Showing posts with label Purim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Purim. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Strawberries 'n' Cream Hamantaschen

Every year at Purim [POOR-im], which begins at sundown on Saturday night, there is a debate among Jews about hamantaschen [HAH-men-TAH-shen], the triangular cookies that are traditionally served at the holiday.

Some people think that ones with a poppy seed filling are most authentic, as Queen Esther - the heroine of the Purim story - survived on nuts and seeds while she debated whether to "out" herself as a Jew in order to save her people when they were under threat of extermination by the evil vizier Haman.  (Since she was married to the king, she hoped to have a bit of influence.)

Others, however, feel that the prune ones, with a nod to the Old World, are the only true version.

And then ... well, then there are folks like me who respect tradition but always have to tweak it.

In the past, I've made hamantaschen filled with homemade berry preserves, and even made a lemon-poppy version with poppy seeds mixed into the dough and a bright center of lemon curd.

And this year, I decided to try something really different: a variation on coconut cream pie, which you can find today on, and a strawberries 'n' cream version ... sigh.

This post, from two years ago, gives the dough recipe and instructions for making the hamantaschen; I didn't want to reinvent the proverbial wheel, and take up time and space by putting it all on here, too, when I know not everyone is actually going to make these. If you're feeling ambitious, go right on over to the more thorough description!

But this non-dairy strawberry filling could also be used for thumbprint cookies, so it made sense to just offer this part of the whole. You could even drizzle your cookies with a bit of melted chocolate, and relish a luxurious variation on chocolate-covered strawberries.

And just look at how pretty and pink the filling is!

Strawberries 'n' Cream Cookie Filling

8 ounces strawberries, chopped into 1/4" pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon So Delicious dairy-free creamer

In a small saucepan, combine the strawberries and the sugar; cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, mashing berries with a fork.  (The berry mixture will boil.)

Combine cornstarch and creamer in a small cup; pour into berry mixture and cook for 30 seconds or so, just until the filling thickens.  Pour into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold.

Makes about 1 cup.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies

Purim [POOR-im] is the most joyous day in the happiest month on the Jewish calendar.  Falling on the 14th day of Adar [ah-DAHR], the holiday begins at sundown tonight.

In brief, Purim commemorates Queen Esther saving the Jews from extermination.  Her cousin, Mordechai, refused one day to bow to the king's vizier, Haman, which enraged Haman.  He sought King Ahasuerus' permission to massacre the Jews, which Ahasuerus granted without realizing that this would also include his wife, Esther, who had never revealed herself as a Jew.  Esther fasted for three days as she debated whether to approach the king and risk her own life.  Needless to say, her courage won the day: Esther spoke to the king, revealing Haman's plot, and Ahasuerus had Haman executed.  As the saying goes, they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!

Purim celebrations are silly and giddy and lots of fun.  It's customary to dress up in costumes, since Esther hid her identity; so I'll be masquerading as a fairy godmother, wearing a slightly cheesy thrift store prom dress accessorized with a pink tiara, a be-ribboned wand, and gold-trimmed pink wings.  (It's very "me," for those who don't know of my affinity for Disney princesses, sparkles, glitter, and whimsy!)

Because there are always traditional and ritual foods at Jewish holidays, I'll also be eating lots of triangular cookies called hamantaschen [HAH-men-TAHSH-en], which are shaped to resemble either the ears or the hat of the villainous Haman. (For my hamantaschen recipe, see last year's Purim post.)  Kids particularly love this holiday because it's expected that the name of Haman should be drowned out with noise.  How great to spin groggers, yell, stomp, and generally be granted permission to be a bit rowdy!

Other Purim customs are required by Jewish law: hearing the Book of Esther read aloud, as well as giving gifts of food to friends and donating to charity.  According to Esther 9:22, Jews are commanded "to observe ... days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor."

Mishloach manot [mish-loh-AHCK mah-NOTE] are small goodie bags that are thus given to loved ones; they are supposed to contain two portions of foods that are ready to eat - one is sweet while the other is savory.  The sweet variety is usually hamantaschen, and I offer pretzels to go with them.  And since I like to feed people, I always add some small candies and a second type of cookie as well.

