Tag Archives: basics

Freezing!

It’s October 1st and we are freezing!

Wait. What? It’s a beautiful, sunshiny, warm-ish (for October in the Pacific Northwest) day! But alas, my household is freezing. Our spending, that is.

Ruth over at Living Well Spending Less has put out the challenge, and I am up for it! The challenge: 31 Days of Living Well and Spending ZERO! Yes, ZERO! I’m a little nervous, but my nearly non-existent budget for the last…well, as long as I can remember…has prepared me for this day and this challenge.

My long-time blog readers and followers may recall me going on assorted different spending freezes, clean out the fridge/freezer/pantry challenges, and just plain being broke over the years, but this will be the first time I take on the challenge of actually committing to spending NO MONEY (aside from necessities and bills, of course.)

$10 Menu and Shopping List (Yes, I used coupons. No, I don't always spend so little at the store.)

$10 Menu and Shopping List (Yes, I used coupons. No, I don’t always spend so little at the store.)

All of this means that I am going to be brewing my stock-piled coffee stash (my beloved Starbucks Tribute will find its way into my coffee cup this month), will not be drinking wine (this isn’t a necessity, and I did NOT stock up before taking this challenge, because, well, that kind of defeats the purpose, right?) but may pull some long-forgotten vodka from the back of my freezer as I dig around in hopes of locating an also long-forgotten yummy treat to enjoy, and our menus will be fun and maybe a bit quirky as we use what is floating around our pantry, fridge, and freezers. This also means that my lunch-time visits to Starbucks are on hold for the month, as well as my more-frequent-than-I-care-to-admit trips through the McDonald’s drive thru for lunch (good-bye cheeseburger and small fries. I don’t think I’ll actually miss you, and I will be happy to keep my $2.62 per visit all to myself!)

What would you have the most difficulty giving up for a month, or even indefinitely? For me, it’s coffee (I know, shocking, right!? :)). And chocolate. My chocolate stash will surely run out this month…good thing I have plenty of chocolate chips. Yes, I know they are meant for baking into yummy treats, but I see no harm in popping a handful of that semi-sweet chocolatey goodness in my mouth while I give myself a pep talk convincing myself I do NOT need to go buy more Godiva chocolate (at the mall, where of course I will want to stop in at all my other favorite stores as well…). Don’t worry, Godiva, I WILL be back again. I won’t leave you forever, I love you too much and you make my stress melt away. xo

Now that you know what I *won’t* be buying, let’s talk about what I *will* spend money on. Bills. Gas (so I can get to and from work so I can get paid so I can pay those bills). Required school fees for my teens.

Perishable foods including produce (if needed. But we have an awesome neighbor who likes to share his garden goodies with us, so those may not be needed. Plus, I already spent the money on a Bountiful Baskets contribution that I get to pick up on Saturday, which should hold us over for a couple of weeks at least.), dairy, perhaps bread (I may decide we should just get back to making our own like we used to…) Our grocery budget is generally low anyway, in about the $200/month range, but we are cutting way back to just the basics and I anticipate spending around $40 this month.

Stick with me this month and see how much fun we can have without spending any money! It CAN be done, even with two teenagers roaming the house with me. They’re on board for the challenge too. I think. I hope. Well, if they’re not, I guess it’s time for them to get jobs. 🙂

I may not post all my random ramblings about this challenge here on my blog, so pop on over to my Instagram account and join the fun there. ThatCookGirl on Instagram

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Go For Green

Leprechaun Visit | www.ThatCookGirl.com

You’re never too old for Lucky Charms or a Leprechaun visit!
Go For Green!

