Sunday, November 11, 2018

Poppy Day


On Veteran's Day, more years ago than I care to admit, members of the American Legion, donning ill-fitting uniforms, and, after marching in small local parades, came knocking door to door, selling crepe poppies to commemorate the dead of World Wars l and ll. Why? Following the Great War, scientists noticed that poppies began to grow and edge the graves of those buried in the battlegrounds of France and Belgium. They concluded the cemetery grounds had been enriched by the crushed, lime-rich rubble that had been plowed into the soil as the battlefields were prepared for mass burials. After the First World War, and following publication of John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields", the poppy was adopted as an international symbol of remembrance. Professor Moina Michael, was inspired by the poem and vowed to remember the war dead by wearing a red poppy on Remembrance Day. At a conference in 1918, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed 25 more to those attending. She then campaigned to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance. At a conference in 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance. She is one of many woman whose efforts have been buried by history.

I thought of her as we walked the geometrically perfect rows of crosses that mark the graves in the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer in France. Hopes and dreams and plans for a bright future were buried with each of the bodies entombed here. Ten thousand souls were lost in this place in a frighteningly short period of time and few of their immediate survivors are left to mark their passing. That makes the symbolism of the poppy even more important. At least these men, many of them no more than boys, can be part of our collective consciousness and memory on Veteran's Day.

I've had this feeling of collective loss before. Once at Gallipoli, where a deadly silence, broken only by bird songs and waves lapping against once bloody shores, overcame me and the hundred other people gathered at Seddulbahir. This cemetery was not one of "ours". It is the final resting place of ANZAC forces who tried to land here during the "war to end all wars". It is the ages on the headstones that give one pause. Save for a single officer, most buried here are less than 20 years old. They were conscripted to fight for a king and country they had never seen and most could not have found the place where they died on a map. The old lie...Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori...was repeated on this beachhead. Today, the countries of New Zealand and Australia proudly, but with great sadness, wear the blood red poppy on their lapels, a reminder of the unrealized hopes and dreams that are the cost of war.

That sense of collective lost was again brought home to me at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam. Better than half the group I was traveling with had military backgrounds. Needless to say, the testosterone level in the group was high and there was polite jostling among the men to see whose exploits and memories would carry the day. Tucked in our group was a woman, about my age, who had a passion for textiles and weaving. She was quietly charming and had a positively wicked sense of humor, but like most of us my Hanna looked like a grandmother whose interests would normally peg her as a homebody. For better or worse, I'm a people watcher, and there was something about the way she spoke and carried herself that led me to believe Hanna had a secret, a story if you will, begging to be shared. We adopted each other for the duration of the trip and because we spent so much time together I started to notice a vague, barely perceptible smile that would appear when the guys talked rank with each other. I had also seen the distinctive silver chain she used to carry her keys. Its spread eagle insignia helped me pull the pieces together and once I knew that it had not been a gift to her, I had a sense of who she really was. I didn't ask for confirmation because I think folks should be allowed to tell their own stories when they are ready to unveil them. That happened as we got closer to Hanoi. She withdrew a bit and absented herself from the group when we toured the Hanoi Hilton. That evening she shared bits of her story with me. My friend had retired from the service with flag rank. She was a Bird Colonel, the first woman to receive that rank. She entered the service right out of college and because of her age and medical background, she had first hand knowledge of what went on in the Hanoi Hilton. She did not want to see a sanitized version of a place she knew to be a hell hole. She spoke briefly of of the death she had seen during her tours, but her focus was the damaged minds and bodies the war had left behind. She carried the weight of those less honored than their fallen comrades, those for whom no special day had been set aside to honor their sacrifice. I will wear a poppy today to salute her "boys" as well as the war dead.I will also wear it to remember Hanna. Heroes all.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

...it rained and rained but then a miracle occurred !



