Fall Garden Update

We got our first real frost last night, right on schedule (our average first frost date is 9/13). I was able to start cleaning out the garden this morning; with the huge tomato plants out of the way we can finally walk around a bit. Now I have a ton of green tomatoes!

I took these photos a few weeks ago, in part to help me draw up where I put everything this year. Soon I’ll be tallying just how much I harvested this year and planning out next year’s garden.

 

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Three!

 

DSCN6558Ishmael is three!

What a fun day we had. The older boys arranged some games to play with Ishmael and we read Ishi’s favorite book: Let’s eat! Taking time to carefully study the birthday party scene. I think three is the first birthday when they can understand and fully embrace that their day is, well, their day. As per tradition we hung the birthday banner, set the table (with the blue table-cloth), lit a candle and ate the birthday boy’s requested meals: mac and cheese for lunch and for supper: roasted chicken with baked potatoes, corn and a salad (from our garden). And, of course, there was cake (blue cake), presents and three boys happily playing together (Molly wiggled about excitedly).

Ishmael always loves to help in the kitchen so rather than having the birthday cake make a surprise appearance Ishmael helped to make it. Of course a cook in the kitchen needs an apron. We have only one child’s apron and you can imagine the scene when two or more boys want to help. So I made Ishmael his very own apron. He picked out the (blue) dinosaur fabric from my stash. I had some matching yellow fabric that I used for the bias tape, which also is the neck and waist tie.

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While I had the sewing machine out I made him a zippered pillow case as well. It turned out nicely. The fabric has cute animals on it and I found a matching zipper which I managed to sew in successfully. Sorry no photos of it or the birthday party because my camera is lost.Cross your fingers we find it soon!

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KCCO

 

The Garden

This post has been a long time coming! So long in fact, that we’ve already had a touch of frost (so long cucumbers).

Sadly, this year’s garden has been awful, perhaps the worst ever. We got a late start but altogether we put in a lot of work (ugh, double digging) and turned what was just another part of the hay-field into a garden plot.

DSCN2418We found a large clump of chives already growing there and a few other signs (markers etc) that lead me to believe some else once had a garden there in the past. A good sign, yes?

DSCN2413I worked the soil, breaking up all those large clumps of roots, and tucked in my seedlings and seeds. We were off to a good start.

DSCN2482Then the rain came. It rained and it rained. My garden was swamped. For weeks most of it stood under several inches of water. Also not helping was the ever so slight downhill slant of our backyard, draining right into the garden. As you can imagine most of the seeds and plants rotted.

A few things made it. Namely the leeks, tomatoes and cucumbers planted on the slight up slope, a couple purple basil, oregano and one lone potato plant.

Since then a lot of weeds (namely hemp nettle and strawberry less strawberry plants) have moved in. Since I’m moving the garden just a tad “up hill” I’m not bothering with weeding this garden. I did plant a second fall garden (focusing on cold tolerant plants) where the pigs use to be. Already cleared; this one was much easier to plant. It’s been doing fairly well.I planted radishes, peas, lettuce, spinach,sprouting broccoli, parsley, and transplanted a few volunteer tomato plants I found near the old barn site.

Our fall garden even has a little shed my helpers immediately made into a garden club house.

DSCN3068Our new blueberry plants also did phenomenally.

DSCN3076Hopefully next year’s garden will do much better- or at least the goat barn got cleaned out.

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Chicken Kiev

DSCN9992As far as chicken dinners go chicken kiev is one of my family’s favorites. It looks fancy but it’s pretty easy to make. This recipe was passed down from my mother-in-law when struggling_along and I married 10 years ago. I still remember the first time I made chicken kiev. Having never made it before, I did not realize that the chicken was supposed to be wrapped around the filling. I had simply rolled them up, allowing all the butter and herbs to melt right out into the bottom of the pan! It was still edible but it’s even better if you succeed in keeping the butter and herbs sealed in the center of the chicken.