 I see all these moms running around making elaborate Leprechaun traps, fancy treats, costumes…well, you name it, and I’ve seen the over-the-top, make-the-average-mom-look-bad crafts and projects and parties. This may very well come as a shock to some of you, but I am NOT a crafty mom. I used to think I wanted to be a crafty mom…but it looks like it takes a lot of time and energy and I would just rather put forth that time and energy hanging out than crafting. So far, I don’t think my kids have been scarred too much by my lack of craftiness. Now, I may not be crafty, but I still sure know how to have fun and most Holidays around here are memorable. (Let’s not talk about Valentine’s Day this year, please… I failed miserably by forgetting to leave a silly card for my kids to find when they wake up…Hey, I never said I was perfect! I think I redeemed myself by bringing home chocolate strawberries, though.)

How does a non-crafty mom make Holidays totally awesome you ask? The answer is simple! I have a private line to all the well-known Holiday spokespeople. The Easter Bunny, Santa…yes, even the Leprechauns. Having this “in” with these people really helps when you aren’t crafty! It just takes a quick call, email, or text message to confirm that my kids still get a thrill out of the little details of the Holiday, and I’m off the hook for crafting! A special treat will be dropped off by morning and I can get some much-needed sleep!

Such as it was for St Patrick’s Day! A quick “Go for Green” text message and I was off to bed at an early hour. The Leprechauns paid a visit, performed a bit of mischief with chairs on tables, stools turned upside down, milk turned green, even the fruit bowl turned upside down and the fruit stacked on top…and left a treat for the trouble of having to clean up after them. We all get a good giggle at their silliness every year, and this year was no exception.

Of course, this doesn’t let me off the hook for cooking dinner. We will still have our traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage. It is in the slow cooker now and will be ready when I get home from work. Another mealtime saved by the slow cooker!

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Better Butter

First, I’ll allow you a moment to recover from the shock of me posting two days in a row. When I get the chance to “steal” my girl child’s computer to do some blogging, and I actually have something to blog about, I take the opportunity. And this is a post I’ve been wanting to make for a couple years now.

It’s no secret that I love butter. I’ve mentioned fresh butter several times in my postings. I’ve even talked family members who were over for dinner into helping  to make butter (once, even a sister’s ex who only dropped in to see their daughter and wasn’t even staying for dinner helped to make the butter). I don’t always make my own butter, but if I’m making a nice dinner or yummy bread, I like to have really great butter to go with it. More than once, people have said things to me along the lines of “You know they sell that at the store, right?” and “There are easier ways to make butter than that”. “I know” is pretty much my response to all of the comments. So, would you like to make your own fresh butter? You just need one ingredient, one “tool”, and a little muscle (or several little muscles with the help of some kids)

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Pour 2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream into a chilled 1 quart jar with a tight fitting lid. If you have access to fresh, raw milk and the cream that comes from that…well, I’m jealous if you do, but… it will make an even creamier, sweet, beautiful butter! Screw the lid onto your jar. Make sure it’s tight. It is important to not fill the jar all the way. Half-filled is perfect. The cream needs room to move around and do its thing to become butter.

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You can shake the jar yourself, or if you have some bored teenagers roaming around like I do, you can hand them the jar. It’s a tiring job, so usually more than one person and some turn-taking will make the task a little easier. I’ve set kids up in a circle on the floor and let them roll the jar around between them, but that takes longer (although, it keeps little ones entertained for awhile, if you need an easy activity for them!).

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You will know when the cream is turning into butter because it will start to kind of “thud” against the side of the jar. And once that starts to happen, keep shaking, as hard as you can (I almost always have taken over the task from the teenagers with tired arms by this point and finish it off myself), until there is a mass of butter and the liquid has separated. That’s buttermilk, by the way. Save it and use it in some pancakes, or Breakfast Cookies.

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Pour the liquid off into a bowl (or into a clean jar to store for later use, in the fridge of course), and spoon the butter into your favorite butter dish. Mine is a French Butter Dish I got from a friend’s shop last year.

There you have it, fresh butter. One ingredient, and a wonderful treat for topping for your favorite breads, and anything else you love topping with butter!

And now, my dear friends, family, and blog-readers… I must go. The battery on the girl child’s computer is near the end, and Red Widow is on. Have you started watching this show? Oh, you should! You really should!!!

