Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mexican Wedding Cookies

When Christmas comes around, I always ask the kids what treats they most want to make for Christmas.  Here's "the list" for 2014 and it's a good one!

English Toffee
Peanut Butter Blossoms
Orange Cookies
Caramel Brownies
Cinnamon Rolls
Gingerbread Men
Mexican Wedding Cookies (recipe below)

Although I have no less than 4 recipes for cinnamon rolls/sticky buns on this blog, I just realized that I am currently using a 5th recipe!  I'll have to share that with you soon.  The only cookie on the list that I haven't shared with you are these Mexican Wedding Cookies, or Butterballs.  They are a bite-sized morsels of buttery, nutty goodness... kind of like Butter Pecan ice cream in cookie form!

Mexican Wedding Cookies
Makes about 40 1-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup confectioners sugar, divided, plus more for rolling
1 cup pecans (or almonds or walnuts)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or silicone liners.

Sift together the flour and salt and set aside.  Process the pecans and 1/3 cup confectioners sugar in a food processor until finely ground.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and remaining 1/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the nut mixture and the vanilla and beat until well combined.  Add the flour and mix until just combined.

Using a small cookie scoop to portion and using your hands to roll, form the dough into smooth 1-inch balls and place on the cookie sheet.  Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until beginning to lightly brown on the bottom.  Remove the cookies from the oven and immediately sift confectioners sugar on the cookies.  Allow the cookies to cool completely on the cookie sheet.  When the cookies are cool, roll them in a bowl of powdered sugar until well coated on all sides.  Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pumpkin Pie with Oat Crust {gluten free}

We traveled to New Bern, NC this past Thanksgiving to visit my parents and to see my brothers and their families.   The family is expanding with marriages and a baby on the way and it's rare these days that we are all together, but everyone was there and that made it really special!

I made this pumpkin pie to serve alongside my brother's famous rhubarb custard pies so that the guests could have a gluten-free option.  I had no idea how it would taste until we cut into it and tried a piece.  It was so good that Mark dubbed it "best pumpkin pie ever", gluten-free or not!  Coming from a pie connoisseur, that's saying something!  The crust held together nicely and the pumpkin custard sliced up beautifully.  If you're looking for a gluten-free dessert to make for Christmas, try this recipe!  Happy Holiday Baking!

Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from
Makes one pie

2 cups pumpkin puree (I used homemade roasted pumpkin puree)
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup honey (I might try a little less next time)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or add 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves)
Oatmeal pie crust (recipe below) or crust of your choice

Prepare the crust and chill.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, canned coconut milk, and 1/2 cup honey until smooth.  Whisk in the eggs, cinnamon, and pie spice.  Pour into the chilled pie crust just below the crimped edges.  Carefully transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until the filling is no longer jiggly in the middle.  If you have filling leftover, pour it into ramekins and bake until done (no jiggles).  Cool completely and chill before serving.

Oatmeal crust
Adapted from Good Without Gluten by Jules, Lepoutre, and Yanase
Makes a single pie crust

80g (2/3 cup) oat flour
45 g (1/3 cup) tapioca starch
40g (1/3 cup) almond flour
50g (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
80g cold butter (6 tablespoons), cut into pieces
1 egg

Place all dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter pieces and pulse until butter pieces are pea sized or smaller.  Add the egg and pulse until mixture holds together.  Press the dough into the pie plate using wet hands, or parchment to keep your hands from sticking (a little tricky but try different things and see what works for you).  Try not to make it too thick at the corners of the pie pan like I did (i.e. try to make it the same thickness all the way around.)  Crimp the edges and chill until firm, about one hour.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banana Pecan Oat Bars

Looking for a healthier treat to take to a meeting or get-together?  These delicious banana oat bars are a great alternative to those sweeter snacks that are made with refined sugar and flour.  You could even grab a bar for a quick breakfast on the go, and they are great with a cup of tea in the afternoon.  They are also wheat and dairy-free.  Enjoy!