The Recipe

First prepare 6 boneless, skinless, spilt chicken breasts by flattening them so that they are even in thickness and a bit larger, which makes them easier to roll up.Then combine the herbs in a small dish:

1/4 tsp dried tarragon

2 Tlb  dried parsley

1/8 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

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Then, using 1 Tlb butter for each piece of chicken, dip the butter into the herb mixture and coat well. Place the herbed butter in the middle of each piece of chicken.

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Roll the chicken up, around the butter, trying to tuck in the ends of the chicken. Secure with a tooth pick.

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Coat in a 1/3rd cup flour (or cornstarch if you want it gluten-free). Use the flour to help seal the ends of the chicken.

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Then dip the floured chicken into 1 egg beaten.

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Coat in 1-2 cups of bread crumbs (use gluten-free bread to make gf crumbs).

DSCN9959Place in a buttered baking dish. I like to use a Pyrex dish.

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Bake at 425 for 5 minutes then turn the oven down to 400 and bake for 40 minutes or till done. Baste with any butter that does melt into the pan.

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DSCN9982Serve and enjoy! Serves 4-6. This chicken goes well with a lot of different sides. For this particular dinner I made roasted potatoes and peas but any veggies, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf or what have you works well.

DSCN9991Here’s the recipe again, in short form:

Chicken Kiev

6 pieces chicken breast

1/4 tsp tarragon

2 Tlb parsley                   -Mix these herbs together

1/8 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tlb butter                   -Coat in above herb mixture

Roll up chicken around butter and secure with a toothpick. Dip chicken into (in order)

1/3 cup flour

1 egg beaten

1-2 cups bread crumbs

Place in a lightly buttered pan. bake at 425-5 minutes then at 400 – 40 minutes. Baste with any pan butter.

That’s it.

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{In the Kitchen} Foraging

Now that spring is finally here all the wild shoots, blossoms and roots are resurrecting from the winter’s freeze. Over the winter I read several intriguing posts on foraging and using stinging nettle most notably from And Here We Are: nettle mead, and this post on nettle pasta, which is the one I used, although I made 6x the recipe and froze some for future use.

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There was plenty of nettle to be found and all of it was below knee height.  My little helper boys and I picked a whole lot, wearing a shared pair of gloves, until our bag was full and one by one they accidentally touched the nettle and poor Ishi fell hands first into a patch. Sting nettle really does sting. Growing up my brothers and I always called it seven minute itch as that’s about how long it really itches for- give or take. It was time to call it quits.

When we got back I sorted through, rinsed and then blanched the nettle. It only takes about 30 seconds for the nettle to wilt, then the stinging aspect is gone. It’s important to really squeeze the nettle as not to make the pasta too wet. By the way the green water from the nettle makes a great dark green natural egg dye.

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It was really very simple to make. Just like making regular pasta and it has that same great fresh pasta taste. I’ll have to try making spinach pasta next. After kneading a bit and resting the dough I rolled it out using a vintage cast iron pasta machine my older brother gifted to me. I’ll go a tad thinner next time.

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Here it is cooked and lightly buttered. To be honest the nettle didn’t give much flavor but it does add a lot of nutrients. I’m thinking of using part of the frozen dough as lasagna noodles.

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We’ve also been enjoying the spring by foraging wild blossoms for jelly and trying woodchuck (aka groundhog) for the first time in a pot pie.

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What do you enjoy foraging?

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Tapping is over; mud season is here.

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Tapping for this year is over. Technically it’s still the season in our neck of the woods however the barn is due for imminent removal so this year we’re cutting it short.

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The boys and I went around collecting the last of the sap to have dripped into our buckets. The color of the sap varied bucket to bucket but overall it has darkened – a sure sign the season is coming to an end. We’ve had quite a haul.While it’s hard to say for sure, due to already having doused many pancakes, waffles and sausages in syrup, but I’d say we’ve produced a gallon this year.

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End of the season sap waiting to be boiled down.

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Early season sap waiting to be collected.

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This is my “boiling it down” set up (sans snow which I normally pile up around the buckets to help keep them cold). That’s  an electric pressure cooker which I set to “saute”. That keeps the sap simmering away. Every so often I add a bit more sap and make sure the pressure cooker hasn’t automatically switched over to “keep warm”. Once the sap has cooked down quite a bit I bring the sap in, to the stove, to finish  it off.