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Filed under Cooking With Love, Recipes, Sauces/Dressings

I’m Not Irish

It’s true. I’m not Irish. But you can still kiss me. 😉 And you may want to when you see how easy and fuss-free it is to make a hearty Corned Beef & Cabbage Dinner for your family. I have talked to at least 4 people in the last week who have either never had corned beef and/or never made it. So, this is for everyone out there who has never made corned beef, especially if you have never made it because you are intimidated by the task. This will make the top 5 list of “least intimidating recipes” I will ever share with you, I’m sure!

IMAG1320Here are your ingredients:

Corned Beef

Red Potatoes

Carrots

Green Cabbage

Water

 

This is a recipe where you will be so happy you own a slow cooker. It’s what makes this such an easy meal to make. Are you ready? Get your knife out and let’s COOK!

  1.  Prepare carrots in the manner you prefer. (Either peel and cut into 1-2 inch pieces, or wash them and leave them whole, with our without the peel. I prefer unpeeled, whole carrots, myself.) Place carrots in bottom of slow cooker crock.
  2. Wash potatoes and cut in half. Place on top of carrots.
  3. Open the corned beef and rinse well. (Keep that little packet of spices. You’ll need it!) Place the corned beef on top of the potatoes in your slow cooker, fat side up.
  4. Pour about 1/2 cup water into the slow cooker.
  5. Now back to that packet of spices. You can take your pick of methods on this one, too. Personally, I don’t like the little bits of spice seeds, but the flavor is amazing and necessary for the roast, so I do use it. If you don’t mind the seeds, open up the packet and sprinkle over the top of your roast. OR, you can put some holes in the packet with a small knife and toss the whole thing into your slow cooker.
  6. Put the lid on your slow cooker, turn it on low, and walk away. In about 6-7 hours, the corned beef will be cooked and vegetables will be tender. (You can use the high setting as well, if you want it to cook faster. Same results!)
  7. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget the cabbage! Cut the cabbage into wedges. Now, if your slow cooker is large enough and there is room to put the cabbage on top of the corned beef, add it to the top 1-2 hours before dinner. If you don’t have room for it, remove the meat and move it to a platter in a warm oven (COVERED, and maybe add a little of the juice from cooking to keep it moist), and then add the cabbage for cooking.

That’s it! Your dinner is done and it will taste as if you slaved over it all day. Your secret is safe with me, if that’s what you want your family to believe.

In our home, we serve this with bread (and fresh butter of course!) and put some butter and sour cream out for the potatoes, and vinegar and/or lemon for the cabbage, along with mustard and/or horseradish for the corned beef.

There you have it! Enjoy. You may now kiss the Cook Girl. 😉

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Filed under Main Dishes, Recipes, Slow Cooker

Honey Tea

Honey Tea

A friend shared a picture on facebook today that included a link for a “honey tea” useful as a sore throat remedy. I can’t begin to tell you how exciting this was to me. I see these “tea” concoctions all the time. Elaborate, time consuming concoctions that taste awful but are supposed to contain amazing healing properties. I’m sorry. I’m all about natural remedies, homecooking, and all that jazz… but if it tastes awful, I’ll just never use the remedy, so it’s pointless.

This “tea” is so easy, I don’t think it can be messed up.

3 ingredients, 2 preparation “tools”
Honey (preferably raw, local honey)
Lemon
Gingerroot
Knife
Jar with lid

I found my honey at a local place called Bees in the Burbs. I know the owner of the place from my “day job”, and my daughter is friends with his daughter at school, too. So I was thrilled to go in search of their shop that they recently opened, where they were happy to show us around, even taking the boy child outside to show him a swarm of bees that were gathering around an area where some syrup had spilled.

I chose the wildflower honey at his suggestion, and as you can see from the pictures, the honey is crystallizing a bit. That’s a good thing. That means the honey is raw, not pasteurized, a process that cooks out all the good healing properties. At room temperature, raw honey will do this. It has not gone bad (honey is a natural preservative). If you want to be able to pour it into your drinks or cooking at home, you need only warm it lightly.