Banana Pecan Oat Bars
adapted from Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free by Ricki Heller
Makes 12-16 bars

1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 Tablespoon finely ground flaxseed
1/4 cup coconut or almond milk
1/4 cup avocado oil or melted coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon natural smooth nut butter, sunflower butter, or coconut butter
2 medium, very ripe bananas
1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup whole oat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment or coat the pan with coconut oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut sugar, maple syrup, flaxseeds, milk, oil, vanilla, and almond butter until sugar is dissolved.

Cut the bananas into chunks and add to the bowl.  Mash the banana chunks with a fork, leaving a few smaller pieces here and there.  Stir in the cranberries and chopped pecans.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, coconut, oat flour, baking powder and salt.  Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and stir well to combine.  The mixture will be wet.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is dry and a tester inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean.  Cool completely before cutting into bars.  Freeze any portion which will not be consumed within a day or two.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Purslane - is this super weed growing in your garden?

Purslane is a common weed found in most of our yards and gardens.  I call it a superweed, not because it is unmanageable, but because it is a nutritional powerhouse!

Check out these nutrition facts:

-purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of ALA) than any other plant food.  100 grams of fresh purslane contains 350 mg of ALA.  Increasing our intake of omega-3's has been linked to better heart health and decreased systemic inflammation.

-it is a good source of many vitamins and minerals including vitamins C and E, riboflavin, beta carotene, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium.

-purslane is also high in dietary fiber, contains antioxidants and is reported to contain compounds which help with depression.

Purslane growing among the thyme and rosemary.

In my garden, I practice selective weeding.  I'll pull other weeds and leave the purslane to grow.  It is actually beneficial to the surrounding plants as it provides a great edible ground cover which helps retain soil moisture and prevents other weeds from taking over.  It grows low to the ground so it doesn't impede my other plants from getting the sunlight they need - and it's such a cute and happy looking plant!

Purslane is an annual plant that reseeds itself each year.  The seedlings will appear when the soil warms to 76 degrees F.  The plant will grow in just about any soil conditions, even in the cracks of the sidewalk, and the seeds can remain viable in undisturbed soil for more than 30 years.  I will allow some of my purslane to flower and go to seed to ensure that I will have more purslane next year.

I think purslane is delicious.  It has a mildly tart lemony flavor. I eat purslane straight from the garden sometimes, but most of the time I'll add it to a salad along with other greens.  (Only harvest purslane in areas which you know have not been chemically treated.)  The leaves, tender stems and flowers are all edible.  Just pinch off the stems, or pull the entire plant and cut off the roots if you are trying to control the plant.  

I added olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the bowl of purslane in the photo at the top of this post and ate it all!  It can also be added to potato salad, soups, or anywhere you would use spinach or other greens.

In the case of purslane,  I'm happy to ask my kids, "have you eaten your weed today?"

Purslane as ground cover under my tomato plants.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Cookies for a Texas Barbecue

What would a Texas barbecue be without some Texas sheetcake and these great Texas-sized cookies? I placed silver dragees on the stars to give them some bling and added a few hats and boots to the mix.  These cookies were made for the day-after-the-wedding family picnic a friend had recently for her newlywed daughter and son-in-law.  Congrats and YEE HAW to the newlyweds who will be spending the next chapter of their life in Texas!

Take a peek at my garden!

I am in love with my garden.  It's miraculous and meditative and rewarding and beautiful.  Just look at the growth that has happened this Spring already!

Our garden on June 4th...

Our garden on June 19th...

And to think, just 4 years ago, the garden was just another bed of grass and pachysandra!  What a huge difference!  (We also put an addition on the house - those doorways don't exist anymore.)

Tomatoes and sunflowers June 4th...

The same bed on June 19th, only two weeks later!  The sunflowers in the middle of my tomato bed were volunteers leftover from our winter bird feeder.  When they are done blooming, I will have to pull them out so the tomatoes can get more sun.  This is a new staking system for me this year.  I'm hoping it will hold up to heavy tomatoes.

Here's the same general space four years ago...

This photo was taken on May 8th.  Kale, spinach, lettuce and chard.

The kale has been the winner!  Here it is on June 7th and still growing, even after picking every few days. 

My herb garden on May 8th...

