Friday, June 29, 2012

Face the Music - Neil Young - From Hank to Hendrix

Neil Young - From Hank to Hendrix

I can't believe I've made it this many weeks without posting something by Neil Young.  If I had to pick just one artist to listen to for the rest of my days, it would be Neil Young.  If I had to pick just one song, I wouldn't be able to.  I can't think of song of his I don't like.  I picked this one for today mostly because the title reflects my musical tastes.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bi-Monthly Book Look - May/June

I don't have much to add here this time around.  Gardening, RVing, swimming and other summer fun has kept me from reading as much as usual.  I do read nightly, but these days I'm so tired that I barely make it through a few pages before I crash.

Wind Through The Keyhole - Stephen King
My Rating: 3 out of 5.  This story is an afterthought, of sorts, to The Dark Tower series of novels.  To describe it wouldn't do much good unless you, too, are a fan of the series.  I am a long-time fan of Stephen King and of the DT series, but this story just didn't do much for me.

Lost Memory of Skin - Russell Banks
My Rating: 4 out of 5.  This novel is about homeless sex offenders living under a causeway because they can't, by law, live anywhere else.  These men, some rightly convicted and some not, but who have all served their prison sentence, are just trying to survive.  It is a much less disturbing book than it sounds.  The specific crimes are not detailed; the way in which these men try to turn their lives around (with little success) is.

I am deep into three more books as I post this, so I hope to have more books to write about in August.  Meanwhile, I am right on course with my reading goal of 26 books in 2012.

Lacto-Fermented Love

More than once, my blog friend Cathy asked me if I had tried the lacto-fermented vegetables from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook.  She said they were really good.  I kept telling her no, but that I intended to try them.  Finally, a couple of months ago, I gave them a try.  Now I wonder why I waited so long.  I mean, I knew I would like them, but I had no idea how much I would love them!

Ginger carrots

Lacto-fermented veggies aren't like typical vinegar pickles.  For one thing, they don't contain any vinegar.  For another, they don't need to be canned (water-bath processed) like traditional pickles do.  And finally, they have probiotic properties that are good for your digestive system.

Lacto-fermented veggies taste different than vinegar pickles.  The veggies are raw, so they stay crunchier (the exception possibly being cucumbers) and the brine is, in my opinion, more mellow.  The flavor develops with age, so the young pickles you taste after three days of fermentation on your kitchen counter will not taste the same after three weeks in your refrigerator.  Well, that's what I've read, anyway, but I can't imagine them lasting three weeks in our refrigerator.

Lacto-fermenting is also an easy process.  Canned pickles aren't difficult, but L-F pickles are way easier.  Just chop veggies and let them sit in a brine at room temperature for a few days.  Nothing could be simpler.

So far, I've made lacto-fermented radishes, turnips, dilled celery, ginger carrots, coriander carrots, plain sauerkraut, caraway sauerkraut, spicy cortido (Latin American sauerkraut) and one jar of a wonderful mix of all of those leftover kraut flavors.  Shane and I agree that the radishes are our favorite so far.

Two jars of turnips, one of ginger carrots, and one of radishes

Shane has said a couple of times that the ferments are his very favorite way to eat veggies.  I have grilled him, asking if they are better than corn on the cob, or fresh tomato slices or a nice ripe avocado with a touch of sea salt, which are all favorites around here.  He wouldn't say one way or another, which leads me to believe it's a close race.

As for me, I crave these veggies.  It's not unusual for me to spoon out a quarter cup or so to just eat by themselves, but what I really like -- a lot -- is to spread a couple of slices of homemade bread with some real butter and use any of the fermented vegetables as a sandwich filling.  These sandwiches taste yummy to me, but what's more, my body seems to be calling for them.  I definitely don't mind answering.

I know a couple of readers are already trying these:  Lisa at Easy Frugal Living was fermenting some carrots not long ago, and both the kraut and turnip ferments are very similar to the beginning stages of Patti, The Osage Bluff Quilter's turnip kraut recipe.