Thinly slice 1 lemon. This should be enough to almost fill a pint jar.

Peel the outer skin from about an inch-long piece of ginger root. Thinly slice it and add it to the top of the lemons in the jar.

Add the honey to the jar with the lemons and ginger. My 12 oz honey bear filled it to the top. Just the right amount. I stirred it a bit to get the honey mixed in with the lemons and ginger, and that was it. Throw the lid on that baby and put it in your fridge. When someone in your home starts to feel a tingle of a sore throat coming on, pull out your honey tea, place a spoonful in a mug, and mix it with a cup of hot water. Drink and feel the magic of nature go to work!

 

For once, I am actually going to use a “tea concoction”. I’m almost looking forward to that first winter cold now, just so I can pull my honey jar from the back of the fridge and put it to use. (Ok, not really. I actually hope we stay healthy and don’t have to use it, but it’s there if we need it.)

For information on the health benefits of honey, lemons, and ginger, check out the links below. And for goodness sake, find yourself a local, raw honey supplier! You’ll thank me later. (Especially if you’re an allergy sufferer! Local raw honey has been shown to reduce or even eliminate pollen allergies. Why? Because you are ingesting the local pollens and this helps build up the body’s immunity to those pollens.)

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/health-benefits-of-organic-locally-grown-raw-honey/

http://www.amritaveda.com/learning/articles/ginger.asp

http://www.beliefnet.com/Health/Physical-Health/Hidden-Health-Secrets-of-Lemons.aspx

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Crowd Pleasing Garlicky Spaghetti Carbonara

I love to cook for people. Have I ever mentioned that before? I recently met some new people to cook for, and at our first meeting, I kinda bragged about being an amazing cook. I even brought some of my Homemade Bagels to share. I think they liked them (either that or they’re great at faking it.lol) So of course, when the invitation came for me to bring my kids out to their house and cook dinner, I was all-too-happy to plan a meal that would be both simple enough to cook while visiting and something my hostess would be able to easily recreate on her own, but also a crowd pleaser and a “wow” kinda meal. I do believe I picked a near-perfect meal to do the trick. I have only 1 picture to share with you, and the credit for that goes to Carri who brought out her phone to snap a picture before we dished up. I was too busy enjoying cooking in a big kitchen and visiting and dancing while doing so to think about taking pictures. (I know, shocking, right?)

Our hosts spent a good amount of time that day showing me and my kids around and introducing us to all their animals, even putting my girl child on a horse to ride around for a bit (the boy child had no interest). They shot a bow and arrow, enjoyed the company of children other than each other, and generally just had a nice, fun, relaxing day/evening. And I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with adults outside of work, something I don’t get to do enough of lately.

I am not a perfect cook, to which I have admitted many times. I do make some really great food, most of the time, but I do have my mishaps… In planning the menu, I decided I wanted to make dessert as well, which I was going to prepare at home and bring along. I decided on my old “signature” dessert of cream puffs…but they didn’t puff, and my work schedule was so hectic there was no way I would have time to re-make them. Seeing my sadness (I was near tears…probably more because of my hectic schedule and trying to do too much and overwhelming myself than having not had success with the puffs, though…) at not having success with this, my girl child (15 years old now, by the way! How did THAT happen?!) offered to give them a try while I was at work. When I saw her facebook status update declaring “I WIN”, I knew she had had success and it was for sure a proud mommy moment.

So, what did we share with this family of new friends? Having bragged about being an amazing cook, it had to be something amazing, of course… Well, the cream puffs, of course, thanks to the girl child. I also made Garlicky Spaghetti Carbonara (the recipe is below, but to be honest, I didn’t really follow it too closely, and had only made it once before this night, so threw it together from memory, but it seemed to turn out quite well… also, this recipe is a combination of several I found on the www with my own little twists added to it) and a big green salad with lemon salad dressing. Yeah, that’s it. But it was plenty!