 My herb garden today... parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, lemon basil, basil, spearmint, peppermint, sage, chives, oregano, a little stevia, and a lot of lavender!

 I planted several things, many of which I've never grown before.  In this bed (photo below) there are peas, eggplant, green beans, carrots, radishes, lettuce, onions, spinach, chard, kale, and a watermelon!

 Like the sunflowers, there were other volunteers in the garden.  I think I pulled out about a thousand tiny tomato plants.  I let a few of them grow.  I think this is a cucumber plant that seeded itself from the compost pile.  I'll have certain identification when it blooms and fruits.  Maybe it will be a surprise!

We also have several flowers in this compact space to make everything beautiful.


Bee balm... the bees and hummingbirds love these...

and lilies are blooming right now.

 We bought two fig to us this year...

...and still have the old standbys...rhubarb (below) and an ever-growing raspberry patch on the other side of the garage.

Against the railing down below the garden is asparagus, corn, a few tomatoes, rhubarb and lilies and figs.

Is it any wonder that summer is my favorite season?!  Do you have any favorites growing in your garden this year??

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Healthy Colorful Coleslaw

With the arrival of summer and the season of barbecue, I thought I would share my favorite recipe for healthy colorful coleslaw.   Serve alongside burgers or pulled pork.  Happy Summer!

adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking
Makes 8 servings

1/2 cup mayonnaise (homemade or storebought mayo made with avocado oil or olive oil is ideal)
1 Tablespoon raw honey
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
4 cups shredded green and/or red cabbage
2 tablespoons sweet or red onion, grated (add more or less to taste- I often omit the onions altogether)
2 carrots, grated
salt and pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, honey, cider vinegar, and celery seed.

In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, onion, and carrot.  Add the dressing, salt and pepper to taste and toss well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Twins! Baby Face Cookies

These are super cute cookies for a baby shower.  The mother-to-be was expecting twin boys and the guests were all couples.  Each couple went home with two cookies packaged in a cellophane bag together and tied with blue ribbon!  So adorable!  

Friday, May 30, 2014

What I'm Reading: May 2014

While I'm not a big reader of novels and fictional writing, I love to read non-fiction books and cookbooks, and I get most of them from my library.

The great thing about my library is that it is part of the Allegheny County Library System (which includes Pittsburgh) and that I can request any book I want and will get an email when the book arrives at my local library.  Rarely is there a book I'm looking for that they don't have.  Reading books from the library saves me a lot of time and money, and it helps save the environment.  If I read a book that I want to own, I'll look for a used copy on Amazon.  If I want to copy just a few recipes, I'll make copies of them at the library when I return the book and I keep them in a notebook.

I haven't yet embraced e-readers - I just like have a book in my hands, turning the pages, and visually seeing how far through the book I have gone.

On to the books.  This assortment pretty much sums up my interests right now.  I am soaking up all I can about natural living and nutrition and reducing exposure to toxins and chemicals.  But I still can't resist a good dessert cookbook!

Clean Gut by Alejandro Junger, MD - There has been a great emphasis these days on gut health and how it relates to numerous diseases, mood, mental focus, digestion and inflammation.  Dr. Junger describes his own health journey and how eating the right foods and avoiding others was instrumental in making himself and his patients healthy again.  Once you get past his existential experiences, the book was pretty good.  Not surprisingly, he advocates an elimination diet - a 21-day restart - and then adding certain foods back into the diet and assessing their effect on your digestion, energy level, and other things.  His recommendations are not far from the Paleo Diet.

If you are interested in reading more about the Paleo way of eating, I recommend wholeheartedly The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf which goes into detail, but in an entertaining way, about the biological processes in our bodies which are affected by certain foods we eat.  (This book changed my life!) Another great read on the subject is Your Personal Paleo Code by Chris Kesser. (His approach is more lenient about foods you can add back to your diet.  I follow this less strict approach to eating Paleo-style.)  Chris has a great website here.

Home Safe Home by Debra Lynn Dadd - I leafed through this book, but really couldn't get into reading it.  It had ALOT of detailed information about every line of products you can imagine and the chemicals that all these products expose us to.  It would be a good reference book, but not one you would sit down and read cover to cover.  It was written in 2005, so it's possible that there are many new natural products available that aren't listed in the book.  It definitely gives you something to think about though.

