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Florentines_1
I had a little impromptu baking session this morning. I wanted something super quick to throw together which I could have on hand as a healthy sweet treat through the week. Florentines came to mind as they are about as simple as a biscuit can get, both where ingredients and method are concerned. They usually consist of flaked almonds held together with egg whites and sweetened with icing sugar. My pantry wasn’t playing ball though so I had to ad lib more than just a little from what I could find.

These are very loosely based on the florentine idea but include coarsely ground whole almonds and pistachios to supplement my flaked almond shortfall. I also included some coconut, cut back on the icing sugar and replaced it with honey to keep the refined-sugar content to a minimum.

They turned out very delicious indeed with a chewy texture similar to a traditional florentine with a slight crunch around the edges. Absolutely moreish with a cup of tea for an afternoon pick-me-up and a great little protein-packed treat for the little ones.

Florentines_2
INGREDIENTS
40g flaked almonds
60g whole almonds
60g whole pistachios
60g desiccated coconut
30g icing sugar
30g liquid honey
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 free-range egg whites

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Line an oven tray with baking paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil to prevent sticking.
2. Put the whole almonds and pistachios into a food processor and grind until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl along with the flaked almonds.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.
4. Use your hands to drop little mounds of the mix onto the baking tray, allowing plenty of room between each one.
5. Dip a fork into a bowl of cold water then gently press each cookie into a flat disc (the water stops the fork from sticking to the cookie). Try to get each one as flat as you can without making any gaps. Once flattened they should be approximately 8cm in diameter.
6. Bake for 15 minutes until they are a lovely golden brown. Remove from the oven and use a fish slice to carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

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I think we all know that muffins are hiding behind a very tenuous guise of being a healthy baked option. Let’s be honest here. For all intents and purposes they’re mini-cakes that have somehow acquired a ‘good for you’ reputation. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good muffin but at the end of the day muffins are often a poor substitute for that slice of cake we’ve told ourselves we shouldn’t be eating. Unless there is some actual goodness in a muffin we might as well cut our loses and have a piece of cake.

This recipe is a versatile example of what I think a good muffin should be. Erring on the side of healthy without compromising on taste, texture and yum-factor. Muffins are convenient packages to hand to the little people in our lives so if I can squeeze a tad more nutrition into the package I’m feeling all the better for it.

Untitled-2These little gems are packed with the goodness of blueberries, LSA, almonds and yoghurt and are naturally sweetened with honey and orange juice making them free of refined sugar. They’re beautifully moist with a lovely crumbly texture and have a great fruit-to-muffin balance.

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I’ve made this recipe in a variety of different forms: firstly I made a batch of standard muffins for the big kids; on my second go I reincarnated them as mini-muffins, the perfect toddler fistful of goodness; and yesterday I baked the mix as a loaf for friends who came over for afternoon tea. It’s a very versatile mix which you can convert to suit depending on who you want to feed.

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NOTE: The muffins freeze very well stored in freezer bags. The loaf also freezes well but make sure you slice it first and layer between pieces of greaseproof paper before you wrap and put in the freezer. This way you can defrost what you need and refresh in the toaster.

These are the cooking times for each permutation which are all baked at 180°C:
- Mini-muffins (15 mins)
- Standard muffins (25 mins)
- Loaf (45 mins)

ORANGE, ALMOND & BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

INGREDIENTS
100g butter – at room temperature
1/3 cup liquid honey
2 large eggs
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup LSA
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Rind and juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
4 tbsp milk
1 cup frozen blueberries

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease your muffin tins well with butter (if making this as a loaf, grease with butter and line the base with baking paper).
2. Put the butter and honey into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
3. Combine the flour, almonds, LSA, baking powder and baking soda in a separate bowl. Zest the orange into this bowl and toss through the dry ingredients.

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4. Add the dry ingredients to the egg/butter mix along with the orange juice, yoghurt and milk. Stir to just combine, don’t overdo it. The mix will be heavy but don’t be put off by this, the cooked muffins have a very light texture.
5. Add the blueberries to the bowl and turn the mix a further 3-4 times to distribute the berries through the batter without entirely staining it blue.