This year, I had lots of poppy seed filling left over after baking my hamantaschen; this is the most traditional flavor, as it honors the diet of nuts and seeds that Esther is said to have eaten in King Ahasuerus' palace where she had no access to kosher food.  So I used some for the shortbread-based cookies offered below, since it's a lovely complement to the almond-flavored topping.

Hag Purim Sameach!  [HAHg pooh-REEM sah-MAY-ahck]

Happy Purim!

Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies
(adapted from the recipe for Macaroon Bar Cookies in Gloria Kaufer Greene's The Jewish Holiday Cookbook)

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup unbleached flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease an 8"x8" baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Stir in the egg and extract; stir in the flour.  With damp hands, press the dough into the prepared pan; bake for 15 minutes until set.

1/3 cup poppy seed filling
2 tablespoons water

Stir filling ingredients together; carefully spread over the prepared shortbread base.

1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup ground almonds

Combine all ingredients and whisk until well beaten.  Carefully spread over the poppy seed filling, swirling the topping and the filling together a bit.  Bake for 15 minutes until the topping is golden.  Let cool completely.

Trim 1/4" edges from all sides.  Cut into 4 rows and 4 columns, to make 16 squares.  Cut each square in half diagonally to form 32 triangles.

Makes 32 cookies.

You might remember that I've prepared several lovely recipes from the Chaldean cookbook Ma Baseema: Cardamom-Scented Shortbread Cookies, Iraqi Salad, and Spiced Beef Egg Rolls.  My review of the book appears in this month's issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News, and can be found on page 29 ....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Hamantaschen Saga

At Purim, which Jews celebrated this past weekend, it is required by Jewish law to hear the story of Esther, who saved the Jewish people from annihilation when the evil Haman wanted to destroy them; but it is required by Jewish custom to eat hamantaschen. And you know me -- I'm always about the food!

Now, some folks may actually know what hamantaschen [hah-men-TAHSH-en] are, because they've evolved into a German Christmas cookie. But they originated -- and continue to exist happily -- as the requisite Purim treat. They are named for either the ears or the hat, according to competing legends, of that consummate bad guy, Haman.

According to Wikipedia:

The name hamantash (המן־טאַש), is commonly known as a reference to Haman, the villain of Purim, as described in the Book of Esther. The pastries are supposed to symbolize the defeated enemy of the Jewish people, and thus resemble the "ears of Haman". A more likely source of the name is a folk etymology: the original Yiddish word מאָן־טאַשן (montashn) or German word mohntaschen, both meaning poppyseed-filled pouches ... was transformed to Hamantaschen, likely by association with Haman. In Israel, they are called Oznei Haman (Hebrew: אוזני המן‎), Hebrew for "Haman's ears" in reference to their defeated enemy's ears.
I love Purim, as it's an excuse for everyone -- especially adults, I think! -- to be silly and to eat cookies ... what's not to love??? And part of the tradition is the inevitable debate over whether anyone likes the prune filled hamantaschen, attempts to claim that only those with poppy seeds are authentic, whether yeast dough or sugar dough is easier to work with or tastes better ... oy. It's a cookie! Just give me the cookie! Apricot, cherry, chocolate, prune, poppy seed, yeast, whatever ... I just want the cookies!

I make my own from scratch each year, including the fillings; I freeze fruits from the Summer precisely to make jam for filling hamantaschen in the Spring.

But I couldn't bring those items, prepared in my old kitchen, into the kosher home I'm currently staying at. So I either had to buy new ingredients and make new fillings here, or I had to find an alternate site for my baking fest.

Tom very graciously invited me to use his kitchen ... :)

I went over there with all of my ingredients -- including my homemade/handmade fillings -- prepared to bake my little heart out. Except that, with all of my things packed into boxes and in storage, I couldn't find my faithful, trustworthy recipe.