Back in the early days of television, Saturday night's were ruled by a program called "Your Hit Parade." The show featured perky Dorothy Collins, Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson and Gisèle MacKenzie who sang their hearts out in production numbers that showcased the week's top rated songs. Most songs were transient and moved quickly on and off the program, but some, such as "Far Away Places with Strange Sounding Names", had especially long runs. Wage increases and expanded opportunity fueled the country's sense of wanderlust and folks who had never traveled took to the road and began to explore places they had once only dreamt of visiting. Even the imagination of children was fueled by the promise of adventure in world's unlike their own.

My wanderlust was fueled by natural phenomena as well as geography. Geysers, volcanoes, tornadoes and tidal waves played a prominent role in my daydreams. I got to see them all, though I must admit my tidal wave was more a seiche on Lake Michigan than the real thing. What I hadn't been able to see, however, were the Northern Lights, and so it happens that in this 78th year of my existence I am on another adventure, this time on a ferry traveling through the fjords on the way to the Arctic Circle and the waters of the choppy Barents Sea.

The trip has been more difficult than some. The group we are traveling with is large - too large - and the logistics of getting 59 people on and off buses and the ferry do not always go smoothly. Day one of the tour was especially difficult. It rained in sheets, and as the day wore on, fog completely enveloped the city of Bergen. The weather was a temperate 52 degrees, so our group, dressed for the Arctic was damp within and without and tempers began to fray even before we boarded the ferry for the first leg of our journey.

It was time for an attitude readjustment and the seasoned travelers within the group managed to pull themselves together and surrender to the limitations of the day. Yoga breathing and meditation helped a lot, but we knew better days were to come.

The next evening our patience was rewarded. The skies opened and under a blanket of stars the Northern Lights began their ballet and danced across the sky. It was breathtaking. The Aurora lacked the color we had expected to see but its eerie glow was a wonder as it streaked across the sky. Strangely, our cameras picked up the colors our eyes could not see. The lights have made encore appearances every night since then and while under their corona, we've seen their curtain explode and curl as it streaks and melts away. Last night conditions were especially good so we were finally able to see green bands with the naked eye. Our cameras "saw" the pink and violet shades our eyes cannot yet see. I'll keep you posted.

The food on our tour has been quite good. Fish, potatoes and other roots vegetables are the mainstay of the Norwegian diet, but they are supplemented with dairy products, lamb and reindeer. I have yet to try whale, but will when the opportunity presents itself. The chef here was kind enough to take me through his kitchen to see how he and his staff of 10 are able to turn out 600 fabulous meals every single day.

Salmon has appeared on the table every day of this voyage. While I'll never lose my love for Nova, I've come to have a much greater appreciation for gravlax or the salt cured salmon that is served throughout Scandinavia. I wanted to share this recipe with you.


Gravlax


Ingredients:
1 (3 to 4 lb) cleaned salmon without the head, skin on
1 cup salt
2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup spirits, like brandy, gin, aquavit or lemon vodka
2 good-size bunches of fresh dill, roughly chopped, stems and all
Honey Mustard or Lemon wedges for serving

Directions:
1) Fillet the salmon or have the fishmonger do it; the fish need not be scaled. Lay both halves, skin side down, on a plate.
2) Toss together the salt, brown sugar and pepper and rub this mixture all over the salmon (the skin too); splash on the spirits. Put most of the dill on the flesh side of one of the fillets, sandwich them together, tail to tail, and rub any remaining salt-sugar mixture on the outside; cover with any remaining dill, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Cover the sandwich with another plate and top with something that weighs a couple of pounds -- some unopened cans, for example. Refrigerate.
3) Open the package every 12 to 24 hours and baste, inside and out, with the accumulated juices. When the flesh is opaque, on the second or third day (you will see it changing when you baste it), slice thinly as you would smoked salmon -- on the bias and without the skin -- and serve with rye bread or pumpernickel and lemon wedges. Yield: 12 servings


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Redux: Scandinavian Cucumber Pickle

      I'm having some friends for lunch on Friday and in planning a menu for the get-together I came across this recipe for a cucumber pickle. It was originally featured in 2011 and has proved to be an entry that folks like to re-visit. I know it touched hearts as well as palates and I thought it deserved a "second life." I hope you enjoy the story, hymn and recipe.