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6. Spoon the batter into the muffin moulds or loaf tin and bake for the appropriate length of time (see NOTE above) until lightly golden and cooked through. The centre of the muffin should spring back when pressed with your fingertip if it is cooked.
7. Allow to cool in the muffin tins for 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack using a bread knife to gently lift them out.

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8. Serve warm with lashings of butter.

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Coconut_tahini_cookies_4
We’re completely addicted to tahini in our household. Our weekly rate of consumption has diminished only slightly in the last week or so after I discovered I was buying a 600gm jar at each weekly supermarket shop. This seemed a little on the excessive side plus I was in danger of fooling myself into thinking tahini sauce was indeed the appropriate accompaniment for every meal. It’s good but not that good.

Tahini is ridiculously versatile though and I continue to use it at high volume. My favourite ways of incorporating it into our diet are in said tahini sauce (greek yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a little water), homemade hummus (chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and water) and the unfathomably good tahini cookies of Jerusalem fame.

These cookies are loosely based on that recipe. Mostly I wanted to see if I could use honey in place of the sugar but I was also keen experiment with making them gluten-free and incorporate some different flavours which I think are very well matched.

These little gems are incredibly moreish. The texture is very light and crumbly and they have a delicious chewiness thanks to the coconut. The honey provides ample sweetness so I’m feeling pretty pleased that I’ve discovered another healthier, less sugary treat to offer my toddler.

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INGREDIENTS (makes approx 30 cookies)
150g butter – at room temperature
1/3 cup liquid honey
85g hulled tahini
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups desiccated coconut
1 cup ground almonds
1.5 cups gluten-free flour

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line two oven trays with baking paper.
2. Put the butter, honey, tahini and vanilla into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed until thick, creamy and pale.
3. Add the coconut, almonds and gluten-free flour and mix on a low speed until everything is just incorporated. The dough will be quite sticky.

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4. Roll tablespoons of the dough between your hands into walnut-sized balls.
5. Place the balls onto the lined oven trays allowing about 5cm between each cookie. Flatten each one slightly with the back of a fork.

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6. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes – set a timer as they will burn quickly if left any longer. They should be a lovely golden brown.
7. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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8. Store in an airtight container. These cookies will keep well for up to a week.

Cake_1
It would appear I’m starting off my 2014 blogging year with a hiss and a roar. This enthusiasm and frequency is highly unlikely to continue once the busy year as I know it kicks in good and proper. It must be because I’ve had a bit more time on my hands than usual through the summer break and a few new recipes have snuck in the back door.

It’s not everyday I embark on a kitchen experiment and get it right. Especially when it comes to cake baking which can so often go from risen to deflated in seconds, taking my fragile ego along with it. Happily on this occasion I can say I’m just a teeny tiny little bit stoked with how this cake recipe turned out.

I got the inspiration for this cake from a notebook I’ve had stockpiled since my traveling days, as lost to memory now as my youth. It’s full of handwritten notes and divine-sounding recipes I found along my route which oddly enough have taken 10 or more years to try out. I actually attempted the rather convoluted original recipe a few weeks ago with mixed results. The flavours were great but I wasn’t overly excited by the texture, being a bit too on the spongy side for my liking. There was too much sugar, too many eggs and one step too many to keep me coming back for more. I prefer moist, moreish cakes and I usually find this comes from gluten-free varieties. More specifically, cakes which are gluten-free due to almond meal taking the place of flour.

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So, motivated by a good flavour-profile, I threw all my eggs in one basket and experimented blindly and somewhat stupidly considering I had friends arriving for cake late morning. Luckily, they are still my friends and I’m going to give most of the credit to this cake (gotta save just a few props for my sparkling wit). As it turned out this baked beauty just might have pipped my all-time-favourite cake at the post.

It’s a very easy cake to make which is always a bonus. You won’t lose any sleep over fears of deflating pockets of air nor will you have to fold ingredients together whilst holding your breath.