So I did a search and selected one of the 843,025 options that were offered, and set to mixing dough, refrigerating dough, rolling dough, cutting dough, forming dough, and baking dough ... only to have my cookies turn out like this:

Popped open ... filling having turned into a topping ... dry ... tasting chalky ... bleah. Worst recipe ever for hamantaschen, apparently!!!

We scraped the fillings off the cookies and put them back into their original containers -- why waste anything??? -- with hopes of trying again another day. But there just wasn't any way to coordinate that at Tom's place, so we moved our operation to the kitchen where I'm staying and I resigned myself to making new fillings -- mixed berry and chocolate.

In the meantime, I'd found my own recipe for the dough; but I had to make some strategic substitutions for both non-dairy and kosher ingredients. I learned that Tofutti makes a "sour cream" that actually looks like the real thing ... who knew??? I didn't actually taste it, 'cause I'm not that brave. But I baked with it nonetheless!

Again I set about to mixing dough, refrigerating dough, rolling dough, cutting dough, forming dough, and baking dough. And I was so devastated at the results -- cookies which collapsed, fillings which oozed everwhere -- that I couldn't even take their picture through my tears.

I thought I'd lost my baking mojo, was railing about the "fake" ingredients I'd had to use, resented not having my own kitchen and equipment, felt that in the midst of the chaos of my travels through various living arrangements and kitchens that now I'd also have to sacrifice a beloved tradition ... these cookies triggered a powerful response, and it wasn't very pretty.

But I'm stubborn. Some might say foolish, but I prefer "stubborn" ... "optimistic"? ... "resilient"??? I tried one more time.

I took all my "fake" ingredients, I took homemade apple and berry fillings, I took my own recipe, and I did everything I needed to do while hoping fervently that this time my hamantaschen would turn out properly. Please, please, please, please, please!!!

And when the timer rang for the first batch on this third attempt, I was leery. I was prepared for disaster, and yet I found that they were perfect! They were triangles! The filling was contained instead of creeping all over the baking sheet! They actually looked like hamantaschen!!!

So, I don't know what happened between attempts #2 and #3, other than the universe took pity on me and righted whatever had been wrong. I was, and am, grateful for it!

Hamantaschen may look difficult to make, but they're very easy. They also don't need to be picture perfect, as I rather like the hint of a rustic look which shows that they were made by hand, with love; but they do need to at least be readily identifiable as hamantaschen!


1 cup butter or Earth Balance butter substitute, softened
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream or Tofutti sour cream substitute
2 eggs
5 cups flour
1-1/2 cups any flavor filling (Solo fillings work beautifully)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar; stir in the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix in the sour cream and the eggs. Stir in the flour.

Divide the dough into 2 portions, wrap in each plastic, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Take one portion of the dough and roll it out to 1/4" thickness. Using a 3" round cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as you can; place dough circles onto the baking sheet, 2" apart.

Place a teaspoon of filling into the center of each dough circle.

Wet your fingertip and run it around the circumference of the dough, one at a time, to help the dough to adhere when you pinch it together.

Pull up two sides of the circle, and pinch the corner where they meet.

Pull up the remaining side, and pinch at the corners.

Repeat this procedure with each of the cookies, then bake for 10 minutes until the cookies are just turning golden. Remove to a rack and let them cool completely, repeating the process with the remaining dough and fillings.

This recipe makes dozens of cookies, but I can't really tell you how many ... maybe 4 dozen??? I just bake until I run out of either dough or filling, so it's a very inexact science!

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Monday, March 21, 2011

My Purim Shpiel

Purim [POOR-im], the happiest day on the Jewish calendar, was celebrated from Saturday night through Sunday with shpiels (comical plays), costumes, groggers (obnoxious noisemakers), and lots of festivity. As the old Jewish joke goes: "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!"