Lacto-fermented veggies, cultured food, cortido
Plain kraut, caraway kraut, cortido and a jar of all of them mixed

If you're interested in trying lacto-fermented veggies for yourself, don't be intimidated or think you need to do a big batch.  Here's all you do:

1) Clean and peel your veggies of choice.  Sturdy root vegetables work well, as does cabbage, but don't be afraid to try zucchini, onions, peppers or other vegetables.  Once the veggies have been cleaned and peeled, dice them or shred them as desired.  If diced, you probably don't want pieces bigger than 1/2".

2) Place prepared veggies in a clean canning jar.  Wide mouth works best, I think, and either quarts or pints can be used.  Fill about 3/4 of the way, or maybe a little more.  Add any fresh or dried herbs you might want at this point.

3) Mix a brine.  For every cup of purified water (filtered, distilled or spring water all work, just not chlorinated tap water), stir in 1 tablespoon of sea salt and 4 tablespoons of whey.  I usually have whey left over from making yogurt or kefir cheese.  If you need whey, you can strain plain yogurt or sour cream to get enough...or you can buy whey at the health food store...or you can do without it by adding an additional tablespoon of sea salt.

4) Pour the brine over the veggies, making sure they are completely submersed.  You can use a wooden spoon to press them down into the brine, or you can do what I do and weigh them down with a simple glass (not lead crystal!) votive cup that I bought at a craft store. You can also buy canning weights on eBay.  Some people don't weigh down their ferments, and others prefer using air-locks or special fermenting vessels.  This is what happens to work for me right now.

Simple glass votive cup for weighing down veggies

5)  Cover the jar tightly with a canning flat and ring and let the veggies sit on your counter at room temperature for about 3 days.  After three days, open the jar (it might pop just a little when you do) and remove the votive holder.  Taste the yummy fermented goodness.  It will be really salty and a little tart.  Over time, these flavors will blend and mellow. 

6)  Eat the veggies now or store in the refrigerator for up to several months.

To make sauerkraut, the method is almost the same:  Instead of dicing the cabbage, it needs to be shredded.  I do this by hand, with a knife, rather than with a food processor.  Instead of making a brine with water, just add the salt and whey directly to the shredded cabbage.  Put it all in a large bowl and pound with a wooden mallet of some sort until the cabbage releases it's juices.  I use the wooden part of a food mill that looks like this:

When there is enough liquid, spoon the cabbage and liquid into the jars and proceed as above.

As usual, I'm no expert, but if you have any questions about lacto-fermenting, I'll try to find an answer for you.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Flying by, but too busy to stop for a post.  Shane is working out of town this week, I have lots of gardening and kitchen tasks staring me in the face, and I'm getting everything ready (from plans to clean laundry) for our trip that starts July 4.  I'll try to write a real post if I can this week. 

Good news is that I just found out we will have wi-fi at our campground, so I might be able to post some vacation photos next week as they happen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Face the Music - Sally G - Paul McCartney

Happy Birthday to Sir Paul McCartney, who turned 70 on Monday of this week. 

Thanks to my older brothers, I've been a big fan of The Beatles nearly all my life.  The Beatles had split up by the time I bought my first 45 rpm record.  I was 10 years old and the record was "Band On The Run" by Paul McCartney and Wings.  Later that same year (1974), Sir Paul and Wings released "Junior's Farm", which I also bought as a 45.  Sally G was on the B side, and it's a full-fledged country song, recorded in Nashville and everything.  Originally released only as a single, it did quite well on the Billboard country charts.

For the record, while I like the music of all of the Beatles, both collectively and individually, it was John, not Paul, who was my favorite.  Kat, on the other hand, is crazy about Paul.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


We finally harvested the cabbage growing in Kat's garden bed.  It grew from a seedling she brought home from school earlier this spring and ultimately weighed in at 12 pounds.

Kat thought it was fun to grow, but she doesn't like to eat cabbage, so she's given me permission to do whatever I want with it.  I plan to make part of it into lacto-fermented kraut, if I can find enough containers.  I don't have a crock, so I guess I'll be making it in gallon jars.

I wondered about pressure canning it plain (not as kraut).  I've read about a few people doing it, but it's not listed as safe by any of the reputable sources (Ball, Kerr, university extension sites, etc.), so instead, I'll blanch and freeze whatever portion doesn't become kraut.  Little, if any, will be made into coleslaw since that isn't a favorite here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fried Pizza. Oh Yes, I Did.