From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I am, by disposition, easily moved to laughter or tears and I have an unusually expressive face. It takes no special training to sense my mood or humor, but every once in a while I fool everyone. I mention this, because last weekend I was moved to tears by something quite extraordinary. Bob and I make it a point to attend local celebrations and festivals. These events were originally created to celebrate family, community and heritage, and we like to honor that spirit whenever we can. Last weekend, one of the towns close to us held their annual Scandinavian Festival and we happily attended. Usually, the entertainment consists of folk dancing and music from Finland, Norway, Denmark or Sweden. The dancers are members of groups that meet bi-monthly for practice and some of them are very good. They are, however, amateurs. What makes them special is the participation of families who often have three generations on stage for any given performance. Despite the participation of families, the number of dancers dwindles every year. There, obviously, are not enough young people to replace the seniors who can no longer participate. It's sad to see the passing of a tradition, but we enjoy it while we can and applaud the efforts of those who try to preserve memories of the old ways for their children. We sat through a handful of dance performances before heading to the beer garden to sample some typically Scandinavian food and drink. We never made it. A men's chorus, about 50 members strong, had taken the stage and, as they began to sing, it was clear we were in for something special. These were not young men, and I'd guess the youngest of them to be my age. That meant the group had lots of time to practice and perfect their singing, and perfect it they had. As they sang, my throat started to knot, but I kept my act together until the end of their performance when they began to sing the Finlandia hymn. As they sang, an elderly group in the back of audience stood and joined hands. Some of them were moved to tears and as I watched I, too, began to cry. Now it was a sedate cry, mind you, but the tears were very real. I was moved by the haunting beauty of the music and their obvious remembrance of times and places once well known but never more to be. I think you might understand the emotion if you listen to this small portion of the Finnish hymn that many call the Finnish National Song. It is quite beautiful.


Now, because this is a food blog, I can't let you go without sharing a recipe. It's time for us to move from the sublime to the ridiculous. Actually, there will be two new Scandinavian recipes, but only one of them will be featured today. This is a cucumber pickle that is lovely to serve with dishes as diverse as barbecue or Swedish meatballs. It is amazingly easy to make, and, as long as you thinly slice the cucumbers, you can't go wrong. Ideally, the dish should be made with seedless cucumbers, but as you can see I break my own rules. I know you'll enjoy these. Here's the recipe.

Scandinavian-Style Cucumber Pickle...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Gourmet magazine

Ingredients:

1 English cucumber
1/2 cup white-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Cut cucumber crosswise into very thin slices (preferably using a manual slicer). In a bowl whisk together remaining ingredients until sugar is dissolved and add cucumber, tossing to coat. Marinate cucumbers, covered and chilled, stirring occasionally, 4 hours. Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

Monday, June 5, 2017

An Encounter in Ubud - Some Enchanted Evening


There's so much I want to tell you about Bali, but it's hard to find the best place to start. My interests lie more with the people of the countries I've visited than the museums and monuments that house their history. Please don't misunderstand. There are wonderful structures and museums in Bali, but the spirit of these gentle people is what touched my soul and captured my heart. Touristy matters will come in due time, but first I'd like to share memories of the people who surface whenever I think of their beautiful country.

"South Pacific" had Bloody Mary and "Eat Pray Love" had Ketut Liyer. "One Perfect Bite" - that would be me - has Puspa to illustrate common traits of the Balinese. Generally, the Balinese are easygoing, courteous, gentle, and readily reciprocate kindness that is shown them. While they have a wry and wicked sense of humor, their broad smiles can be misleading. They are not in the business of making friends of strangers and it is almost impossible for outsiders to penetrate the tight-knit hierarchy of their communities. To say they are business and family oriented would be an understatement. In business they can be sly and conniving, but their hearts and homes are open to needy members of their own clans. Like other Asian cultures they display unwavering loyalty to family and clan and are conditioned to defer personal needs to those of the community. The Balinese, however, have no concept of time and could easily adopt the Tagalog "inshallah" of the Philippines or the "manana" of Mexico. I had a brief conversation with an expat who prayed his roof, victim of a hurricane, would never again need repair. His contractor smiled a lot, but it took 11 months to replace the thatch.