So here it is, in all its deliciously nutty, minty, almondy goodness. It will keep well for 3-4 days due to it being divinely moist. Serve slightly warm with whipped cream on the side. Oh. My. God.

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ALMOND, ORANGE AND COCONUT CAKE WITH HONEY AND MINT SYRUP

INGREDIENTS
160g butter – at room temperature
200g caster sugar
4 free-range eggs
200g ground almonds
100g desiccated coconut
1/2 tsp baking powder
Finely grated rind of 1 orange

FOR THE SYRUP
Juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp well-flavoued honey (I used Rewarewa)
20g mint leaves – roughly chopped
60g slivered almonds – lightly toasted until golden

METHOD – CAKE
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
2. Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and creamy.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the almonds, coconut, baking powder and finely grated orange rind. Mix with your fingers to infuse the dry ingredients with the orange rind.
5. Add the dry mix to the wet mix and stir to combine well (try not to over-mix).
6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin, smooth the surface with the back of a spoon and bake for 55 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
7. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin while you make the syrup.

METHOD – SYRUP
1. Put the orange juice, water, caster sugar, honey and chopped mint into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Immediately reduce to a low setting and gently simmer for 10 minutes.

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2. Remove from the heat and strain the syrup through a sieve, discarding the mint leaves.

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3. Stir the toasted almonds into the syrup and spoon carefully over the surface of the warm cake. It’s a good idea to put the cake tin on top of a board or oven tray in case some of the syrup leaks out.

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4. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin, then run a knife around the sides of the tin and also around the base of the cake before gently lifting it onto a serving plate.

Almond-raspberry-pistachio-cake
Just a quick little teaser for you today…I’ve had a recipe stockpiled for a while now which I’ve wanted to try out. It’s just come out of the oven, in all its glory, cooling down all too slowly before I can carve into it and check it’s up to Christmas Day standard. I love making something special for Christmas Day. All the better if I can incorporate some Christmas aesthetic goodness like pistachios and raspberry dust (aka freeze dried).

This almond, pistachio and raspberry cake is a feast for the eyes even before it hits the oven. Hold the line caller…recipe coming next week.

Cookies_4
I’ve concurrently discovered my ultimate cookie recipe as well as my ultimate dessert recipe. It’s a big call, I know. I can’t lay claim to the cookies…this recipe comes care of my favourite recipe book, Jerusalem, which you should of course be proud owners of by now (shame on you if not). I’m going to post the cookie recipe anyway, simply because you need them to create the dessert. And you need this dessert in your life. And the cookies, mind you.

I wouldn’t dare tamper with the Tahini Cookies recipe, it’s perfection in and of itself. If you’re a fan of halva you will go crazy for these delectable little treats. They’re crispy and light in texture, moreish and finger-licking in flavour. I usually make myself feel sick whilst making them for all the cookie dough I consume. One for the tray…one for me…one for the…no, another one for me.

The dessert is something I dreamt up in a blinding moment of indulgent inspiration. Once you have the cookies ready and waiting in the cookie jar this dessert takes minutes to prepare. And seconds to demolish…

One thing I will make pains to mention…when it comes to baking the cookies, be very careful to set a timer and avoid over-cooking. They have a high fat content thanks to the butter and tahini and literally every time I’ve made a batch the bums of the cookies on the lower tray get burnt. That’s usually the cue for me to descend into tears because believe me when I say you will not want to waste a crumb. The recipe makes enough cookies to warrant two baking trays so the last time I made a batch I baked each tray individually, on the centre-most oven rack. I still had to watch them like a hawk, but this did improve my burn-ratio.

If you do have the misfortune of burning some rear ends, don’t throw them out. The dessert recipe calls for crumbled cookies so you can just saw off the burnt bits and save yourself some heartache.

