  3. When pierogi are almost done cooking, melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. When foam subsides, add the finely chopped broccoli to the pan and cook.
  4. Using a slotted spoon or spider, remove the pierogi from the water and add to the saute pan. Cook pierogi on each side until lightly toasted and browned,about 1 minute per side.
  5. Remove pierogi and broccoli to a warmed bowl and top with chopped parsley.
  6. Serve immediately.

How Advocacy Groups Are Inflenced by Big Soda

Interesting and really sad article on how Big Soda influences advocacy groups, and how those groups apparently are willing participants.

NANCY F. HUEHNERGARTH CONSULTING

Bloomberg Moves To Ban Sugary Drinks In NYC Restaurants And Movie Theaters

If you want a prime example of how Big Soda successfully uses its “philanthropy” (e.g., deep-pockets) to silence potential critics, look at the embarrassing mess in which the storied NAACP and the Hispanic Federation now find themselves embroiled.

Both of these organizations have close ties to and receive funding from the soda industry.  Yet both neglected to mention their financial ties to Big Soda when they spoke out against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 16 ounce sugary drink portion cap and when they filed an amicus brief in support of a soda industry lawsuit to halt the measure. The cap, which was approved by the New York City Board of Health in September 2012, is scheduled to be implemented in April, 2013.

Just how close are the ties between Big Soda and the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation? A simple search uncovered the following:

NAACP: 

–       In both 2011 and 2012

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A Boeuf Bourguignon Tribute to Julia

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If you’ve been reading along with us for a while, you know that I carry a little torch for Julia Child. She was an amazing woman and a wonderful chef at a time when women in the culinary arts were almost unheard of. With her quirky sense of humor and no-nonsense technique, she managed to teach a generation (or two. or three) of American housewives and home cooks not only about cooking, but about food itself.

Last August we celebrated Julia Child’s birthday and had a wonderful time (read about it here). We made seasonal dishes with our fresh vegetables and local chicken. Definitely, something we will do again. When the weather this week took a sudden turn toward real winter, my first thought was of this dish–a classic French beef stew called boeuf bourguignon. Oh. My. Goodness.

If you are a carnivore and it is cold where you live, you must make this. Yes, it is expensive, but it does make a very large pot and you will get several meals out of it. Yes, it takes some time, but it is totally worth it.

We used local, organic ingredients for our stew (except the wine–I used what I had). Our beef came from a local farm, Coon Rock Farm, and it was so tender and flavorful, it was hard to stop eating. We have so far served it with red, white and blue potatoes (to honor France as well as our presidential inauguration) and will serve it over pasta as well. Make this!

This recipe is an adaptation of this recipe on http://www.food.com.

Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 6-8)

For the stew:

  • 6 ounces uncured bacon
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 lbs. lean, pasture-raised stew beef, cut into 2″ chunks
  • 3 organic carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 organic yellow onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 2-3 cups low sodium or homemade beef stock
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 4 organic garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh, organic thyme
  • 1 organic bay leaf

For the braised onions:

  • 18-24 white, pearl onions (defrosted and drained if using frozen)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup low sodium or homemade beef stock
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 sprig fresh, organic thyme
  • 1 fresh, organic bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh, organic parsley

For the sauteed mushrooms:

  • 1 lb. fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Prepare the bacon by cutting it into small pieces called lardons, about 1/4″ thick and 1 1/2″ long.
  3. Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a large, oven safe casserole dish at medium heat.
  4. Brown the lardons and render the fat, about 3-4 minutes. Remove bacon from the pan, drain and reserve.
  5. While bacon is cooking, use paper towels to dry each piece of beef. (I put some towel in my hand, drop in a piece of beef, give it a quick squeeze and set it aside and start over with a new piece.) This is important! Wet beef will not sear properly an you won’t have that lovely crust on each piece.
  6. Brown beef in the hot oil/bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Remove to the bowl or plate with the bacon.
  7. Add a bit more olive oil if needed and saute the onion and carrot until. until softened, about 5 minutes.
  8. Pour off any residual fat and add the lardons and beef to the casserole with the carrots and onion.
  9. Sprinkle all with the flour, salt and pepper and toss well.
  10. Put the uncovered casserole in the oven for 4 minutes. Toss the contents of the casserole again and return to the hot oven for another 4 minutes.
  11. Remove casserole to the stove top and lower the oven temperature to 325.
  12. Add the wine and enough beef stock to the casserole to barely cover the meat. Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Stir well and bring to a simmer on the stove.
  13. Cover the casserole and place in the oven for three to four hours. The meat is done when it is very tender and pierces easily with a fork.

While the meat is cooking, make the onions.