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Once the syrup has reach the proper temperature I strain it through a jelly bag to remove any last impurities. Then I bottle it  into sterilized jars, or refrigerate or freeze.

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Jars cooling.

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A batch.

I can already tell the maple syrup won’t last us all year but it will certainly make a dent. We’ve certainly had a lot of fun throughout the process!

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Clam Chowder & Peasent Bread

Being this early in spring the days still carry a chill. What better way to warm up and enjoy some comfort food than with Clam Chowder? Ironically, after 5 years on the coast of Maine, the best clam chowder I’ve had was here in Vermont. It was a special and I don’t go out to eat very often so I enjoyed it thinking “I wish I could make this a home”. Then my Mom hooked me up with this recipe- wish granted!

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This recipe is from Grit magazine. My mother made a few adaptations that I think really add to an already excellent recipe. Here’s Grit’s recipe – reproduced for your convenience:

Alida’s Clam Chowder Recipe

A thick, creamy soup, this is my mother’s recipe, and she still makes it.

1 pound bacon, diced
3 large onions, chopped
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups water
3 small cans minced clams
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch thyme
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
4 cups milk
1 can evaporated milk

In skillet, fry bacon until crispy. Add onions and cook until browned.

Add potatoes and water, and cook until potatoes are tender. Stir in clams, pepper, sugar and thyme, and let simmer.

In separate pan, over low heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour. Add milk a little at a time while continuing to whisk until white sauce starts to bubble around edges. Pour white sauce into clam mixture and let cool.

Just before serving, stir in evaporated milk. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until heated through. Do not boil, as it will ruin the texture of the soup. Yields 3 quarts.

My mother’s suggestions: If the bacon is really fatty drain some of the grease off. Double the potatoes and cans of clams.
I think those are suggestions are spot on. I also sometimes replace the water with bone broth and I use corn starch so it’s gluten free. You can also use half and half instead of a can of evaporated milk or cook 2 1/4 cups milk down to 1 cup.

DSCN0341DSCN0492Now that you have a great chowder only some crusty bread will do it justice. I came across this recipe for a no knead bread called peasent bread, baked in a pyrex bowl. It’s super easy and adapts well to a gluten free version. I tried it with sweet white sorghum flour- delicious! I won’t reproduce the instructions here because it’s quite long with tips, photos and variations.

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DSCN0342Enjoy it with the clam chowder -or even just with jelly.

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Pig Butchering

Another 10 inches of snow. So much for thinking spring was on the way.

DSCN0055Despite the snow it was time to butcher and process one of the pigs.  I helped to separate the girl pigs then Struggling_along did the deed and hoisted her up.  DSCN0072

The kids were happy it was snowing and that my brother and his girlfriend were showing up soon so they danced around.

DSCN0070 DSCN0091 DSCN0092 Struggling_along tended to the gutting and hair removal as we headed inside to start supper. Plus, I needed to sharpen all the knives for breaking down the pig into chops, roasts etc. the next day.

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The few photos I took while we were cutting up the meat were too blurry. Besides, most of the time my hands were too busy breaking down the hams into more manageable sized roasts and ham steaks or wrapping the meat for the freezer. Ezra decided to help label the bags.Now we have cute bags with H A M scrawled across; a few even have smiley faces.

I did snap these as I finished up grinding the sausage.

DSCN0148 DSCN0149Then we (and when I say we I mean Struggling_along and my brother) moved Mercedes in with Chevy. Hopefully he will indeed “make good things happen” and we’ll have an early fall litter of pigs.

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Homemade Breadcrumbs

Here’s a cooking staple so easy to make at home I don’t even know why breadcrumbs are sold in the supermarket. They’re almost too simple to post about-  but they’re that good.

First, start with some bread. Store brought or homemade- even gluten free. End slices, whole slices, edge pieces from sandwiches; room temperature or frozen, it doesn’t matter.

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Place the bread in a food processor and pulse several times, running the processor until the bread is in fairly uniform crumbs.

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And there you have it: fresh bread crumbs. Use right away or store in the freezer for a longer shelf life.