The Cliff's Notes version of the Purim story is that Esther married the King of Persia, whose vizier, Haman, wanted to annihilate the Jews. No one in the royal court knew that Esther was Jewish; so when she found out about Haman's plan, she fasted -- eating only nuts and seeds -- as she tried to decide whether to reveal herself as a Jew and risk being murdered or to try to save her people. She ultimately told her husband of her heritage and of the plot against the Jews, the king executed Haman, and the Jews were saved. Thus, Purim celebrations involve costumes for hiding one's identity, poppy seed-filled cookies to remember the fast, and reading the Book of Esther aloud while everyone makes as much noise as possible to drown out the name of Haman every time it's mentioned. Purim is raucous and chaotic, but it is a lot of fun!

It is traditional to give mishloach manot [mish-lo-AHK mah-NOTE], which are goodie bags, to friends and family members. As with everything else in Judaism, there has been much debate about this over the millennia -- what to put in, how much to put in, etc. So it's generally accepted that there be 1 sweet item and 1 savory item, and that the foods be ready to eat.

It is also simply a given that the mishloach manot will contain hamantaschen [hah-men-TAHSH-en] -- triangular-shaped filled cookies resembling either the ears or the hat of Haman, that consummate villain in the Purim story. My recipe, and this year's saga of trying to get the hamantaschen made (OY!!!), will be tomorrow's post ... same Bat time, same Bat channel!

So, here's what I put in my little flamingo-motif treat bags: each person received 2 hamantaschen, 2 spring-colored Oreos, some chocolates and some pretzels. A little something homemade and traditional, a little something festive for the season, a little something easy to just buy and divvy up.

But not everything about the holiday is joyful. On a more serious note, Jews are “to observe [Purim] as days of feasting and merry-making, and as an occasion of sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (Megillat Esther 9:22) The legendary Torah scholar Maimonides taught that contributing to the care of the poor is the primary mitzvah ([MITZ-vuh] = commandment, good deed) of Purim. So it is essential, in addition to having fun and eating too many hamantaschen, to also make donations to favorite charities.

Stay tuned 'til tomorrow to read about trying to get the hamantaschen made -- it was an exercise in insanity: engaging in the same behaviors while expecting different results. But I overcame! The hamantaschen tried to kill me, I survived, let's eat!!!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Day-Long Food Fest

Oh, man, Sunday was an incredible festival of food!  Tom, Jeremy and I started out in Berkley, at O'Mara's Irish Restaurant on 12 Mile at Coolidge (as opposed to Coolidge at 12 Mile ... inside joke, after my father corrected me for phrasing it improperly).  It was an occasion for Tom to meet my parents, for me to visit with Tom's dad and stepmother again, for Jeremy to meet some of Tom's family ... it was -- as Tom succinctly put it -- "Lunch with the In-Laws" despite there not even being any engagement let alone a marriage.  It was a convenient way to phrase a complicated arrangement ... and it's kinda sweet, too.  And we needed to play yenta and get all of the old(er) folks together, since my parents live in Birmingham while Tom's live in Royal Oak ... they're practically neighbors!

I'd never been to O'Mara's before, but it was well worth the schlep across 696; Jeremy -- who has recently embraced being 1/8 Irish with a manic devotion -- has now declared it his new favorite restaurant.  There was a beautiful mural of charming Irish doorways along one wall, a gigantic Guinness mirror on another wall, and just a warm, friendly atmosphere with no one rushing anyone out the door.  I never got to look at a menu, because a Sunday brunch that was exceptionally good -- with lots of choices for everyone (from good eaters to picky nuisances) -- was already waiting for us: a beautiful assortment of breads and rolls, a lovely green salad, a gorgeous fruit tray, tuna pasta salad, macaroni and cheese, bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, hash browns, French toast, a variety of cakes and pastries, and -- the absolute pièce de résistance -- some of the best scalloped potatoes I've ever eaten (which both my mother and Monica, Tom's stepmother, had raved about before we went up to the table to peruse the offerings).