Lest you think I'm only into healthy, cultured food around here, allow me to present this:

fried calzone, fried pizza
Serve with a nice veggie salad to assuage some of the guilt.

There might be a law against it, taking a perfectly good homemade calzone and dunking it in boiling oil.  Oh well, I've always been a bender of rules and a questioner of authority.  Besides, something this yummy is a guaranteed "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

fried calzones, fried pizza
This ain't your ordinary pizza roll.

These are not complicated, but they are time consuming and oh, so worth it.  Use any of your favorite pizza toppings. The one in the picture is filled with shredded mozzarella, sauteed mushrooms, and chunks of smoked sausage, with just enough homemade pizza sauce to hold it all together.  I also made some without the mushrooms, and some that were just cheese and sauce.  Everybody walked away happy -- and full.

Deep Fried Pizza (Fried Calzones)

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 ounces diced mushrooms (your favorite), sauteed in a little butter
8 ounces smoked sausage, diced
12 or 16 ounce jar pizza sauce (or make this one from my old blog.) Use the leftovers for a dipping sauce.
1 recipe No-Rise Pizza Crust  (see recipe below)
Oil for deep frying (I prefer peanut oil)

Combine cheese, mushrooms and smoked sausage in a medium bowl.  Add just enough pizza sauce to moisten ingredients so they will hold together.  Set aside.

Mix up one recipe of No-Rise Pizza Crust (recipe below).  You will be working with this dough long enough that it WILL rise, but that's what you want to happen.

If using an electric deep fryer, begin heating oil now.  Heat to 375°F.  If using a Dutch oven on the stove, wait until after calzones are filled to beginning heating oil.

Divide dough into 16 equal portions.  Keep pieces of dough covered with a damp cloth or paper towel until ready to use.

Roll each piece into a circle about 6 inches in diameter, or into an oval or rectangle about 4 inches wide and 8 inches long.  Making different shapes can help you distinguish one type of filling from another.

Spoon abought 1/4 cup filling onto dough.  Moisten edges of dough with water, fold crust over, then pinch together to seal.  Do NOT cut any vents in calzones.

When oil has reached 375°F, carefully fry the calzones in oil, one or two at a time, until calzone floats and turns deep golden brown.  Drain on absorbent paper or cloth.  Repeat until all calzones have been fried.

Makes approximately 8 servings of 2 calzones each.

No-Rise Pizza Crust

3 cups flour (I used a 50/50 mix of white and whole wheat)
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm water

Combine flour, sugar, yeast and salt in large mixing bowl.  Add oil and water.  Mix, using  wooden spoon or your hand, until a stiff dough forms.  Add additional water, 1 Tablespoon at a time, if needed to get dough to form a ball.  Let sit 5 minutes.  Shape into one deep dish pizza crust or 2 thin pizza crusts in a pan or on a pizza stone.  Perforate crust(s) several times with a fork.  Pre-bake at 400°F for about 5 minutes or until dough just barely begins to form a crust.  Remove from oven and top with your favorite pizza toppings.  Return to oven and bake 15-20 minutes or until cheese has melted and browned and crust is golden on bottom.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kefir Chocolate Ice Cream

kefir ice cream

Shane and I really enjoy all of the cultured (fermented) foods I've been making, but getting Kat on board has been more difficult.  This frozen treat made with dairy kefir worked wonders with her.  Because kefir has a tangy taste, this dessert reminds me of the flavor of chocolate cheese cake.

This ice cream has raw eggs in it, but I don't heat the kefir mixture because it would negate the probiotic properties.  I get pastured eggs from a local farmer, so I am not concerned that they are raw in this dessert. 

Kefir Chocolate Ice Cream

2 cups plain dairy kefir
1 cup kefir cream (kefir made with cream) or
     1/2 cup kefir cheese (kefir with the whey drained off, leaving a thick spreadable cheese)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar (preferably organic)
1/3 cup cocoa powder (preferably organic)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Our into the container of your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.