Thanks again for letting me come out to your house and mess up your kitchen!

 

Garlicky Spaghetti Carbonara

This is a dish that can be complete in less than 20 minutes if you gather all your ingredients before you start. It’s simple, with simple ingredients, and a crowd-pleaser!

When I told my kids one night that we were having Spaghetti Carbonara for dinner, they both cried out “YUM!!!!” But they had no idea what it was. They just liked the sound of the name. When I told them it had bacon in it, I thought they would both faint from excitement. I love these simple meals that impress. 🙂


Ingredients:

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 3/4 pound bacon, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, divided
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 lemon
    Here’s What to do:

    1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Smash about 8 cloves of garlic (or more) and add them to the water (I do this instead of salt) along with the pasta. Cook to al dente, according to package directions.

    2. Meanwhile, heat the largest skillet you have over medium to medium-high heat. Add bacon to pan and cook, stirring often, until crisp. Chop the remaining garlic cloves, and slice the green onion (green and white parts), reserving a bit for garnish. Add these to the bacon and grease in the pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Chop tomato into cubes and cut lemon in half during this cooking time.

    3. In a bowl, beat yolks and add 1/2 cup of the water from the pasta. This keeps the eggs from scrambling when added to the pasta.

    4. Drain pasta and add it directly to the skillet with the bacon mixture. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Working quickly, toss to coat the pasta, adding more water to make a creamy texture, maybe a ladel or 2 full. Remove from heat and add a large handful of cheese, about 1/2 cup or so, and chopped tomatoes. Continue to toss the pasta until it thickens. Garnish with reserved green onion and extra grated Parmesan.

    5. Serve in pasta bowls or on plates with large sides to hold the yummy goodness in!

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Filed under Entertainment, Main Dishes, Pasta, Pork, Recipes

My Bacon Story

There was a time in my life when making bacon was a chore. But bacon is worth the chore, right? So I would get out the shirt aptly named “The Bacon Cooking Shirt”, courtesy of all the bacon grease splatters it was stained with, and get the bacon started on its way to sizzling, crispy perfection on the stove, jumping every now and then to try (and fail) to avoid the bacon grease splatters. We would enjoy the bacon, it would make us smile..and then we would walk into the kitchen and slide across the grease-covered floor and start the cleanup of bacon grease from the stove, counters, and floor. We didn’t eat bacon very often in those days. Too much work.

It pains me to learn of the number of people who still cook bacon this way. There is an easier way, people. Easy! And no babysitting of the pan, or flipping of the bacon is necessary. Yes, really. It’s true!

All you need is your favorite bacon (mine comes from a local farmer I used to buy my pork from in my hometown. I’m hoping to find a new local farmer in my new town soon, since my freezer is starting to get quite low on meats!), an oven set to 425 degrees, and a bar pan (jelly roll pan, whatever you call it, as long as it has sides. You do NOT want to use a pan with no sides. You need the pan to be able to hold the bacon grease.) Line the bacon in a single layer across the pan. You can put it pretty close together, but don’t overlap it. Put the pan of bacon in the oven, and set your timer for 15 minutes. (Please, please, please set the timer. Don’t believe that you will remember, because you won’t, and you’ll forget about it, that is, until your smoke alarm reminds you that you were cooking bacon. And then you have a pan of burnt nothingness and that is just wrong, on so many levels.)

Don’t worry. The 15 minutes is just a starting point. I always set it for 15 minutes and check it then, but usually end up re-setting the time for another 5-10 minutes. Personally, I think bacon is done just before it burns. My kids, sadly, do not tend to agree with me. But, I’m the one cooking, and when they decide to cook, they can make it how they like it. But, once in awhile I’m feeling generous and will take a few pieces off the pan early for them.