TAHINI COOKIES

INGREDIENTS
130g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter – at room temperature
110g hulled tahini
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
25ml cream
270g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon (for dusting)

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METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line two oven trays with baking paper.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until just combined but not too aerated (approximately one minute at medium speed).
3. While the machine is still running, add the tahini, vanilla and cream and beat for another couple of minutes at medium speed until smooth and creamy.
4. Turn the motor speed down to its lowest setting and carefully add the flour. Stop stirring as soon as the dough comes together.
5. Roll the dough into balls, approximately 20g each in weight. Place on the baking trays and flatten slightly with a fork then sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of cinnamon.
6. Bake each tray individually for 15 minutes until lightly golden. You can bake both trays at same time if you feel confident you can keep an eye on them. If you decide to do this, switch the trays half way through cooking.
7. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. These cookies keep beautifully for a week.

Cookies_2
THE ULTIMATE COOKIES & CREAM (serves four)

INGREDIENTS
8 tahini cookies (2 per person)
3/4 cup plain yoghurt
3/4 cup mascarpone – at room temperature
Rind of a large lemon (reserve a few strips of rind to garnish)

METHOD
1. Whisk together the yoghurt and marscarpone until well combined and smooth.
2. Add the lemon rind and stir through.
3. Divide the yoghut and mascarpone mix between four bowls. Crush two cookies per bowl with your hands into chunky crumbs and sprinkle on top. Garnish with the reserved strips of lemon rind. Serve immediately.

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nut_10
So, it’s been a while since I last posted. Stating the obvious most likely. I’ve been running myself ragged getting the Spring 2013 range ready so I can finally start taking over the world. Every other aspect of my life has taken second place for a few weeks but I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now and I think it’s time to spread the love elsewhere. Whenever I’m this busy my kitchen world becomes one sorrowful broken record. The old faithfuls come out, week on week, caressing me reassuringly with familiarity and efficiency. Coriander Chicken CurryChili Beans, Parsley Pesto Pasta, Herb PieChickpea Fritters and dirty old fish ‘n chip Fridays. Yee old faithfuls…how would I survive without you.

Inviting friends over for dinner always ups the ante when you’ve gotten complacent in the kitchen. A recent, memorable discovery is the legendary Madhur Jaffrey’s Saag Paneer…a more textured version of the well-known puréed spinach paneer. Her version, along with everything else she puts her magic touch to, is so much more impressive and interesting than any other spinach curry I’ve had. If you can be bothered getting your chop-on (it involves a bit of manual spinach deconstruction) it’s well worth the sore arm muscles the day after. I always think having a glass of wine on hand makes the chopping much more enjoyable. But then wine has that effect on most of life’s pursuits, let’s be honest.

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Anyway, I did manage to make a seedy, nutty bread recipe I’ve been hoarding since I got back from Copenhagen. If you’ve ever been to Denmark you would have noticed that the Danes have a penchant for hefty, dense breads. I’m not a huge fan of malty, weight-a-body-to-the-river-bed loaves. I prefer a bit of levity interspersed with tasty seeds but without getting into supermarket fluff territory. I was surprised then, when my sister-in-law offered me a slice of what is quite possibly the most dense loaf I’ve ever encountered in my life, that I liked it immensely. The difference with this loaf is that it is essentially half a tonne of seeds and nuts held together with the binding brilliance of our friend the egg. It’s gluten-free so any density is comprised simply of protein-packed nuts, rather than flour.

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It’s super easy to make, ridiculously healthy and really lets the flavour of the seeds and nuts shine to their fullest. The only downside in an otherwise pious recipe is that it is a little bit pricey to make. You could easily halve this recipe so you wince a little less at the checkout, but the full recipe does make two loaves which will last around a week each, depending on how greedy your family is. I usually make the full recipe and give one of the loaves away (polishing my halo in the process) but if you decide to keep both for yourself, wrap one in cling film and keep in the fridge.

A couple of things to note:
- be careful not to overcook. It won’t be the end of the world, but it will be a bit harder to cut without it crumbling back into the piles of seeds and nuts you started with (as with any recipe involving a high volume of nuts, I strongly recommend setting a timer).
- you could play with the quantity of the seeds and nuts to find a balance of flavours to suit your taste.
- slice as thinly as possible, 5mm or thereabouts, and eat as is with your favourite topping. No toasting necessary.

