One-Pot Dinner

Well, I made it through my first semester of Grad School with two A’s in my pocket and my kids are still alive!  Here are some tips for success, if you find yourself in a similar situation:

  1. Forget about cleaning.  I mean, do a quick wipe-down on a weekly basis…but if it’s between reading your chapters for the week, writing a paper, or scrubbing the toilet, you know where your loyalties lie.
  2. Reconcile yourself to the fact that your social life will not just go down the drain, but it will be plungered and flushed away.  You just won’t have time during the semester, so all your pre-grad-school friends will probably move on to other more available friends.  And when you do have a break between semesters, your time will be spent reacquainting yourself with your husband, whom you have ignored for the previous four months, and convincing your children you are more than just “boring mommy”.
  3. Cut your hair.  I was in the “growing-out” phase, but in the hard in-between time when it was too short to pull into a pony tail and too long to just let air dry without turning into a poofy mess.  So I went back to the choppy pixie crop.  Time management is all about priorities, and I gotta say, I love that my whole shower to make up to hair routine now takes 20-30 minutes tops.
  4. Get reading glasses.  You may not need them now, but by week 5, you will.  So go ahead and stock up at the dollar store now, so when it’s time to hit the books, you can keep on hitting without those pesky headaches.  And wearing glasses just adds to your short hair, making you look more academic.
  5. Lower your dinner expectations.  By a lot. Costco’s ready-made quinoa tabbouleh salad is my new go-to.  If I couldn’t pull dinner together in 10-20 minutes, it didn’t happen.

I also instituted a new dinner initiative.  Instead of making dinner to order like I used to do, for each little member of my family, I made one meal.  We now call it “Real Dinner”.  The little family members are required to have one bite of Real Dinner.  If they like it, they get to eat the rest of Real Dinner served to them.  If they don’t like it, they are not allowed to make gagging noises, say “I don’t like that”, or “But mommy, that’s gross”; they politely request a dinner substitution by saying, “No thank you, I would not like Real Dinner tonight.  Could I please have Prison Food?”  Upon which they receive one slice of bread (no butter, jam, or honey), and water.  This really works!  But, fair warning, it is really hard to keep a straight face while your children are politely asking for Prison Food.

I treated school like a full-time job (after my full-time mommy job, of course), so I set Monday through Friday as my work hours, and used Saturdays only if I was completely swamped.  This happened a few times, as my classes were doubled up the second half of the semester (I don’t remember much from the last 7 weeks).  I also had to use Saturdays as my long run days–I’m training for the Zion Trail Ragnar!  Saturdays were definitely a needed running outlet–kept everything balanced.

One-pot dinners are life savers.  I just had to try One Pot Spaghetti from Martha Stewart–I was really skeptical that noodles, water, fresh tomatoes, onions, and basil would all come together while in the same pot, but it was magic!  You really just throw everything together, and the tomatoes turn into a flavorful sauce, the onions cook down to a sweet note, and the basil keeps things peppery.  Need a 20 minute one-pot dinner?  This is it!

And now on to deep-cleaning my house.  My bathrooms are gonna sparkle this week like no other sparkle on earth!


ONE-POT SPAGHETTI

  • Servings: 4 bowls
  • Difficulty: easy
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From Martha Stewart’s One Pot Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

  •  1 12oz. box angel hair spaghetti
  • 12oz. cherry tomatoes sliced in half, or 6 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated on a medium ribbon grater
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients except for the grated cheese in a large pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently with tongs, until al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 10 minutes.
  2. Serve with grated cheese and a sprinkle of olive oil.

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Pesto Pasta with Pan-Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans

green bean potato pesto

I am drooling just looking at this meal; aren’t you?  Homemade Pesto?  Check.  Pasta?  Check.  Caramelized potato hash browns and green beans?  Check.

Pesto pasta with potatoes and green beans is an old Italian classic.  Traditionally, it is a one-pot meal, all boiled in sequential cook times then drained and stirred together with pesto.  I turn this into a one-pot, one-skillet meal, pan-roasting the potatoes and green beans in the skillet.  And, frankly, if I get hash browns out of the deal, I’m okay with a two-pot meal.