Now, anyone who encounters me for even a few brief moments knows at least two things about me: I'm not shy about being the first one up at the buffet table, and I'm also not shy about going up for seconds.  But I didn't want to be a glutton -- not to mention being unable to eat the breakfast meats because the ubiquitous sodium nitrite gives me migraines -- so I exhibited restraint and stuck to salad, fruit, mac 'n' cheese (it was home-style, with real cheese on top ... how could I resist???), the divine potatoes, and splitting small pieces of luscious mocha and lemon cakes with Tom.  (Still recovering from the hamantaschen binge of Purim, no massive quantities of food were on the agenda.)  I enjoyed myself immensely, always happy to eat and to converse and to eat a bit more.  And everyone else seemed to enjoy both the food and the company, as well; our parents even compared notes on afternoon naps and having doctor appointments as their primary source of entertainment ... groan.  My father and Gary (Tom's dad) were similar sorts who long for the good ol' days and an old-fashioned work ethic, while my mother and Monica were the last to leave the table because they were so congenially engaged in conversation with each other.  "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match ...."

After that, we went to my new favorite grocery store: One Stop Kosher Food Market at 10 Mile and Greenfield in Southfield.  I'd been there once before, a few weeks ago, and only had sufficient time to peruse the perimeter ... but that was enough for me to fall in love at first sight.  I felt right at home, as though I were back in NYC where I grew up, shopping side-by-side with Orthodox Jews wearing yarmulkes and wigs and tzitzit and black hats.  And the food -- oh, the food!!!  Bagels and rugelach (crescent-shaped cookies, usually with a chocolate or a fruit filling) and babka (an exceptional coffee cake) and knishes (single-serving savory "pies" with a variety of fillings, from potato to cheese to -- oh, my God!!! -- pastrami) ... I was in my gluttonous glory just absorbing it all!

I bought some Bazooka gum (sugar and all, I'm sorry to say) because the writing on the wrappers was in Hebrew.  I bought some cotton candy (more sugar, virtually nothing but sugar) because it was made by Manischewitz (which has a very special place in my heart after inviting me to be a semi-finalist in its 2nd cook-off) and the container would be perfect -- priceless! -- for bringing lunch items to work.  (I have a very strong sense of whimsy, it seems.)  I bought chocolate-covered matzahs, because that's one of my favorite Pesach (Hebrew for "Passover") foods and the price was better at One Stop than I find it to be in Ann Arbor.  And I bought another box of my beloved Alef Beis (alphabet) cookies so that I can not only have a treat to enjoy with cocoa or with tea, but so that I can practice reading Hebrew by forming words with the cookies ... my equivalent to eating Alpha-Bits or alphabet soup and playing with my food!  I even bought a container of something called "Whip," which is a non-dairy cream.  In order to make baked goods that are pareve [PAHRv] -- neither meat nor dairy -- for my Jewish friends who keep kosher, as well as being able to provide treats for one who has a dairy allergy, I use Earth Balance vegan butter substitute and soy milk or yogurt; but now I can melt some pareve chocolate chips with Whip and even make a glaze or ganache or frosting, as well.  It takes so little to make me happy ... :)

And then, once we got back home, it was on to my food for the Oscars.  I'm not much of a t.v. fan, but will admit to watching the occasional movie on Turner Classics (usually an MGM musical), baseball (lots of baseball ... lots and lots of baseball!), the Tonys, "Monk," and the Oscars.  I care a bit about who wins the awards, but not a lot since I usually haven't seen many of the movies.  But I love to see the clothes, even though I know this makes me seem very shallow and inane ... oh, well, we all have our moments.

For the show, I offered a buffet with not much of a theme other than simply not requiring any utensils -- I'm not Wolfgang Puck, after all, making Oscar-shaped pumpernickel bread toasts with lox or mini gold leaf-covered chocolate statues!  (In a previous life, I might have tried; but now ...?)  We ate a tropical chicken salad (minced chicken, papaya, pineapple, toasted coconut, and a curried coconut milk sauce to kinda/sorta/maybe bind it together) dolloped onto crispy rice crackers, fruit, an assortment of vegetables for dipping, some exceptionally good salt-and-pepper kettle cooked potato chips, and an experimental dip for which I should win some sort of prize:

1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon each cumin and paprika
1/2 teaspoon Ras el Hanout -- a Moroccan spice blend
a splash of Tabasco
a pinch of kosher salt
a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon of my new favorite condiment -- Polish Mustard From Hell

And I made peanut butter cookies -- adding both chopped honey-roasted peanuts and peanut butter chips -- because ... well, who needs a reason???  They're fabulous, soft, crumbly, rich, delicious, and addictive.  It's sort of surprising that there are any left, but then I did bake a lot of them ....