Makes about 3-1/2 cups.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Blown Out and Blown Over

No more Firestone tires for us!

Some time ago, before we moved into this house so before 2006, Shane was driving on the freeway and one of the Firestone tires on the truck blew out its sidewall.  I'm not talking about a hole in the tire from running over something or a slow leak that we didn't know about.  I'm talking about the entire sidewall being blown off, leaving the tread and the other sidewall intact.  It looked like it had been cut off intentionally.  I wish I could find our picture.  We used to have one, but I can't find it now; it looked a lot like this one, though, that I found online:

NOT our tire, but we had one that did this.

This time, coming back from our maiden voyage in the new truck and camper on a busy state highway, one of the truck tires lost it's tread.  I was dozing, but I heard a noise and sat up.  Shane heard it, too, and slowed down -- a lot.  Then the tread peeled right off.  We were so fortunate that he had slowed down, that we were less than 1/8 mile from a turnoff onto a gravel road, that we had level ground to unhitch the camper and change the tire, and that it happened BEFORE we set out for our longer trip in July.

Here's the actual tire Firestone tire from yesterday.  The tread flew up and hit the back fender of the truck and a corner of the camper, leaving hot melted rubber on both we could rub right off.   Fortunately, no real damage was done.

This one IS our tire.

Those @#$! Firestone tires were the one thing Shane didn't like about the new truck, despite them appearing in good condition in every way.  I guess his instincts were right.  He did some research last night and, while we can't find a recall on the tires, we learned that dozens, if not hundreds, of other tires of the same size and style have had the same problems.  We'll be getting replacements for all of them this week, and will never buy Firestone tires again.  If you've had them and had good luck with them, more power too you, but they won't be on our vehicles anymore.

For what it's worth, the tires on the camper are NOT made by Firestone.

Tread separated and rolled right off.

In related, but happier, news, our trip was great.  We love the new camper and how much more convenient and livable it is compared to our smaller camper.  We spent our time on Truman Lake, very near where I grew up.  Imagine seeing this every night before bed...

and waking up to this every morning...

We spent some time Saturday driving around the area and a little farther east to Lake of the Ozarks.  We ate a nice lunch on Saturday at a lake resort, visited an outdoor flea market, and shopped at a couple of Amish grocery stores (in Excelsior, Patti).  We cooked at the campground for my dad on Saturday night, then went into town for breakfast with him and a little later, lunch with him and my older brother who also stopped by for Father's Day.

We had storms while we were there.  They didn't seem too severe, but on our way into town Sunday morning, we saw this tree that had fallen into a house.  My family lived in this house between January 1971 to the summer of 1973 (for me, that was from the middle of first grade until the summer after third grade).  That wasn't long, but I have tons of memories of living there.  The house is vacant now, and wasn't in great condition even before the tree fell, so I won't be surprised if they go ahead and tear it down.  I'll hate to see it go.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Face the Music - Mumford and Sons - Little Lion Man

Mumford and Sons - Little Lion Man

First, let me post a quick "parental warning" to those of you who don't know this song. They drop the F-bomb in every chorus.

I don't listen to much new music, it seems. This one is a couple of years old and I still consider it new!

Shane is trying to learn to play this on guitar.  I'm sure he'll be practicing it when we camp this weekend. It's pretty exemplary of his taste.  Mine, too; our taste in music is pretty darn similar.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Look Inside


Ford F250 V10.

Room for Kat.

Nice and clean...for now.

It rolled to 37,000 during the test drive.

I don't remember planting this.

Looking out the rear window.  Very roomy. 
As large as some studio apartments.
(Not sure what happened to the second swivel rocker.)

Hide-a-bed couch and real wood dinette set. 
I stretched out here while packing; woke up half an hour later.  :)
This passenger-side wall slides in for transit.
Entry door is just out of frame on the left.

Entertainment center and edge of kitchen. 
This TV stays for now, in case we find ourselves stuck inside on a rainy night.

Roomy kitchen with real hardwood floor.
 Kitchen and entertainment center are on the driver's side
of the camper and the entire wall slides in for transit.

Refrigerator and steps up to bathroom and bedroom.
Entry door is directly across from refrigerator.