PESTO PASTA WITH PAN-ROASTED POTATOES AND GREEN BEANS

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound short pasta
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2-3/4 cup basil pesto

DIRECTIONS

  1. Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil.  Salt the water, add the pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. While the water is heating, coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and roast, stirring until all sides are golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the green beans and stir with the potatoes, until the green beans are golden browned.
  3. Drain the pasta, return to the pot, and add the potatoes and green beans.  Stir in the pesto.  Start with 1/2 cup, taste, and add more according to your taste.
  4. Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese, or nutritional yeast to keep it vegan.

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Sesame-Ginger Jackfruit: A Review

Sometimes I look at a fruit or vegetable, especially those with a really thick, barky exterior, and think, “How in the world did the earliest folks on earth decide this thing was edible?!”  Enter the Jackfruit:

693

What?!

I have exactly one cookbook that has one recipe in it using jackfruit.  The book recommends finding canned jackfruit in an Asian specialty grocery store, and, after reading that, I thought, “Well, there’s a zero chance I’ll be making and trying that recipe.”  You know how it goes, you read a recipe, and it’s either an “Ooooo, that’s gonna be gooooood!” moment, or a, “Um, yeah, I’m gonna pass on that one…” moment.

If you google this fruit, you’ll find some typical facts: It is native to Southeast Asia; on its own, its flavor is a mixture of apple, pineapple, mango, and banana; it is fibrous, and nutritionally speaking is full of fiber, rich in vitamin C, B6, potassium, calcium, iron, and its seeds are rich in protein.  It’s a powerhouse!  It’s traditionally eaten as itself, a fruit, in sweet applications, or the seeds will be cooked down and added to curries.

If you google The Jackfruit Company, you will discover an amazing company that has revolutionized the jackfruit, making it so accessible for your next quick weeknight dinner.  Forget the canned stuff and Asian specialty grocery stores!  Because of The Jackfruit Company, you can find this fruit in four different flavors and in ready-to-eat packages.  If you’ve had a busy day, you can still have Jackfruit BBQ sliders, Jackfruit TexMex tacos, Jackfruit Curry with rice, or a Sesame-Ginger Jackfruit Salad ready within minutes.

{As a side note, you’ll more likely find it in a “health food store” than a typical grocery store–for my local friends, I found it at Sprouts–but for only $5 for a 10oz package {which meant 4 meals for us!}, it might be worth it to find your nearest health food store and try it out.  Also, this item is in the refrigerated section, I found it around the vegan cheeses and tofu hot dogs.}

jackfruit stir fry 1

jackfruit stir fry 3

I decided to go with the Sesame-Ginger Jackfruit, and paired it with rice noodles and veggies for a delish stir fry.  I wasn’t sure how strong the already-sesame-ginger-flavored jackfruit would taste, and I didn’t want to overpower it with other flavors and seasonings, so I treated the veggies very minimally, just sautéed with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Feel free to make a stir fry with whatever veggies you have on hand; I sautéed broccoli, orange pepper, carrot, snow peas, and stirred the jackfruit, chopped cilantro and sliced green onion into the cooked, warm rice noodles.  Garnish with sliced cucumbers, and you have a happy bowl, happy belly.

jackfruit stir fry 2

jackfruitstirfry

I am definitely going back for more jackfruit!  I loved my experience–it was sweet, flavored and seasoned just right, and it worked perfectly with the veggies–it wasn’t too heavy, like meat can be, it wasn’t stringy, and didn’t get caught in my teeth.  This was the most melt-in-your-mouth stir fry I’ve had!  Thanks, Jackfruit Company!

Homemade Cupboard Pasta

If there’s anything I love using the rest of the squidgy remains from the bottom of the mixed greens bag, it’s for making homemade pasta.  Not all the greens are smooshy, but they are definitely more smoothy or pasta worthy vs. a fresh, crisp salad.  Homemade pasta is such an easy pull-together cupboard meal:  Homemade pasta isn’t as daunting as you might think, and there are a variety of toppings or sauces that will elevate your meal so no one will know it’s a pulled-together-cupboard meal.