Now back to Puspa. She and her husband operate the cooking school, Paon Bali, in a family compound perched above a tropical forest. In form she is round and firm and has a voice that is nasal, high in pitch and as grating as nails on a blackboard. Her shtick would be the envy of a Catskill's comedian and it was literally peppered with the familiar "honey" whose use raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I was prepared not to like this woman, but her wild sense of humor and skill as a teacher won me over before our cooking chores were done. We hugged a lot. We also "melted" together. Orson Wells had an oft quoted description of Rita Hayworth in tropical heat. He insisted, "Miss Hayworth doesn't sweat, she glows." Unfortunately, we didn't glow, we melted and looked like a fine mist descended on our bodies. If you visit Bali, leave your makeup at home or apply it with a fine hand. It won't last. Our dinner that night was the food we made in her class, and we ate on the terrace overlooking the rice terraces her husband tended. It was the best meal of the trip and a truly memorable evening.

When I first began "One Perfect Bite" I was asked why I had chosen food as a subject. Truth be told, I had no "creds" in particle physics, and while I wanted to communicate with thoughtful women, I had only one passion that could be sustained and shared on a daily basis. It was, of course, food and the women who prepare it. I've always viewed food as a universal equalizer. It unmasks us. A practiced eye can determine background, experience and belief by examining what is being served and how it is made. While it provides sustenance, food also has become part of ceremonies that mark our celebrations and our passage from birth to death. Ceremonial food first caught my interest and made me curious to learn more about the women and the kitchens in which the food was prepared. I've always loved the kitchen. They are places of warmth and comfort and are universal reflections of family life wherever they are found. They reveal how women think about themselves, how they raise their children and how they relate to other women. The ingredients they use say as much about climate, geography and economic status as do more scholarly endeavors. I've been blessed and have had the opportunity to visit many kitchens, even those in remote parts of the world. I've learned more about people, customs and belief in those kitchens than I have in museums. I know my approach is not for everyone, but it works for me and it's how I came to know Puspa. I'll be sharing many of her recipes with you, but I wanted to start with something that most of you have never tried. I thought some of you might like to attempt this recipe for Tempe Me Goreng. Tempe is made by fermenting cooked soy beans and pressing them into a block. There is no need to make your own. It should be available in all large supermarkets or natural food stores.


Tempe Me Goreng - Deep Fried Tempe in Sweet Soy Sauce...from Paon Bali Cooking School

Ingredients:
2 blocks of tempeh
10 red chilies
5 tablespoons Indonesian sweet soy sauce (i.e. Kecap Manis)
4 shallots
8 cloves of garlic
1 spring onion
5 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 liter coconut oil for frying
Salt and pepper

Directions:
1) Slice tempeh into thin strips. Bring coconut oil to a boil in a large pan. Add tempeh and fry until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper toweling.
2) Slice red chilies and remove seeds, Slice garlic, shallots, spring onion and red chilies. Heat 3 tablespoons of coconut oil in another pan and saute until they are light brown.
3) Add deep-fried tempeh to pan containing garlic, shallots,spring onion and chilies and mix, adding Kecap Manis and broken Kaffir lime leaves. Stir well to coat tempeh in sauce.
4) serve hot as a main course. Yield 4 to 6 servings.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tourists, Travelers and Singapore Slings


While you probably don't dwell on it, I'll wager you already know, or can guess, the difference between a tourist and a traveler. Per industry professionals, tourists can easily be spotted simultaneously juggling their cameras, guidebooks and maps. They generally make no attempt to speak the language of the country they are visiting, and they dress as they do at home. You rarely find them in locations that are off-the-beaten-path and the only locals with whom they have contact are tour guides. Conversely, travelers tend to blend into the environment. They've studied local cultures before their arrival and they are ready to learn and experience new things. Travelers consider their trips to be adventures rather than vacations and many return home in need of rest because, God's honest truth, not all adventures are relaxing. I considered myself a tourist for years, but was dispelled of that notion by a tour guide who overheard a heated conversation I had with an Indian cook regarding the preparation of Gobi Manchurian. He dubbed me a traveler while I argued techniques for frying cauliflower.

