New Years Resolutions

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Personally, I think New Years Resolutions are kind of crappy. They had to be invented by a procrastinator. I mean really, what is the point in waiting until the beginning of a new year to do something that you're perfectly capable of doing now? Nothing. You just want to procrastinate so when you remember that you need to lose weight sometime around the holidays, you think "Oh, that can be my New Years Resolution" when what you're really saying is that you sure as hell aren't going to avoid cookies and cakes over the holidays, so damn it, you're going to procrastinate and cram as much junk food in your mouth between now and December 31st at 11:59 PM before you grudgingly get your ass to the gym or dust off the Wii Fit.

And really, how often do you keep your New Years Resolutions? Yeah. I thought so. If I had a dollar for every resolution that I didn't keep, well, I'd have a lot more money than I currently have.

But if you don't make a resolution or two or twenty people will inevitably ask you what it is and then you have to say "oh I don't have any." and the person doesn't think "wow this person is so great that they don't need to improve anything in the new year" they think "Lazy! Cheater! How dare this person not make a resolution!"

So, being the procrastinator that I am, of course I have resolutions for the new year. But, cunning genius that I am as well, I've decided I'm not going to call them resolutions and they aren't just happening because its a new year. I know, I know, you wish you came up with this genius scheme all on your own. Its okay, I'm sharing my awesome idea with you and I won't be offended if you claim it to be your own.


Losing Weight: The most common and rarely ever kept resolution of the new year. You wake up on January 1st, march your ass to the gym and damn near die on the treadmill. Knowing that you can't give up in just a day, you stick it out and continue going to the gym for about a month before you say F it and give up all together. Then when spring rolls around and you need to think about your flabbiness in a bathing suit, you curse yourself for not having more motivation, more drive, and damn it why the hell did I eat a Big Mac yesterday! I'm all too aware of the cycle of losing weight.

But, this time I really think I can convince myself that its necessary to exercise and actually lose weight. I'm getting married on September 17th. So, I have 8 months to shed as many pounds as possible and tone up all bits of flabbiness before my final dress fitting and walking down the aisle. To all of you people out there reading this and thinking 'stupid women only want to lose weight before their wedding so they look good; they should want to look good all of the time. The wedding shouldn't be the cause." well, you're wrong. I could not lose a pound and my dress would still fit and my arms wouldn't look like deflating balloon animals. However, I actually enjoy eating healthier foods (stop laughing. I really am serious.) and I'm well aware that unless I get taller (not gonna happen) that it's a bit hard to find jeans that actually fit me considering I'm 10 lbs overweight, which all currently resides in my stomach. So, I could spend $20 on each pair of jeans at the tailor, or I could lose weight. I'm cheap, so loosing weight is the better option for me.

Quitting Smoking: Yes, I picked up this lovely little habit. Honestly, I'm not sure why I started smoking anymore. I broke up with my high school boyfriend the summer after we graduated and bought a pack of cigarettes. At first, it was just smoking when drinking, but then came that little issue of not actually finishing a pack in a night, so then I'd be stuck smoking the rest of them to avoid wasting money or having the cigarettes go stale. I've quit a few times and picked it back up again for random reasons. I've noticed if I have a boyfriend that smokes, I have no desire to quit smoking. So try having a fiance that works for a cigarette company, that smokes, and that you live with. Yeah, right, you try quitting then!

A few weeks ago, Tom decided that he didn't want to order more cigarettes and he wanted to quit. I had the tentative plan to quit smoking on the last day of our honeymoon because all of the wedding stress would be behind us (read: me). So, he didn't order any more cigarettes. I slowly watched the cartons decrease down to 1 and then finally, Tom was completely out of cigarettes. He smokes a pack a day and a pack lasts me 2-3 days, so the obvious solution was for him to smoke my cigarettes until they were all gone and we'd quit together.

Well, that day appears to be tomorrow...maybe. Tom took the last pack last night. I still have 7 cigarettes left. Which means that my last cigarette will probably be tomorrow morning on the way to work. Honestly, I don't mind quitting. Living in Maryland, its rather tempting to quit once it gets cold outside. Really, who wants to stand outside in 30 degree weather with 15 mph wind gusts and smoke a cigarette? Yeah, not me!

So, although they are not resolutions per say, they are "things I'm going to do this year".

What are yours?

Reeses Pieces Cookies

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This was a completely random recipe. The recipe on the back of the Reeses Pieces wanted oatmeal cookies and I didn't feel like doing that; plus I had used the rest of the shortening on the Chocolate Caramel Cookies.
So I decided to randomly make my own cookie dough. Its pretty similar to chocolate chip cookie dough because I figured that would work best. I don't actually have a chocolate chip recipe, I just use the one on the back of the chips. I was too lazy to look one up, so I just added the basic ingredients until it looked right.