I’ve been meaning to try this recipe with the addition of cinnamon, or even finely grated orange rind. If anyone gives that a go I’d love to hear about the results…

NUTTY, SEEDY LOAF
150g each linseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds – use whole
150g each almonds, walnuts – roughly chopped
1 cup dates – roughly chopped
5 free-range eggs – very lightly beaten (try to just break down the yolks into the whites without making frothy)
1/2 cup olive oil
pinch sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon OR finely grated rind of an orange (both optional)

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line two loaf tins with baking paper.
2. Put the seeds, chopped nuts and dates into a large bowl and turn a few times with your hands to mix together.
3. Add a pinch of sea salt along with the olive oil and the eggs (and spice or orange, if using).

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4. Divide the mix between the two tins. Press the mixture into the tins and smooth flat the surface with a spatula.

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5. Bake for 55 minutes until lightly golden on top. The mixture will be bubbling a bit.

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6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tins. When cool, use a bread knife to help ease the nut loaves out of the tins. Store in airtight containers.

Absolutely delicious served thinly sliced and topped with either goat feta or blue cheese and a drizzle of honey. Would also be delicious served simply with a light smearing of butter.

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Carrot_cake_11
It would seem I’ve found just time enough to sneak one final recipe in before we hit the road. I made a salad earlier this week which got me thinking that I could make a cake using similar flavours. A cake inspired by a salad. How enticing, I hear you say. The salad in question is an über-healthy combination of grated carrot, orange juice, flat-leaf parsley, caraway seeds, raisins and toasted pumpkin seeds. The basic premise is that you combine the carrot, caraway and raisins with the juice of an orange and leave it to sit for an hour or two so the raisins plump up with the juice and the caraway imparts its beautiful nuttiness throughout. Carrot and caraway are such a delicious combination and being more than just a bit of a fan of cakes with a savoury bent, I thought this must surely be the seed of a great idea. Surely!

And things turned out just peachy, in case you’re wondering. This is a very tasty cake…beautiful and moist with a moreish, crumbly texture thanks to the inclusion of ground almonds. It’s quite a departure from the usual carrot cake we know and love. The carrots are first roasted to enhance their sweetness, then pureed until smooth, rather than grated and added raw to the cake batter. The effect is that the carroty goodness is spread throughout the cake giving it a beautiful golden orange colour and deep, rich flavour.

You can roast and purée the carrots the day prior to baking the cake and store in the refrigerator overnight. Be sure to bring the purée to room temperature before you begin.

This cake is best served still warm from the oven…but then I’m not sure there’s a cake in existence for which this would not be the case.

INGREDIENTS
300g carrots (weight once trimmed and peeled)
1 orange (juice and finely grated rind)
3/4 tsp caraway seeds
100g butter – at room temperature
1/2 cup demerara sugar
2 whole free-range eggs plus one extra egg white
150g ground almonds
1/2 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
200g mascarpone

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METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Slice the peeled carrots in half lengthwise, then again into quarters. Slice each length in half so you have chunky fingers of carrot. Place into an ovenproof dish, cover with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

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2. Trim off any dark areas which have caramelised during roasting then chop into rough chunks. Put the carrot into a food processor and purée until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and add the caraway seeds and the juice of half the orange. Stir well and set aside while you make the rest of the cake.

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3. Reduce the oven to 160°C. Grease and line the base of a 20cm round cake tin.
4. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer for five minutes (the sugar will still be grainy at the end of this time) then beat in the two whole eggs, one at a time, until well combined.
5. Combine the almonds, gluten-free flour and baking powder in a separate bowl then add the egg mixture and stir well to combine.
6. Put the extra egg white into the bowl of an electric mixer (discard the yolk), add a pinch of salt and beat until stiff peaks form. Add the egg whites to the cake mix and fold through very gently until the last bit of egg white has just been incorporated (the mix will be quite heavy). Don’t be tempted to over-mix!

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7. Tip into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for 50-55 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for five minutes in the tin, then carefully transfer to a wire rack.

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8. Put the mascarpone into a small bowl and stir through the orange rind and juice from the other half of the orange.

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9. Serve cake warm with a generous dollop of the mascarpone cream on the side.

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