India was our third Asian adventure. Other Asian trips followed, but because these adventures required hours of flight time and layovers that would make even the young old, we never got to Indonesia. That changed this year when space on a trip to Bali and Java became available. We braced ourselves for the 2 day journey that would get us there. It started with a 2 hour flight to San Francisco. Five hours later we boarded the plane that took us to Hong Kong and then on to Singapore. That stretch of the trip racked up 18 hours of air time and another layover of nearly 5 hours before we took the final 3 hour flight to Bali.

Strangely enough, time passes fairly quickly on these flights. The ones we have taken all leave San Francisco at 1 or 2 in the morning, and, whatever airline we have been on, they all seem to follow the same routine. As soon as the plane is airborne, warm towels are distributed and juice is offered. About 2 hours into the flight, the first meal of the trip is served and beer, wine and spirits are made available to those who want them. Those who fly economy - that includes Bob and I - have to know what is available if they want something other than what appears on the service cart. The Singapore Sling, the signature drink of the airline on which we flew, had to be asked for. Later on, we would be served another full meal, but snacks, sandwiches and noodles were available at all times in the galley. There's usually wine there as well.

Once meal service is complete, it's mandatory lights out. I generally doze off, but it is a twilight kind of sleep and it doesn't take much to wake me up. As it happened, we flew on Easter Sunday and there was a church group traveling with us. I don't know what time zone they used as a reference, perhaps they were working on the theory that it was sunrise somewhere in the world, but they had a Bible reading to begin their Easter Sunday and, despite its muted tones, it caused me to stir. About an hour later, two young men sitting in the aisle across from me, briefly stood. On returning to their seats, they quietly responded to the Muslim call to prayer. There is now an "app" available to traveling Muslims that signals the time for prayer as well as the direction of Mecca.

I nodded off again, but real sleep eluded me. Rather than fight it, I decided to catch up on all the movies I missed this year. Thanks to Singapore Airline, I can proudly say I have seen all of this year's Academy Award nominees before next year's are announced. That doesn't often happen. On the return trip, I was also able to finish 4 books given to me by a friend, so my time, coming and going, was well spent. The upshot of the trip, despite its length and our lack of sleep was we had no jet lag when we arrived in Bali. That has never happened before.

I had my first Singapore Sling on the flight to Bali and I want to share the recipe for the drink with you. It is a gin based cocktail that was first served at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel a century ago. Raffles is a a Singapore landmark that today charges $35 a pop for the drink. Now, I must be honest with you. I'm not a cocktail person and the color and taste of the sling reminds me of the canned citrus "Bug Juice" that was served in hospitals years ago. Others, however, enjoy the drink, so I suspect the problem is with my palate. They are easy to make and all that fruit juice might even convince you they are good for you. Here's the recipe.

Singapore Sling...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
1/4 ounce Cointreau liqueur
1/4 ounce Benedictine
4 ounces pineapple juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/3 ounce Grenadine
1 dash bitters

Directions:
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Garnish with cherry and a slice of pineapple. Yield: one cocktail.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Popover for Some Yorkshire Pudding with Make-Ahead Gravy


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...In my world it's impossible to serve a rib roast without Yorkshire Pudding on the side. I suspect my family would abandon me on a dessert island if I even tried. Fortunately, the pudding is simple to make and comes together quickly. It's made with the same batter that's used for popovers, and I'm always amazed that a handful of ingredients can produce such airy golden towers. Years ago, I followed English custom and made the pudding in a single large baking dish. That worked while the children were small, but as their appetites grew, the pudding disappeared before everyone at the table was fed. At that point, I switched to popover pans so every member of the family could have their own to nap or drown with gravy as they saw fit. The individual puddings are a visual delight and the trick to their towering, gnarly height is three-fold. First, the batter must sit so the gluten in it has a chance to relax. Second, the initial temperature at which they cook must be high. Third, while the temperature is manipulated as they cook, the oven door must not be opened till the puddings are done. I guarantee that if you follow the directions in the recipe below, you'll have perfect puddings every time you make them. Because my kitchen is small, I do as much cooking as I can ahead of time. I make gravy the day before the feast, so the mess and last minute stress of getting it to the table becomes a non-issue. I like to use a New Orleans-style roux as the base for the gravy I pass with the puddings. It has wonderful flavor and I think you'll agree it's worth the time and watchful eye it takes to make. Here are the two recipes I used for our Christmas in February feast.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Christmas in February - Prime Rib and Fixin's