Reeses Pieces Cookies
Source: A Cookaholic Wife Creation 
Servings: 4 dozen

Ingredients:
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
    • 3/4 cup white sugar
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • Reeses Pieces minis
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cream butter and sugar together. Add vanilla and eggs and mix well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda. Stir to combine.
4. Slowly add flour into creamed mixture, about 3/4 of a cup at a time.
5. Pour 1/2 bag of Reeses Pieces into a bowl. 
6. Drop teaspoon sized balls of dough onto the cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until slightly brown.
7. Press Reeses pieces into cookies. Work quickly!
8. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then cool for 10-15 minutes or a wire rack.

I tried some of these by adding the pieces onto the dough before I baked it, but I didn't think they turned out as pretty looking. They kind of melted into the dough and the colors spread.

Chocolate Caramel Sugar Cookies

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There is about 2 foot of snow on the ground. Since I'm a great procrastinator and I don't feel like shoveling out my car or cleaning the bathroom, I decided to bake cookies.

When I was at the grocery store last week I saw Hershey's Kisses with caramel in the middle. I bought them and wondered if I could turn them into a cookie. I used a basic sugar cookie dough.


Chocolate Caramel Sugar Cookies 
Source: A Cookaholic Wife Creation 
Servings: 4 dozen 
Printer Friendly

Ingredients:
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 1/2 scant cup shortening
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1 bag Hershey's Kisses with Caramel
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Grease baking sheets.
3. In a mixing bowl cream butter, sugar and shortening.
4. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well.
5. Combine flour, baking soda and baking powder into a separate bowl and stir to combine.
6. Gradually mix the flour mixture into the creamed mixture; about 3/4 of a cup at a time.
7. Roll dough into a ball and place it on parchment or wax paper. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
8. Unwrap 48 of the kisses.
9. Roll dough into teaspoon sized balls and place on cookie sheet. Press down to flatten.
10. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes or until edges are slightly browned.
11. Take cookie sheets out of the oven, place kisses in the center of each cookie. Don't press down too hard or the kiss will go through the cookie. Work quickly!
12. Put cookies back in the oven for 1-2 minutes.
13. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before cooling on wire racks.

I ended up with 46 cookies. A few were a little on the larger side so I probably could have gotten 50 some cookies from this recipe. I tried adding the kiss half way into baking but it melted through the cookie and left a mess on the cookie pan, so you're definitely better off  adding them at the end. You could also stick them in as soon as the cookies come out of the oven but I'm too impatient for that.

Weekly Dinner Breakdown

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Okay, so I lied. I never came back and edited the last post. I realized it wasn't really a good week to show a breakdown because we have two Christmas parties this week and I wouldn't be cooking dinner. But I realized that after I planned out meals for the week. So, since I have the information I'll break it down based off what we were 'supposed' to eat.

Here's is how to have dinner for 6 nights (3 people) for under $50.

Sunday - Minestrone Soup
Celery $0.99
Carrots $1.29
Cabbage $0.89
Macaroni $1.99
Stewed tomatoes $1.00
I added in a package of beef cubes that were $3.25. So $3.25 + $6.16 for the vegetables  =  $9.41

Monday - Chicken Cordon Bleu w/ french fries and corn
Chicken breasts (3)  $3.48 (I got more meals out of the chicken than I expected when I wrote $5.12 in the previous post)
Swiss cheese  $3.10 for 1/2 lb.
Ham $3.77 for 1/2 lb.
French fries $1.00 (I used half a bag that was $2)
Canned corn $1.00
Total for meal: $12.35 However, we didn't use all of the ham or cheese, they both also made two sandwiches.

Tuesday - Lasagna
Ground beef $1.71 ($13.65 for 8 meals)
Lasagna noodles $0.75 ($1.50 for the box, used half)
Tomato sauce $1.00
Tomato paste $1.00
Ricotta cheese $1.50 ($3 container, used half)
Eggs (2) $0.22 ($2 carton of 18 eggs, $0.11 each)
Mozzarella cheese $1.50
Excluding the cost for spices like garlic, oregano and parsley = $7.68

Wednesday - Cajun pork chops with roasted potatoes and green beans
Pork chops (3) $3.25
Potatoes (5) $0.60 (I'm estimating 20 potatoes were in the bag)
Canned green beans $1.00
Excluding cajun seasoning, butter and salt $4.85

Thursday - Steak and mushroom teriyaki
London broil roast $5.00
mushrooms $1.99
teriyaki $1.15 (half the bottle, $2.29)
onion $0.30
Udon noodles $1.99
Excluding oil $10.43

Friday - Grilled cheese
Potato bread $1.00 ($1.99 loaf, 5 sandwiches)
American Cheese $0.55 (5 slices)
Excluding butter $1.55

Total cost for the week $46.27. Honestly, I never did the math on this before and I'm pretty damn impressed. We feed 3 people 6 meals for the same price as two people going out for dinner one night.