For dried breadcrumbs you can dry some bread in the oven before processing or dry the breadcrumbs afterwards. Generally fresh crumbs can be used interchangeably for dry crumbs. Although, once in a great while, a recipe may specify dry crumbs to absorb more moisture.

Also, if you don’t have a food processor you can dry some bread and rub the slices together creating dried bread crumbs or you can use your fingers and crumble fresh slices for fresh crumbs. It works but it’s a lot more labor intensive, hence the food processor.

DSCN9960These fresh crumbs are especially great on homemade chicken nuggets, Chicken Kiev…. basically anywhere you want a tasty, crispy breadcrumb coating these will be the star.

Enjoy!

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Nourishing Traditions: Latin American Sauerkraut {with pineapple vinegar}

DSCN9544 I’ve been on the look out for recipes using pineapple vinegar. I noticed one in Nourishing Traditions for Latin American Sauerkraut which isn’t necessarily a recipe I’d normally make.  I happened to have a small head of cabbage left from making stuffed cabbage- which works best with the large outer leaves. So I figured why not?

DSCN9542Now, as you can see below, the original recipe calls for onions. I left them out because the last few times I added raw onions to, for example, pickled beets I found the raw flavor way too strong. Also, there are two versions: one with salt (and optional whey) and one with pineapple vinegar. Since all of the shredded cabbage and carrots didn’t fit in one jar I made both. The fuller jar contains the pineapple vinegar version, while the lesser jar is just salt.

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DSCN9560The salt only version packed down significantly more. And already appears softer. Following the instructions I left both out for three days before transferring to the fridge.

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Over the Weekend

Last week Struggling_along brought me home a surprise – a stack of metal syruping buckets with lids and spiles! It was like Christmas. I had resigned myself long ago that metal buckets were too expensive. Luckily Struggling_along just happened to be at the feed store at the right moment (ordering this year’s chicks) and he was able to snatch up the last of these previously used buckets sold by a man getting out of the business. Score!

And it was perfectly timed too as this weekend it finally warmed up, and even rained!

We went from this:

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To this:

DSCN9841It’s finally starting to look like spring is on it’s away around here.

DSCN9868So the boys and I went around identifying our maples and fighting over who got to drill which tree and whether the person who drilled also got to use the hammer to tap the spile in. There was also much sap sampling- straight from the tap of course.

DSCN9869Since then I can’t count the number of times we’ve crossed the field to check on the sap levels. We have 4 buckets on each side of the field. It’s quite the journey across because it’s a ways, plus, every step has to be taken with caution. Sometimes the crust holds us up, or we may sink an inch or two, but the next step may send us suddenly lurching forward, sinking us down past  our knees and potentially onto our faces, or alternatively, stuck like a turtle on our backs. It’s all good fun though.

DSCN9874So yesterday Ishi and I went around and collected the sap.

DSCN9878The first buckets didn’t have too much sap yet. I use my own methods to boil the sap down; it takes a while, so I don’t want build up too much in sap storage.

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DSCN9848The trees on the other side of the field held a surprise for us-

DSCN9890our first full bucket. Those buckets are deceptive – they hold a lot! It just about filled my 5 gallon pail and with the little bit from the other buckets I had a slow return journey trying not to slosh sap over the sides of the pail.

DSCN9891Boiling it down has begun. Here’s to a great season- and syrup on waffles!

Here are some links to last year’s sap collecting posts back in Maine, using our previous collection method. An informational how to: Sap to Syrup  and photos: Tapping the Trees: A Short Photo Essay.

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Nata

Gallery

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 I just love Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. I’m always inspired to try something; even some things I never thought I’d try. Seeing how I have a plethora of mothers (of vinegar) on hand – including a  lovely thick … Continue reading

Pineapple Vinegar

Finally a way to use up all those otherwise inedible pineapple peels! Once again, I followed Sandor Katz’s instructions for Fruit Scrap Vinegar (found in either Wild Fermentation or in The Art of Fermentation; I also used this method with apple scraps for ACV ). Essentially use 1/4 cup sugar to 1 Qt of water, plus fruit scraps. The possibilities are endless!