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The Silver Fox and I live in an area surrounded by small cattle ranches and, seasonally, that can lead to beef bargains not found in other areas of the country. During the Christmas holidays, standing rib and and strip roasts can be purchased here for what ground beef costs in other communities. My mother raised no foolish children, so I take full advantage of these bargains and pack the freezer when those holiday sale signs appear. That leads to some wonderful meals, and one of the the things I love to do is to serve a "Christmas" meal at odd times of year. We had some good friends for dinner this past Sunday and I decided to celebrate their company with one of the rib roasts stashed in the freezer. Whenever I do this, I go whole hog and make a dinner fit for the groaning board of an English country estate. There is, of course, the roast, but authenticity demands Yorkshire pudding, and the "pud" demands a gravy we find too heavy for the juicy rare, red beef we so enjoy. I make the gravy a day or two before the meal, while the wine sauce is a task for the morning of the feast. Potatoes, too, are made early on and sit in a slow cooker protected by a shallow puddle of cream that keeps them milky white for serving. I do, however, postpone the puddings till the last possible moment. While they can be made ahead of time, we prefer ours so freshly warm and moist you can almost hear them begging to be drowned in gravy. They share the oven with chunks of roasting carrots whose preparation is sheer simplicity, but whose color adds brightness to what can easily become a beige meal. While many think it unnecessary, we are salad folk and I think the meal demands shades of crisp greens to make it complete. To be honest, the salad, made with watercress and Belgian endive, is nearly as expensive as the beef and actually more work to make, but I can't prepare this meal without knowing it will grace my table. I generally make rolls of some type for the feast and dessert depends on the whims or dietary restrictions of the folks sitting at my table. This past weekend we had a luscious pear torte and a creamy lemon pudding to end the meal. I can't feature all these recipes in one post, so I thought I'd pick and choose and share those for the roast and its various sauces with you today. I have several recipes for standing rib roast, but I recently resurrected this one which is failproof. I think you'll enjoy its flavor and ease of preparation. Here is how it's made.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Pan-Fried Hong Kong Noodles - Chinese New Year


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...When the children were home, a Chinese dinner would include 3 main dishes plus soup and rice. These days, the Silver Fox and I just don't eat that way. That's not a bad thing. Fortunately, appetite diminishes with age, so we can still fit through the door, and when we have a dry spell, can actually bend and touch our toes. That's not to say we don't eat. It's just that a dish once meant for one now feeds two or three with ease. Tonight I made the pan-fried noodles for our dinner. While they were a main course for me, I augmented Bob's supper with Chinese-style salt and pepper pork chops, the recipe for which can be found here. Despite my best efforts, the Fox remains, a committed carnivore and I rarely get away with serving him a completely meatless meal. We both love pan-fried noodles and they make a perfect accompaniment to dishes like the chops I made for him. We have a well-stocked Asian market in town, so I have no trouble getting the noodles or the dark soy sauce called for in the recipe. Dark soy sauce is thicker in texture and despite its deep color, less salty than the everyday varieties most use for cooking. Dark soy is fermented for a longer period of time and it's usually augmented with sugar or molasses, that gives the sauce a sweet-salty flavor and viscous texture. Dark soy sauce is used solely for cooking. If you can't find it, replace it with regular soy sauce. Your noodles will be lighter in color, but their flavor will be fine.  I know those of you who try this recipe will be pleased with the noodles. Here's how they are made.

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