Fresh: 2-3 cups mixed greens, a few sprigs of Italian parsley.  Cupboard:  butternut squash, yellow onion, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts {I keep winter squashes and onions in my pantry, and walnuts in my freezer, so I consider these “pantry items”}.

Things are always a little more fun when you have a pair of helping hands.

spinach pasta 1 spinach pasta 3

Roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, and toasted walnut gremolata…Who says a Cupboard Meal has to be a brown and tasteless meal stirred together from a box?

spinach pasta with roasted butternut squash 1spinach pasta cupboard meal


SPINACH PASTA WITH ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH, CARAMELIZED ONIONS, AND TOASTED WALNUT GREMOLATA

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium, for the homemade pasta
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I follow Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour Basic Pasta Recipe, adding sautéed mixed greens to the dough 

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTA

  • 2 cups spinach or mixed greens
  • 1 1/2 cups semolina flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

INGREDIENTS FOR THE ROASTED SQUASH AND GREMOLATA

  • 2 cups butternut squash, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Sauté the spinach or mixed greens until wilted, drain all excess liquid in a colander, pressing the greens to ensure all liquid drains.
  2. Mix semolina flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well int he center.
  3. In the blender, mix the spinach, eggs, water, and olive oil until blended to a smooth consistency.  Add to the semolina flour and stir together until a rough dough forms.
  4. Use all-purpose flour to cover the work surface and dump the dough out onto the flour and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and soft, not sticky.  You will add up to 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour into the pasta dough while kneading.  Once a smooth ball forms from kneading, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
  5. While dough is resting, prepare the butternut squash.  Coat the large skillet with olive oil again, heat on medium-high heat, and sauté the butternut squash until soft when poked with a fork and golden around the edges.  Set aside in a bowl.  Add olive oil to the same pan and add the sliced onion, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce the heat to low and cook the onion until golden and soft.  Add to the same bowl with the butternut squash and set aside.
  6. Press the dough through your pasta maker according to factory instructions.  Let the pasta dough rest on parchment paper and fill a large pot with water to boil.  Salt the boiling water; the fresh pasta will take just 3-4 minutes to cook.
  7. Drain the pasta and add the pan-roasted squash and caramelized onion with the pasta back into the large pot.
  8. Add just a sprinkling of olive oil into the large skillet, heat on medium, and add the walnuts and breadcrumbs, toasting quickly.  Off heat, add the parsley.  Toss all together with the pasta and squash.
  9. Serve with a sprinkling of olive oil, and extra gremolata toppings.

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First Time For Everything

My Number 1 Rule when I go out to a restaurant is to order something I don’t frequently make at home.  I have found, though, that there are fewer and fewer options I choose from, as I am willing to tackle almost anything in my own kitchen.  There has been one thing I haven’t tried yet…for the first time ever, I decided to tackle those shifty little potato pillows otherwise known as gnocchi.  “Gnocchi” means “dumplings” in Italian, and this girl is always up for a good dumpling.

I had some leftover broccolini in the fridge, so I decided to chop that up super tiny and make broccolini-potato gnocchi.  What could be better combination, right?!  I followed the recipe from Making Artisan Pasta, with the exception of adding the broccoli.  I was really concerned about adding too much flour, and having a tough, play-dough-tasting gnocchi, so I added just what the recipe called for, and worked it until just combined, as recommended.  I think I maybe should have added a little more, because they ended up incredibly delicate.

Simple ingredients:  potatoes, 1 egg yolk, finely chopped broccolini heads, flour, salt and pepper to taste.  I don’t have a potato ricer, so I googled “How to make gnocchi without a potato ricer”, and the best suggestion that worked for me was using the fine side of the grater.

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 1

gnocchi collage 1

Evenly divide the dough into six portions, then roll each one into little “snakes” and have your little sous chef cut up those little snakes into little squares.  He was a pretty happy sous chef.