I think I'm going to start doing this weekly to see what the average is in a month.

Impressive!

Dinner on a Budget

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I'm a really strong believer in homemade or homecooked food vs. fast food and packaged meals. If I wanted the same nutritional value as a piece of cardboard covered in salt, well then I'd eat a piece of cardboard covered in salt.

That's not to say that we don't ever order food in, but it is rare. Its usually once a month we'll decide that we really want pizza, Chinese food, sushi or something similar. On average, I make dinner 5 nights a week. Sunday is usually a meal requiring more difficulty than what goes on during the week. Monday-Wednesday includes meals that can take up to an hour to prep/cook. Thursday and Friday are my "off-but-still-cooking" days because I do the cleaning and there's no reason to spend more time in the kitchen when other rooms need attention too. Saturday is affectionately known as "fend for your damn self".

We have a pretty strict budget for the grocery store. To feed 3 people for 7 days, we have $140 a week. That is a bit high, compared to some people and I know if we stopped buying soda, juice and chips, we could stay significantly under that. However, that $140 also includes toilet paper, paper towels and misc. cleaning supplies that we need throughout the month.

I know it takes time, but each week before we go to the grocery store I plan out what I'm going to cook for the week (with input from Tom and C) and write out a grocery list with those ingredients. I look at the weekly circular to see whats on sale and sometimes get meal ideas from there. I'll also look on coupon.com and see if there are any worthwhile coupons. Doing this is 98% effective from picking up stupid stuff that we don't need at the store. And its also nice to not have to stand in front of the freezer staring at all of the stuff in it thinking "now what the hell am I going to make for dinner?" Instead, I have a little sheet of paper telling me what to cook.

Here's an example for this week:
Sunday - minestrone soup
Monday - chicken cordon bleu with french fries and corn
Tuesday - (actually I'll have to edit once I get home...I can't remember what the hell I'm cooking!)
Wednesday -
Thursday -
Friday -

Anyway, another money saving trick I have is to buy meats in bulk. I priced out our regular grocery store to a discount warehouse to a grocery store near my work. It turned out that the grocery store by work was the best. They always carry family sized packages and they even have deals like 5 for $20. Typically, their prices are 10-30% cheaper than other stores. The money for the meats also comes out of our grocery budget. When the freezer gets low, I take my $60 grocery contribution and put it towards meats. If we have extra money left over in the budget after shopping, the rest of it goes to me for extra meats. In this case, we had $120 I could spend because hardly spent anything the week before.

Here's the breakdown of what I bought today:
Family pack chicken breasts              $12.10      7 breasts
Family pack chicken breasts              $11.01      7 breasts
Family pack boneless pork chops      $11.23      10 pork chops
Custom pack fillet mignon                  $57.50       12 steaks
Family pack 80/20 ground beef         $8.65         4.23 lbs (approx. 4 portions)
5 for $20 boneless pork chops          $5.00         6 pork chops
5 for $20 london broil roast               $5.00         2.25 lbs.
5 for $20 london broil roast               $5.00         2.03 lbs.
5 for $20 london broil roast               $5.00         1.99 lbs.
5 for $20 80/20 ground beef             $5.00          2.79 lbs (approx 3 portions)
Beef stir fry                                       $3.44          1.52 lbs
Beef stir fry                                       $3.68          1.78 lbs.

Total Cost:  $ 128 and some change.

Okay so lets look at this in meal format. The chicken breasts are usually gigantic and half of the time I can butterfly them and make two meals. Say that doesn't happen at all though. Then I'd have 14 chicken breasts, 16 pork chops, 12 steaks, 7 1-lb. portions of ground beef, 2 stir fry meals, and 3 meals with the london broil. Then I divide the individual servings into meals. 14 chicken breasts will make 4 meals of 3 breasts and one meal with 2 breasts each. I only count the ones that serve 3.

So - 4 chicken, 5 pork, 4 steak, 7 ground beef, 2 stir fry, and 3 roast = 25 meals. $128/25 = $5.12 per meal. Thats not even PER SERVING!