So, that was my Sunday -- eating food, buying food, making food, eating more food.  Not a bad way to end the weekend!

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Babette's Feast"

"Babette's Feast" is one of my very favorite movies, and watching it is on the "to do" list for my boyfriend and me because Tom hasn't seen it yet (which surprised me greatly when I learned that).  Yeah, I took it out of the library, oh, maybe 2 weeks ago; and we keep saying "We need to watch this" ... but it doesn't seem to happen. 

But it needs to, because this movie addresses issues of great interest to me -- belief in God, how best to worship (austerity and asceticism vs. gratitude for bounty), sacrifice and obligation ....  And, obviously, there is the sumptuous porn of the food in the feast of the title!  Needless to say, I vote for relishing abundance (while also seeking better distribution of resources such that the "no need for ... hunger" that John Lennon sang about might one day come true).

We've just celebrated Purim, and been immersed in the requisite hamantaschen.    Every year, there are debates about the merits of sugar cookie dough vs. yeast dough, of poppy seed filling vs. prune ... and why???  They're cookies -- enjoy!  Don't make some of them feel rejected because they might not be your very favorites.  I can't imagine turning any of them down, unless I've simply eaten too many and am on the verge of a diabetic coma.

I've known people who don't like chocolate (gasp!!!), who won't eat orange food, who haven't liked cheese on pizza, who would only eat tuna salad with oily tuna that hadn't been drained, who won't eat chicken unless it's boneless, and who've told me they don't like foods that they haven't even bothered to try -- people with food issues are very, very high on my "naughty" list, unless they've got health or religious reasons to justify their refusals.  It's one thing if you CAN'T eat a particular food, but quite another if you CHOOSE not to ... especially if your whims are going to inconvenience others, and you seek to impose your will upon them.  Eat what's put in front of you, or hit the McDonald's drive-thru for a Big Mac if you're still hungry after playing with the food on your plate rather than eating it.

So, clearly -- after my disbelief at the prospect of rejecting any cookie, and after my rant about picky and particular people -- it should be clear that I am truly a Food Floozie to the depths of my Pooh Bear-like rumbly little tumbly.    (Watch my favorite Pooh scene, in which he tries to do some exercises: "Up, down, touch the ground, puts me in the mood/Up, down, touch the ground, in the mood ... for food!"

Any food -- from soup to nuts to chips to chocolate to cake to cookies to chicken to roast beast to salad to cheese -- has the potential to lure me in, singing a Siren song until I can no longer resist temptation.  I go on curry kicks, will eat Sander's milk chocolate fudge sauce (that my maternal grandmother used to bring as a gift when she'd visit us in NYC) straight out of the jar, obsess about Montmorency and Balaton cherries at the Farmers Market each summer, and generally spend far too many of my waking hours contemplating what I'm going to eat, how I'm going to prepare it, what newfangled treatment I can give it, and how much I enjoyed it.

I do consider fat or sodium or sugar contents, but then do my best to simply enjoy myself despite any warning signs; if I exercise moderation as a rule and am in good health, then I can certainly indulge my whims and cravings without regret.  Really, there are just too many wonderful, delicious things to eat in this world -- from fruits and vegetables to pasta and fish, and from Indian and Ethiopian to Turkish and Irish ... I wax rhapsodic, I effuse, I enthuse, and I relish the complete sensual experience that food provides.  It is not just about nutrients; food can truly be good for the soul.

And Girl Scout cookies only come around once each year, after all, so who am I to refuse ... or to only eat just one???

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