The bedroom is in the part of the camper over the hitch.
Queen bed slides in from driver's side for transit.  That bedspread? 
It's out of here.  I don't care if it does match everything else in the camper.

Vanity table across from bed; middle section flips up to reveal mirror and
jewelry/cosmetic compartment.  The TV is as gone as the bedspread.
We won't use it, and can use the space for something else.

The bathroom is between the bedroom and kitchen.
It is a split bathroom, with the sink and shower on one side...

and private toilet and also a clothes/utility closet on the other side.
There is a small hallway in the center.  You can't see either in these pcitures, but
there is a vinyl folding door between bath and bedroom,
and a wooden pocket door between bath and kitchen/living room.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Evolution of a Camping Family

Have I ever mentioned we like camping?  We camped in a tent the first year or two we were married, making all kinds of fun of the suckers who "camped" in RVs.  We were into "roughin' it", rain or shine.

When Kat was old enough to go with us, we took her on exactly one camp-out in the tent.

Then we promptly bought a pop-up camper and a porta-potty.  Camping became a lot easier; it was a lot like tent camping, but up off the ground and without the hike to bathroom in the middle of the night.  We could hitch it to either the van or the truck and away we'd go.

We camped in the pop-up for a few years until we stumbled on our hybrid trailer.  It was set up on the side of the highway and we stopped to look at it on a whim.  It was a decent step up from a pop-up, like a hard-side camper but light enough to pull with our truck.  It was also just what we needed to catch the RV bug.  We were still camping, but it sure was nice to have a shower on board and a real flush toilet.

Unfortunately our truck, a 6-cylinder, wasn't quite up to the task of pulling it.  If we wanted to keep camping in the trailer, we needed to look for a bigger vehicle on our own terms before we blew the engine and were forced to get whatever we could find.  Our search had hardly started when we found this.

Goodbye minivan. Hello truck!  Can you believe it's a 1999 with only 37,000 miles on it?

And although we weren't planning to at all, we also bought this to go behind it.  What??  They made us an offer we couldn't refuse.  The truck and camper were a pair from Day One.  Who were we to break them up?

BTW, this isn't camping anymore; it's RVing!  It's not about roughing it anymore; it's about getting away, getting set up ASAP, and relaxing. 

And trying not to make fun of the suckers in the tents.

Linky List of More Great Homesteading Blogs

Sustainable Suburbia: Striving for a lower impact lifestyle. Join the Sustainable Living Blogs Linky Lists

Looking for more great blogs about sustainability, homesteading, and simple living?  Or looking to get more interest in your own blog about these things?  Take a look at this linky list put together by Kirsten of Sustainable Suburbia.

It's divided into eight categories:

If you link, you can put your blog into any two of them (or just one, if you prefer).

What a great way to share resources!

Monday, June 11, 2012

How To Make Dairy Kefir

In my slow, but ongoing, series of posts about fermented foods, today I want to write about milk kefir (pronounced keh-FEAR, or sometimes KEE-fur).  Of the three fermented drinks we currently make and drink (kombucha, water kefir and dairy kefir), this is my favorite.

For anyone who is not familiar with milk kefir, also called dairy kefir or just kefir, it is a cultured (fermented) food item similar to a thin yogurt or buttermilk. It is full of probiotics and, at least to me, is quite tasty.  I think it is milder in flavor than homemade yogurt and find it much easier to make.  It is a good substitute in any recipe that calls for buttermilk, and can even replace sweet milk in many recipes.  If fermented a second time, usually with some kind of flavoring, it becomes slightly effervescent and even tastier, in my opinion.  Best of all, it can also be used to make some great treats.

To begin, you must have a starter, which is usually called kefir grains.  The starter is also known as kefir pearls, kefir scoby, as well as by a variety of other names.  The starter does not come from grain at all, but rather from a combination of yeasts and (beneficial) bacteria.  When dehydrated, it looks like small granules (thus the name). Re-hydrated, it resembles cauliflower, but with a spongy texture. 

kefir culture
Kefir culture (starter).

A nice lady on craigslist gave me my starter, but you can also find them for sale on a number of websites.  If you are local to me and are interested, I can probably set you up with a starter as these things tend to reproduce with each batch of kefir.