Typically, I stay under $10 per meal and that includes the starch and vegetable...and that's for two men who eat a hell of a lot! Based off the meat purchases, you can see that we eat pretty well. Who else do you know eating fillet for that price? Honestly, its my favorite steak and I pretty much refuse to buy any other type. Any why should I if I'm getting 6-8 oz. of fillet for that price?

Once I get home tonight I'll do a complete break down of what the meals we're eating this week really cost.

I dare you to challenge yourself to this.

Cookie, Cookie, Cookie

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What do two back-to-back blogs mean? That I spent the whole day baking.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love shopping for presents, decorating the tree and house, entertaining and baking cookies.

Every year I make at least 4 types of cookies. It started off when I was 18 and decided that the premade frozen cookies weren't enough of a challenge. That year I baked chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar cookies and oatmeal cookies.

This year I decided to make chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter and snickerdoodle. I tried making the sugar and snickerdoodle yesterday with a recipe I found using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. The cookies turned out horrible!

For chocolate chip, I just use whatever recipe is on the back of the mini chocolate chips. I always use the minis because I think they taste better in the cookies. I add in anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup of applesauce to make them softer.

Peanut Butter Cookies - these also included whole wheat flour. I wasn't really impressed, honestly. I've made better peanut butter cookies. If you chose to follow this recipe, make sure to read the reviews. The cookies definitely burn in 6-9 minutes. The first batch I made burned in under 5. Maybe it was because the oven was already hot from making other cookies. The 2nd batch, I let the oven cool for 30 minutes before turning it on again and preheating for only 10 minutes before putting the cookies in. They were done in 8 minutes.

Snickerdoodle's - after my whole wheat flour fiasco, I went in search of a recipe using regular flour. I don't have almond extract so I just used more vanilla. I also think the dough could stand to be refrigerated overnight because even after 2 hours, it was still pretty sticky. I also mixed sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl and then shook the cookie dough around in that. And make sure your cookies are small. Like super tiny small. My first batch spread and ran together, even after flattening them out. I also ended up doubling the sugar and cinnamon to coat them in. Overall, I still wasn't super impressed. I have a cookbook at my moms house that I need to remember to take back. There was an awesome recipe for snickerdoodles in there.

Sugar Cookies - I used this recipe based off the ratings. I'm not a fan of using shortening, but I just wanted to make sugar cookies and get it over with. If you want to use cookie cutters, definitely freeze the dough for at least 20 minutes. I used cutters and a round glass to make the cookies. I don't typically frost them, but Tom had a dream he was frosting sugar cookies with his grandparents so I decided to try them that way. The best thing about this recipe compared to others is that the dough isn't sticky and goopy. It was very, very, manageable and didn't require tons of flour on the rolling pin and countertop.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

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I saw this recipe on a recipe blog by ladies on thenest.com. What in the world could be better than cookie dough and cupcakes together? In my world, not much.

This was my first time making the recipe and afterwards I noticed there are some changes that should occur, so I'm including those.



Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes 
Source: The Nest
Yield: 24 cupcakes
Printer Friendly


Ingredients:
    • 24 paper cupcake liners
    • 1 package (18.25 oz) plain yellow cake mix
    • 1 package (3.4 oz) vanilla instant pudding
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 18 oz. refrigerated cookie dough log
    • chocolate or vanilla icing

Directions:
1. Cut the cookie dough into 1/2 in slices, then cut in half. Put on a cookie sheet and stick in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, but up to overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 and line cupcake tins with the liners.
3. Put the cake mix, instant pudding mix, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla into a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the mixer, scrap down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and turn the mixer back on to medium speed and let run for 2 minutes.
4. Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners about 1/3 of the way full.
5. Put a chunk of the cookie dough on top of the cupcake.
6. Bake the cupcakes for 18-23 minutes. They should look a little undone and slightly golden. They will spring back if you touch them.
7. Cool the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes and cool on wire racks for 15 minutes. They might sink a bit in the center.
8. Once completely cool, decorate with frosting.

I can cook a turkey!

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Cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal from scratch is crazy. Honestly, I cook dinner just about every night but this was completely exhausting. So, if you ever take on the task of doing this, definitely give yourself two days. One for prep and one for cooking.

On Saturday I made the sugar coated pecans and the apple pie in the morning. For the pecans, you definitely need to double the egg whites. I needed 4 egg whites for 2 lbs. of pecans. I used vanilla extract instead of water and probably used more than the recipe said. I also used more than the called for amount of cinnamon. What can I say, I'm too lazy to measure everything.