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 10

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 11

gnocchi collage 2

I cooked up a fresh-made portion for dinner that night, and they cooked within 60 seconds tops, and were incredibly fragile and tender, maybe a little too tender.  The extra gnocchi got to sleep overnight in the freezer, to be homemade gnocchi at my fingertips for a lunch or dinner.  The next day I tried cooking up a portion, and became googly-eyed and nearly swallowed my tongue when the frozen gnocchi pretty much dissolved into a mushy potato blob the second they hit the boiling water.  Looking back, I wish I’d have taken a photo of that, because I can laugh about it now.  I decided to try cooking the next frozen portion like I would pan-fry a shu mai dumpling, and it worked pretty well, albeit a MUCH shorter cooking time.  I quickly threw together a yellow pepper ragú for the sauce, and sprinkled with sunflower seeds, and it was pretty much AH-MAZING.

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 13{frozen gnocchi}

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 15

gnocchi with yellow pepper ragu 14


POTATO-BROCCOLINI GNOCCHI

  • Servings: makes 70-80 gnocchi
  • Difficulty: medium-difficult
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Recipe directly from Making Artisan Pasta, with the addition of 3/4 cup finely chopped broccolini.  This book also explains which potatoes are better for making gnocchi and why.  I had Russets on hand, so that’s what I used; the book says Russets have denser flesh that requires less flour to thicken.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound (450g) large yellow potatoes (I used 2 large Russets)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons (6g) thinly sliced chives (optional)*
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Ground white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 pound (115g) unbleached all-purpose flour, Italian 00flour, or Korean flour (if using 00 or Korean flour, increase the amount to 5 ounces, or 140g), plus extra for rolling
  • *I omitted the chives and added 3/4 cup cooked, drained, and very finely chopped broccolini heads

DIRECTIONS

  1. Steam the potatoes in their skins, or boil them in salted water until tender but not mushy, about 40 minutes.  (Don’t peel the potatoes before boiling, as they will absorb too much water).  Drain well and cool them just long enough to be able to handle them, then peel the potatoes and put them through a potato ricer or food mill while still hot.  Chill the potatoes in the refrigerator.  (By chilling the potatoes, you will need less flour to make a dough firm enough to hold its shape when cooked.)
  2. In a large bowl or on a wooden work surface as shown, combine the potatoes with the egg yolk, chives (or finely chopped broccolini), salt, and white pepper.
  3. Form the potato mixture into a ring and place the flour in the middle.  Gently, using only your fingertips while patting and pinching, mix the flour into the potato mix to make a fairly firm mass that doesn’t stick to your fingers.
  4. Work until just combined, as if you were making a pastry dough.  The object here is to use the minimum amount of flour and to develop its gluten only enough to stick the whole thing together.  Rough handling will result in touch, gluey gnocchi.
  5. TIP:  Before shaping all the gnocchi, it’s a good idea to test 1 or 2 to make sure the dough is firm enough to hold its shape when cooked.  Try cooking a couple in salted boiling water.  if they fall apart, which usually happens toward the end of the cooking time, gently pat in an ounce or so (30g or so) of flour.
  6. Throw a little flour onto your work surface and gently roll the dough into a thick sausage shape.  using a bench scraper, or a knife with a flat blade, divide the dough into 6 portions.  Start rolling 1 portion at a time into a “snake,” starting from the center.  Use an up-and-down motion while moving your hands toward the outside.
  7. Roll each snake until it is about the thickness of your index finger and relatively uniform in diameter.  Dust each rope with flour and then roll again to even out the snakes.  Cut the dough into pillow-shaped pieces 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1 to 2 cm) long to make individual gnocchi.
  8. To cook, bring salted water to a boil in a wide, shallow pot.  Add the gnocchi, reduce heat to a light rolling boil, and cook he gnocchi until they float the the top.  Cook 2-3 minutes longer, or until the gnocchi are cooked through but still firm.  Skim them from the water using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon.  These gnocchi are too fragile to drain in a colander.  Toss gently with melted butter and grated cheese or other sauce, such as fresh tomato ad shredded basil with small cubes of fresh mozzarella, and serve immediately.
  9. NOTES: If desired, dust each piece lightly with flour and roll up from the cut edge in a C shape along the outside tines of a dinner fork to form ridged gnocchi.  Or, roll up on a ridged wooden gnocchi or garganelli board.  Set aside on a board dusted lightly with semolina or cornmeal without touching.  It is best to cook the gnocchi as soon as they are formed, as they will become sticky and soft as the flour is absorbed into the dough.  Alternatively, freeze the gnocchi.  Do not defrost before cooking.