Once you've acquired a starter, you combine it in a clean glass vessel (canning jars are good) with fresh milk.  I've read that raw is best, but I've yet to get my hands on any, so I use regular (NOT ultra-pasteurized) whole milk.  I suppose you can use milk with a lower fat content, but I think whole milk is recommended.  The ratio is 1 tablespoon of starter grains to 1 cup of milk.  I usually make several cups at a time, either in multiple jars or in a gallon glass jar.

Starter in the jars and ready for milk.

Milk Kefir
Milk.  Not raw or organic, but local.

Once combined, cover your jar with a clean cloth or coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band.  This will keep dust, gnats and the like out of the kefir.  Set the jar on the counter, at room temperature and several feet away from any other cultured foods you have going, and let it sit for 12-24 hours.  You will know it is working when you see small pockets of whey (clear, yellowish fluid) develop both on top and throughout the milk. 

Dairy Kefir
Kefir, ready for the first fermentation.

You'll know it is done when the milk has thickened to the consistency of thin yogurt or buttermilk, and tastes slightly tart.  The longer you let the kefir culture, the more tart it will be.  When it is as tart as you like it, strain the kefir through a plastic strainer or a fine colander to remove the grains.  At this point you can start another batch with the grains.  The liquid kefir is now ready to drink or use in recipes.  Just store it in the fridge in a covered jar to slow the fermentation process.  Better yet, it can be flavored and fermented a second time for added flavor.  It's my understanding that the second fermentation also increases the B vitamin content significantly.

To do a second fermentation, just pour the kefir into clean jars (without any of the grains in it), and cover tightly.  Let sit on the counter for another 12-24 hours (the warmer the room, the less time it will take) or until you see whey forming again, this time at the bottom of the jar.  Once that happens, move the jars to the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

kefir whey
Layer of whey forming under second-fermented kefir.

You can also flavor your kefir for the second fermentation by adding sweeteners or fruit.  Two of my favorites have been pure maple syrup with vanilla, and slices of organic oranges (rind and all) with a little organic sugar.  I've also successfully used crushed and sweetened strawberries, strawberry-rhubarb syrup, vanilla extract with sugar, lemons, limes, and crushed blueberries.  Once the second fermentation is complete, the result is a lightly fizzy, sweet-tart and fruity beverage that, while made with milk, is not heavy at all. 

Second-ferment kefir
Kefir being flavored for a second fermentation.

If you like, you can replace the milk in kefir with coconut milk.  The taste is a lot different, but if you like coconut, it's very pleasant.

I've also used kefir, both single- and double-fermented, to make healthy and yummy ranch dressing.  I just use it to replace the buttermilk in this recipe.

Sometimes, if you let the kefir ferment too long, either during the first or second fermentation, it can separate into defined layers of curd and whey.  If that happens, all is not lost.  The simplest thing to do with it is just stir it back together.  It is not as creamy as it could be, but it is still flavorful and perfectly safe to drink. 

Another option is to strain the whole thing through a plastic mesh strainer, completely separating the curd from the whey.  The whey can be used in baking or for lacto-fermented veggies (recipes to come), and the curd can be used as a cream cheese or sour cream substitute.  The kefir curd (kefir cream) is also an ingredient in this:

kefir ice cream
Chocolate kefir ice cream.

I promise it will be my next cultured food recipe, and I promise you'll love it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Face the Music - Los Lonely Boys - Heaven

Kat and I were at the pool earlier this week when this came on their satellite radio. I had forgotten how much I liked this song when it came out a few years ago.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Craft Project That Wasn't

Maybe you noticed (or didn't) that May came and went without me posting a monthly craft project.  That's because I didn't get one done.  I started an afghan on my Serenity knitting loom, but a couple of inches is all I have done so far.  I simply didn't make/take any time for crafts in May.  I thought I might take the afghan camping with us and work on it then, but on a typical weekend camp out, there just isn't time for it.

Anyway, my plan is to work on it in June, and to also (possibly) whip up a small sewing project to make up for missing May.  I need to practice my chopsticking skills, too.  I'll keep you posted.
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