Wintersweet by Tammy Donroe Inman - This is a gorgeous book that I definitely would like to own someday.  The photographs are beautiful and the recipes make you want to drop what you are doing to bake them.  This book showcases fall and winter desserts that warm the home and your heart.  Recipes like cast-iron apple cake with maple brown butter and the chocolate pavlova with pomegranate had me hooked!  Although the book is less than a year old, there are used copies on Amazon at half the price of new, and that includes shipping!

Are you reading any good books?  Do you like reading an actual book or a kindle/nook better?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Mother's Day Rain Barrel

Flowers?  Spa Day?  Jewelry?  Nope... I asked for a rain barrel for Mother's Day!  I'm not sure why I get so excited about collecting rainwater but I do!  I found this rain barrel on Craig's list and Mark drove to Lawrenceville (a neighborhood in Pittsburgh) to pick it up the day before Mother's Day.  The person selling them converts plastic barrels previously used to transport food by placing a spigot near the bottom and drilling holes in the top.  We figured from the smell inside and the "Greece" imprint on the side that this barrel was used to hold olives.  I think that's pretty cool!  The barrel holds 55 gallons.

I have grand ideas of painting this one with colorful designs, but we'll see.  I'll keep you posted as we get it all hooked up and collecting fresh rainwater!

Here are some of the benefits of collecting rainwater:

Rainwater is not chlorinated, so it's better for watering plants.
Rainwater is soft and I've heard great for washing your hair (or rinsing gardening dirt off your feet)
Collecting rainwater reduces run-off, especially if you have a larger system.
It's a free source of water!
It conserves water, a limited natural resource.
It avoids the chemical and mechanical processes that your water must go through to be potable.  (Washing the car and watering plants does not require potable water.)

Think about getting a rain barrel for yourself...  it's strangely satisfying to collect rain for the garden!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Squares

Last week, my girlfriends and I got together to eat, chit-chat and do some crafty things.   Pam was bringing lunch and a craft idea, so I took the opportunity to comb through my cookbooks to find a dessert to make.  I often make the same tried-and-true cookies and cakes for my customers, so I'm excited when I get to try a new recipe and have the girls taste test it.  As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it, and I'm glad I did!  It's my favorite combination of hazelnuts and rich dark chocolate - even better than a scoop of Nutella!  The girls loved it and that makes me happy!

The recipe is a little involved - you have to chop chocolate, and toast nuts, and make a caramel for the praline paste, and dirty more than a few dishes.  This recipe is worth it though, I promise.

Regarding the praline paste needed for this recipe: I ran into a snag while making the praline paste from the book (although you'd never know it in the final product), so below I provided a similar recipe with a different technique that I think will work better.  Just be warned that the praline paste is so delicious all by itself you may want to eat it by the spoonful.

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Squares
adapted from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle
Makes 16 bars

hazelnut brownie layer:
1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour mix- I used Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

hazelnut truffle layer:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup praline paste (store-bought or recipe follows)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks

confectioner's sugar for dusting
16 hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place about 3/4 cup hazelnuts on a baking sheet (add 1 cup hazelnuts and 1 cup blanched almonds to the baking sheet if making the praline paste recipe) and bake in the oven until fragrant and toasted, about 10 minutes.  Rub the hazelnuts inside a clean towel to remove as much of the skins as possible.  Reserve 16 of the barest, nicest looking hazelnuts to use as garnish.  Divide the remaining as follows: 1/2 cup hazelnuts for brownie layer and 1 cup hazelnuts and 1 cup almonds for praline paste, if making.

Make the hazelnut brownie layer:
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.  Spray a 9x9-inch pan with cooking spray (or coat with softened butter).  Line the pan with parchment, allowing the excess to hang over two sides, then spray or butter the parchment.  Coarsely chop the 1/2 cup reserved toasted hazelnuts.  Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and heat while stirring until melted and smooth.  Stir in 1/2 cup sugar and the hazelnut liqueur until blended.  Add the egg and stir vigorously until well blended.  Fold in the flour and hazelnuts just until the flour is incorporated.  Spread the brownie base evenly into the prepared pan.