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a small saute pan. Add the defrosted and drained onions to the pan. Saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, frequently rolling the onions so they brown evenly.
  2. Pour in the stock, season to taste, add the herbs and cover.
  3. Simmer over low heat for 40-50 minutes. Check frequently so the stock doesn’t boil off completely and scorch the pan.
  4. Discard the herbs, remove the onions to a bowl and set aside.

Make the mushrooms:

  1. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium/high heat in a large skillet.
  2. When the butter foam subsides, add the mushrooms and toss. Cook about 4-5 minutes.
  3. As soon as the mushrooms are browned, remove from heat and set aside.

Assemble the stew:

  1. When the meat is tender, remove the casserole from the oven. Using a slotted spoon (I use a stir fry spider) remove the meat and vegetables from the sauce and reserve in a bowl. Discard the herbs.
  2. Skim any fat off the sauce and simmer it for a minute or two. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce and it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If the sauce is too thin, continue cooking it down.
  3. Taste for seasonings and correct if needed.
  4. Put the meat in a heated serving bowl. Top with the onions and mushrooms. Pour the sauce over it.
  5. Serve immediately with noodles, potatoes or rice. Garnish with fresh parsley.
  6. You can make this ahead and keep refrigerated for reheating later.

The Quinoa Dilemma

English: Quinua (Quinoa) plants near Cachora, ...

So, I read an article lately that claimed vegans are responsible for consuming so much protein-rich quinoa that poor people in South America, who have lived on quinoa for centuries, can no longer afford to buy it. Now, I have to say that I am an avid fan of Snopes, the urban-legend busting website. This sounds like something I would read on Snopes. Hoards of American and European vegans descending like locusts and stripping fields bare of their trendy quinoa. True? Well, like most stories, apparently “yes” and “no”.

Quinoa, as a trendy food item, has increased in popularity and (as a result) in price as well. But that money is going somewhere, right? And some of it must be going to farmers (or at least, it should be). So what’s up? As it turns out, in our global economy, things are often more complex and nuanced than they seem in a screaming headline.

Ben Alford, a blogger with Earth Eats, dissects the issue a bit more and reveals that while there are some truths to the negative impact of quinoa’s popularity, the issue is more complicated. You can read his article HERE.

It goes to show that when we talk about sustainable and ethically sourced food, we need to look at a larger, global picture. How is our food grown, how are the workers compensated and how does increased demand for a trendy product affect the overall food system? If farmers are paid more for their crops, but average or poor people are priced out of the food market, is that ethical? If a healthy food has to be transported thousands of miles, is that sustainable? If we all stop eating quinoa, what happens to the farmers who depend on selling their crops? Where is the balance between carbon footprints and heath outcomes?

What does that mean for us? Well, in terms of our family, we eat very little rice and quinoa as it is, so it isn’t so much an issue for us in terms of our weekly grocery list. It does show, however, that when you expand into a global food market, the impact consumers have on economies and resources across the world and complex and often unintended.

Gingerbread Oatmeal

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When the high for the day is going to be 32 degrees, toast just doesn’t cut it for breakfast. I love steel cut oats both for their flavor and for their satisfying warmth. But plain oatmeal gets, well, boring after a while. During the chilly mornings of last fall, I fell in love with THIS recipe for pumpkin pie oatmeal. But winter is a time for gingerbread, peppermint and chocolate, so I was looking for something a little different. I figured if I could make gingerbread pancakes, muffins and bread, there must be a way to bring that flavor profile to oats, right? Right!

After some experimenting with spices, I think I have a good balance of spice and sweetness. Note: I like my gingerbread pretty spicy. If you like a subtle taste, cut back a bit on the spices. I love this oatmeal and although you can add some brown sugar, this recipe just uses molasses for sweetness and a little kick. I also added some chopped organic dried apricots and that was delicious! Enjoy!

I’m including the crock pot recipe here, but you can make this the normal stovetop way as well.

Gingerbread Oatmeal (4-6 servings)

  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried, ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • Dried apricots or apples (optional)
  1. In the bowl of a crock pot, add the water and spices. Use a whisk to combine.
  2. Add the molasses and stir.
  3. Add the oats and stir again.
  4. Set your crock pot to its lowest setting (I use the “keep warm” setting on mine).
  5. Cook overnight for 6-7 hours.
  6. Top servings with dried fruit, if desired.

Swiss Chard with Mushrooms and Eggs

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Is there a culinary Easy Button? I mean, one that doesn’t involve pizza delivery? Because some nights, I just want things to be easy. If I have to defrost or measure, it’s too much work. Do you have those nights? I’m guessing it’s not just me. This recipe is becoming one of my “go to” meals for those nights. You only need one pan, a cutting board, a knife, a spoon and a spatula. And the whole dish cooks in about 20 minutes. What’s not to love?