Here’s how the pineapple fruit scrap vinegar went:

Cut up  the fruit peel; add to the sugar-water.

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Remember to cover the top – I use fabric scraps held on with the O ring. I keep the lid piece nearby as it’s important to stir the pineapple up – daily, if not more frequently. Shaking/ stirring helps to keep the pineapple immersed. As the fermenting progresses the bubbles will push the peels further up above the surface. Peels above the surface are at a risk for mold; the longer it pokes up above the liquid the more likely mold will show up – especially in the warmer months.

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Before long signs of fermentation will appear!

DSCN8574The liquid will also darken. This fermenting of the peels will take about a week. Strain. Katz’s says to ferment 2-3 weeks longer for your finished product. However I like to add a mother of vinegar to ensure and speed things along.

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A new mother quickly started forming.The pineapple vinegar mother is a lovely pale ever so slightly yellow white.

DSCN8659 Nine days later the vinegar smells – well like pineapple vinegar and the mother has grown quite thick. What to do with the mother now? Save it as a back up, use it to make more vinegar or make some nata. DSCN8782Time to strain and bottle!

I like to use a coffee filter because it catches just about all the sediment. It can take a while and maybe even a second filter. Carefully gathering up the edges of the filter and holding it up can speed things up considerably.

DSCN8787 DSCN8809Use now and/or age. I’m still looking for recipes that call for pineapple vinegar so if you have any – please share! In the meantime I’ve tried a marinade I found here. Combine 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup pineapple vinegar, 1 clove minced garlic, a tablespoon chili flakes,salt and pepper. The original recipe calls for a small handful of chopped fresh cilantro. I didn’t have any so I substituted some parsley.

DSCN8970 DSCN8977Use this marinade for chicken, fish or pork; I went with chicken. It was good. Tender, sweet but also a touch sour and spicy. I used my broiler but grilling would be the way to go. I’m going to let the vinegar age a bit then try it in a vinaigrette.

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Breakfast Bacon

I love pigs. They’re smart, friendly, and they can be a great resource to any homestead – turning unusable food scraps into food and they are great at turning up soil and removing tree stumps. Admittedly, they can also present a challenge. They can eat a lot, they’re smart, persistent, and strong (that can add up to escape). So what makes it all worth while?

Pork.

Or more specifically pork tenderloin, chops, roasts and….bacon.

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Bacon comes from the belly of the pig. I wish I had a decent photo of Mercedes. She is growing into such a bacon pig! Long and well-built. What makes bacon bacon is the curing process. The curing process adds flavor and can help preserve the meat too. Most store brought bacon is cured using sodium nitrates. The way I do it does not.

Here is the way I make it most often:

Place a side of bacon in a bag or dish large enough to hold the bacon. Mix together 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup kosher salt. Coat the side of bacon with this wet cure; seal bag or cover dish and refrigerate.

DSCN8387The next day flip the side of bacon and return to the fridge. My bacon is skin on. You can cure bacon with or without the skin. I prefer to leave the skin on until right before slicing.

DSCN8400Everyday, once a day, turn the bacon. You’ll notice the meat firming up.

DSCN8413After 7 days remove the bacon from the wet cure and allow to dry on a cooling rack in the fridge for a day. Now if you have a smoker I’d smoke it. However, I do not so I go the liquid smoke route.

DSCN8531First I brush on a thin coating of liquid smoke. A little goes a long ways. A quick once over starting at one end working towards the other as to not miss a spot does the trick. Then place in a low oven. My oven (a gas range) doesn’t actually have any markers under 260F so I have to guesstimate, with the help of an oven thermometer, to get 180F.  Leave the bacon in the low oven for several hours – until the bacon registers 150F.

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Cool and slice. A meat slicer will give the thinnest most even slices but with a little patience and practice hand slicing can do a fair job. Fry up a few slices and refrigerate or freeze the rest.

DSCN8562I have to admit that home made bacon is a bit different than store bacon. It looks a little different and it’s a bit chewier. Not using sodium nitrates mean the pork is a little less pink and tastes a tad more porky. I find it helps to fry the bacon over a little lower heat than you might normally fry up bacon as to avoid burning it. That said, it’s still delicious!

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