Tonight’s bacon cooking is serving multiple purposes. BLTs on the menu for the night, paired with oven fries, which I cooked on the same pan (after removing the bacon and most of the bacon grease). The bacon grease gave a great extra bit of flavor to the oven fries tonight. MMMMMMMM!!!!!! And the remaining bacon grease? Well, it now sits in a jar, on a shelf in my fridge, awaiting its turn at flavoring some fresh green beans we got in our Bountiful Baskets produce pickup this past weekend. And it will get to flavor some other things over the next couple weeks as well, I just don’t know what those things are quite yet.

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Filling Empty

I have 6 half-gallon Ball Canning Jars. When I asked my parents if they would sell me these jars they had sitting around, Mom asked what I was planning to do with them. I told her I planned to fill them. And that is exactly what I plan to do. I have 3 of them in use now, but I’m not going to tell you what I’m using them for, just yet. First, I want you to tell me what you would use them for if they were in your home, and/or tell me what you think I am going to/should use them for. I expect to fill the remaining 3 jars by this weekend and will share with you what kind of fun and/or practical uses I have found.

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Healthy Snacks

Fresh and Healthy Snacks for the week. What are you snacking on between meals?

I was going to write a big, long post about how important healthy snacking and healthy meals are. Complete with a confession that I gained 5 pounds while at a work conference, and upon my return, I ate more taffy in 3 days than any person should eat in a lifetime…

But I’ll spare you all that (oops, too late) and just say I am back on the wagon again and have my fresh snacks ready for the week.

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Vanilla Beans

How to cut open a vanilla bean: lay bean(s) on cutting board, holding one end with your fingers, use a sharp knife to cut bean lengthwise, exposing seeds

Not too long ago I bought a few vanilla beans for a good price. (I don’t recall what the price was, but I remember not wanting to pass up the good deal.) I finally have gotten around to doing something with them, and I am pleased to say that my first experience in working with vanilla beans has been a good one. They are simple to work with, despite their size, and now my hands smell like vanilla and that makes me smile.

So, what did I do with these fragrant, flavorful little pods of goodness? I made more goodness, of course. It will be ready in about 2 months.

First, I made Vanilla Extract. In my cupboard I had some vodka that I will, in all honesty, never drink. (Sorry, sis. I’ll buy more for your dirty Martinis when you come visit. I promise.) This is the perfect liquor for making vanilla extract. And I am almost out of vanilla extract in my baking supplies, so it seemed a perfect use to me. The process is so simple you’ll question why you’ve never made it yourself, and then you’ll want to rush out and buy some vodka and vanilla beans.

You will need:

— 1 cup vodka, bourbon, or rum (Vodka is my #1 choice here because of its neutral flavor.)

— 2-4 vanilla beans

— clean bottle or jar

Here’s what to do:

Place liquor into a clean bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid. I was finishing off a bottle of vodka for this, so I just used that bottle and saved myself the trouble of finding another appropriately sized jar/bottle. Split open vanilla beans to expose the seeds inside the bean pod (as shown in picture). Add vanilla beans to liquor, secure lid, and shake well. Place in a cool, dark cupboard, and give it a little shake a couple times a week. In about 2-3 months, you will have beautiful vanilla extract for all your baking needs. It will become a little darker as it ages, and you can use it as you would any other vanilla, only it will taste way better. To keep it going forever, you can add more vanilla beans and liquor to the bottle.

I couldn’t stop with just Vanilla Extract, though.  I wanted a treat that could be used more frequently, and enjoyed by my awesome kiddos, too. So, now we’re on to Vanilla Sugar.

You will need:

— 1.5 cups white sugar

— 2 vanilla beans

— clean bottle or jar

Here’s what to do:

Place sugar into a clean bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid. Split open vanilla beans to expose the seeds inside the bean pod (as shown in picture). Add vanilla beans to sugar, secure lid, and shake well. Place in a cool, dark cupboard, and give it a little shake a couple times a week. In about a month, you will have a flavorful sugar that can be used in baking, in your coffee, or sprinkled on some buttered toast for a sweet treat.

Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Sugar! So easy, you'll wonder why you haven't tried it before now.

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So there we have it. A quick trip into the kitchen this morning, and the results are sweet. 😉

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