Adding to the love, the Swiss chard in our garden is going berzerk. Swiss chard is super easy to grow, pretty to look at with its multicolored stems and it keeps growing even after you cut it. Did I mention it’s a super food? Yep, it sure is. It’s a miracle plant, I tell you. If you have a little patch of soil or a raised bed, I highly recommend growing these greens.

A note about fungi. This recipe uses mushrooms, which I know are a controversial vegetable (or fungus?). Regardless, people either love them or hate them. I personally love them, Ellie hates them. If you have haters in your family, just substitute something else for the mushrooms. Red bell peppers would be good, especially if they are roasted. Or even white beans. Go crazy!

Eggs cooked in a nest of chard and mushrooms--easy and healthy!

Eggs cooked in a nest of chard and mushrooms–easy and healthy!

One thing you should not skimp on with this recipe are the eggs. Eggs are a centerpiece in this dish, so use the best, freshest eggs possible. You can cook the eggs to your preference, but I like the yolks runny–they become magic with the greens. This is one good place to use those $4.00/dozen farm eggs because you will really taste the difference.

Swiss Chard with Mushrooms and Eggs (serves 2)

  • 1 bunch Swiss Chard, rinsed well to remove any sand
  • 1 organic yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
  • 4 fresh eggs
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt and pepper to taste
  1. Trim the stems off the Swiss chard and dice into similar sizes to the onion. Add chopped stems to the onion.
  2. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and chard stems. Cook for about 5 minutes, until onions are soft and stems have started to soften. Stir well. Season to taste.
  3. Add mushrooms to the pan and cook for about 2 minute, stirring well to keep vegetables from getting too brown.
  4. Chop the Swiss chard leaves and add to the pan. Keep turning the greens with the other vegetables until the greens are coated with olive oil and juices. Saute until the greens are wilted. Reduce heat to medium/low
  5. Take your spoon and flatten the greens and veggies. Make four depressions in the greens.
  6. Crack one egg into each depression. Season top with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 2 minutes, until eggs are opaque and set, but yolks are still runny.
  7. Remove from heat and use a spatula to divide the pan of greens in half. Lift greens carefully with eggs intact and plate.
  8. Serve immediately.

Week 4 Budget and Menu

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This week ended with a snow fake-out (so much for sledding) and sunny, cool weather that was more like spring. this next week promises to turn bitter cold–real winter? I’m going to harvest most of our tender greens this week and we will eat up as much as we can. Did you know you can cook your greens (chard, beet, turnip, mustard, etc) and freeze them? I think I’ll be trying that as well! Our collards will only get better with the below freezing temperatures–the cold brings out their sweetness, so I’m leaving them parked in the garden. Happily, our farmers market was full of activity today and we had a lot to choose from even with the cold weather! And even more happily, the market was teeming with people out buying fresh food in the cold!

Now that we actually have some winter weather coming on, I’m breaking out my Julia Child Boeuf Bourguignon recipe. It makes a ton, so we will have lots of leftovers this week. Somehow I don’t think anyone will mind!

This week’s budget reflects some stocking up. Ellie loves homemade whole wheat buttermilk pancakes and we ran out of maple syrup. I buy huge containers at Trader Joes, but they are $16.00! That’s a lot, but the syrup will last a long time. We also ran out of spices, which are not inexpensive either. But who can live without cinnamon? Not me, that’s who. Especially since I am experimenting with some crazy gingerbread oatmeal (stay tuned). So our budget ended up being $114.24 for the week, but I am confident we’ll bring it down next week. Here’s how our food expenses break out:

Budget

  • Coon Rock Farm (eggs, chicken, stew beef, carrots): $42.00
  • In Good Hands Farm (Brussel sprouts, broccoli): $6.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (Lebnah Greek yogurt): $4.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (bacon and blue cheese pirogue): $9.00
  • Great Harvest Bread Company (sandwich bread, scones): $7.00
  • Trader Joes (mushrooms, organic onions, cinnamon, pepper, maple syrup, organic soy milk, cheese, sliced turkey, organic potatoes): $46.24

Here’s what we’re having this week. Should be a week full of comfort food goodness!

Menu

  • Sunday–Julia’s boeuf bourguignon with roasted potatoes
  • Monday–roasted chicken thighs with honey glazed carrots and Brussels sprouts
  • Tuesday–grilled cheese sandwiches and soup
  • Wednesday–Oatmeal (girl scout night)
  • Thursday–leftover boeuf bourguignon with noodles
  • Friday–bacon and blue cheese pirogue with brown butter, Swiss chard
  • Saturday–out to dinner or leftover buffet
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