YELLOW PEPPER RAGÚ

  • Servings: makes 1/2 cup sauce
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 carrot, diced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup vegetable stock (or cooking water from the gnocchi)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium.  Add the yellow pepper, onion, and carrot to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until just tender, about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Pour into a blender and add the parsley and start with 1/4 cup stock/water.  Pulse until you have the desired consistency and texture.  A chunkier sauce will require less liquid; a smoother sauce needs more liquid while blending.

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The Mighty Cruciferous

I know we’re always told to “Eat Our Rainbows”, and that usually white foods lack nutrients.  Usually.  Cauliflower is white, but one cup has tons of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, the B Vitamins, Fiber–in short, it’s a fantastic nutrient-dense choice to add to your dinner plate.

In combination with Potassium, Vitamin C, Magnesium, and Protein from Cannellini Beans, Potassium and Vitamin C from Yellow Onions, and Potassium from Garlic, your dinner plate will make for one happy and healthy meal.

cauliflower noodles ingredientsThis is a two-pot meal; one for the pasta, and a large sauté pan for everything else.  I love grating garlic on a medium-ribbon grater–it’s a quick and easy addition to your pot or skillet.

cauliflower noodles garlicStir together the pasta and cauliflower, add some julienned basil, and you have a big bowl of healthy happiness for your dinner table.

cauliflower noodles basilcauliflower noodles basil 2cauliflower noodles finished


PASTA AND PAN-ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

  • Servings: 4 large bowls
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut in florets
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3-4 large basil leaves, julienned

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. While pasta is cooking, coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium-high.  Sauté onion, cauliflower, and minced garlic with salt and pepper to taste.  Add 1/2 cup water while sautéing to help the cauliflower soften.
  3. When cauliflower is tender-crisp and the pasta is done cooking, drain the pasta and stir everything together, including the drained Cannellini beans in a large bowl.  To serve, sprinkle with basil and, if desired, grated parmesan cheese.

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Fav Red Sauce

I remember a few months ago starting to panic because I was making pizza for dinner, but had run out of red sauce from my freezer stash, and didn’t have any store-bought sauce in the pantry, and no car to go to the store.  And then I stopped dead in my tracks.  “Wait a minute!  Canned tomatoes?  Check.  Onions?  Check.  Garlic?  Check.  Herbs?  Check.  Well, then, get crackin’!”

Homemade red sauce isn’t too hard to pull together, and makes your meal so homey and warm.  It seems as though everyone has their favorite type of sauce–spicy, zippy, herby, and using their favorite herbs and spices.  This is a very basic red sauce–a great base–and if you prefer zippy or spicy, feel free to add your flare to the sauce!

If you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, the one tip I would give is to use quality canned tomatoes.  I’ve used the on-sale-store-brand-99-cent cans, and it’s ok, but if you can splurge and get the Cento San Marzano brand, your dinner will be ah-mazing.  The Cento tomatoes are sweet and rich, not as tinny as other canned tomatoes, so your sauce will reflect that flavor.  {My husband once asked if we could just plant the San Marzano Breed of tomato in our garden.  I guess we could if we lived in Italy.  Pompeii, to be exact.  San Marzano is a region in Italy downwind from Mt. Vesuvius, so the soil has been enriched over time from volcanic eruption(s), making the tomatoes the benefiters.}   red sauce 3Let everything simmer together in the pot for 30-60 minutes, blend with an immersion blender, or a “normal” blender, and voila–everyone will think you slaved over a hot stove for ages.

red sauce 2

red sauce 1


BASIC RED SAUCE

  • Servings: makes 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from The Italian Dish Blog

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, or 2-3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot and saute onions and garlic with salt and pepper to taste until the onions are soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and break up with your spoon.  Add the herbs, sugar, and half cup water, and reduce heat to low.  Let simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
  2. Puree the sauce in the pot with an immersion blender, or scoop into a blender and puree until desired consistency.

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