Make the truffle layer:
Place chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and heat while stirring until melted and smooth.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the praline paste.  Whisk in the sugar, salt, heavy cream, and vanilla.  Whisk in the egg and egg yolks, one at a time, blending well after each addition.  Scrape the mixture over the brownie layer and spread it evenly.

Bake the bars for 25-30 minutes until the top is puffed and set and no longer shiny.  Cool the bars completely on a wire rack, then chill for at least 2 hours.

Cut the bars into squares using a sharp chef's knife.  For clean cuts you can run the knife under hot water, then dry the knife and make your cut, cleaning off the knife between cuts.  Dust the bars with confectioner's sugar and press a toasted hazelnut into the top of each bar.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Praline Paste
Adapted from Joe Pastry

8 ounces (1 cup plus two tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 ounces (1/4 cup) water
4 ounces (1 cup) blanched almonds (113 grams)
4 ounces (1 cup) hazelnuts toasted and peeled

Place the nuts on a sheet of lightly greased parchment paper or a silpat. Then simply add the water to the sugar in a small saucepan and heat it over high heat, swirling until the mixture turns to caramel. Dark amber is usually the degree most pastry makers cook to, though you can go darker for a stronger flavor. Pour the caramel over the nuts and allow the mixture to cool completely. Then break the praline into pieces and grind them as finely as you can in a food processor until a paste forms. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chocolate Peppermint Ganache Layer Cake

Valentine's Day is quickly approaching and I can't think of a better way to show love than a chocolate peppermint ganache layer cake.  This recipe always gets rave reviews from family and friends.

I made this cake gluten-free by using Cup4Cup gluten-free flour substitute and it turned out great. You'd never know it was gluten-free.

Make a heart on top by sprinkling crushed peppermints in the shape of a heart (use a stencil or template made of parchment for the perfect heart shape).   Have a Happy Valentine's Day!

Chocolate Peppermint Ganache Layer Cake
Make one 3-layer 6-inch cake

For the chocolate cake:
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons hot water
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (substitute Cup 4 Cup flour for gluten-free version)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
peppermint ganache, recipe follows
peppermint buttercream, recipe follow
crushed peppermint candies for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, or 325 degrees for convection setting.

Coat three 6-inch round cake pans with spray oil, line the bottoms with rounds of parchment, and spray the parchment.

In a bowl, combine the cocoa, hot water, and sour cream with a whisk and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well, and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

While the mixer is running on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture in 3 additions and the chocolate mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix until just combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again until batter is homogenous.

Divide the batter evenly among the 3 pans and bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely.

For the peppermint buttercream:
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 sticks or 1 cup unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Fill a medium saucepan with about an inch of water and bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (this will be your double boiler).

Whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt in the metal bowl of your stand mixer and place the bowl over the simmering water but do not let the bowl touch the water.  Whisk the mixture while cooking until the mixture reaches 140 degrees F.

Remove the bowl from the double boiler and place it in your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk the egg mixture on medium high speed until the outside of the bowl is room temperature.

With the mixer running on medium low speed, slowly add the butter one tablespoon at a time, allowing each piece of butter to become incorporated before adding the next.  After all the butter is added, increase the mixer speed to med-high and beat until the mixture is stiff and smooth, another minute or two.  Add the peppermint extract and mix to combine.  More extract can be added to taste.  Use at room temperature.

For the peppermint ganache:
4 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons creme de menthe liqueur or 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Place the chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl.  Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until just simmering around the edges of the pan.  It should be hot but not boiling.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes.  Whisk the mixture together briskly starting with small strokes at the center of the mixture until the mixture is shiny and smooth.  Whisk in the creme de menthe or extract and set aside to cool until the mixture is firm but still spreadable.

To assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a cake stand.  Spread about one half of the ganache on the bottom layer, then spread a thin layer of buttercream.  Repeat this with the second cake layer, and then place the third layer on top.  Cover entire cake with buttercream and garnish with crushed peppermint candies.


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