For the apple pie, I used 4 Granny Smith apples and 5 small Gala apples. The crust was Pilsbury premade crust. I just used a sharp knife to cut out strips for the lattice top.

Once the baking was complete, I decided to chop up everything else necessary. 4 stalks of celery for the stuffing, 1 1/4 onions for the stuffing, and 1 onion for the green bean casserole. Since Tom picked up fresh green beans instead of the precut bagged ones, I chopped off the ends and tossed them into boiling water for 5 minutes and then put them into an ice bath.

Later in the evening I realized that George the Turkey still had some frozen spots, so I filled up the sink and stuck him in there, changing the water every 30 minutes until he wasn't frozen. I didn't want to chance leaving him at room temperature overnight, so he was dried off and wrapped up in two plastic bags and stuck back in the fridge.

At this point, I was exhausted already. I had baked, prepped as much as possible, cleaned the entire apartment and decorated the Christmas tree. I seriously don't recommend trying this...ever. Then I realized that I hadn't peeled the potatoes.

I peeled about 4 of them before Tom came in and decided he was going to do it for me. It was cute because I don't think he's ever peeled a potato in his life. I had to teach him how to do it.

Sunday I woke up 30 minutes after my alarm was supposed to go off and freaked out a bit because I was worried about George not being done on time. Tom removed the first bag of George's innards with no problems. Removing George's neck wasn't so easy. The neck fell out of the bag and we both looked at each other and yelled "GROSS!" before picking up tongs to remove his neck.

George was stuffed with a quartered lemon and orange and seasoned according to the recipe. I put him inside a cooking bag because I didn't want to have to deal with basting him.

45 minutes behind schedule, George went into the oven.

Stuffing: I forgot to take a picture before everyone started eating. If you use this recipe, you definitely need more than it calls for. To serve 12 with leftovers, I needed an extra 4 stalks of celery, another small onion, and almost 3/4 of a loaf of bread. Without it, the stuffing was maybe 1/2 inch thick in the pan. Following the recipe, I sauted the onions and celery and then promptly forgot that it would be hot as I shoved my hands into a large bowl to mix everything together. So fair warning: stuff that is sauted is hot!  Genius I know!


Mashed Potatoes: I definitely made more than we needed. I used a 5 lb. bag of all purpose potatoes. There were too many potatoes to cook in even our largest pot, so I filled it as much as I could and boiled those first. When they were done, I transfered the potatoes and the water to a large bowl and boiled the second batch. Once complete and drained, all of the potatoes went into the large pot to be mashed. I wanted to use milk, cream cheese, sour cream and chives. Somehow I completely forgot to add the sour cream. If you do this, just know that the potatoes will be pretty dense.


Green Bean Casserole: This stuff was awesome! Never again will I use the typical recipe with cream of mushroom soup. I really like cheese so I ignored the recipe calling for 1 cup of cheddar and added 1 1/2 cups instead. It turned out awesomely cheesy and delicious. I'm definitely going to start incorporating this into every day meals. Oh and I ignored the recipe and used French Fried Onions instead of stuffing.


Cranberry Sauce: Canned cranberry creeps me out so I wanted to try this. We definitely didn't need to use an entire bag of cranberries. The recipe called for sugar and orange juice. If I make this again, I'm going to cut the orange juice in half (or more) and add in water. The orange juice flavor came across almost as strong as the cranberry.

AND NOW FOR THE STAR OF THE SHOW........GEORGE!
Tom keeps telling me that I need to change George's name because a turkey can't be a boy, so fine....Georgia or G for short. So, G turned out really well. I was really worried about it. G is a Butterball turkey and their website says that a 19.25lb turkey should take 4-5 hours to cook. At 4 hours I checked G and the pop up timer I had inserted was up and the meat thermometer said 200 degrees. G was done! And had a very nice golden skin! My uncle carved G and said he was really impressed with how juicy and tender G was. So, now I know I can cook a turkey. Which is quite an accomplishment.

Everyone raved over the sugar coated pecans and I even had to write down the recipe for my mom and aunt. My cousin's boyfriend who refuses to eat just about anything even liked them, so I was happy.

And now, the pictures of how the tables were set for Christmas to eat Thanksgiving, just because I find it amusing!


This is Awesome

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So during my lunch break at work, I started posting about my hair and how we have a hate-hate relationship. I got sidetracked on TheKnot, starting at Salt's Blog, which then lead me to click on Brie's Blog, and finally I ended up here: Operation Beautiful.

And then I had to stop posting something negative. I'm sure at some point I'll come back and fill you all in on the lovely story of my hair and why we hate each other, but after reading Operation Beautiful, I just can't. It doesn't feel right.

Operation Beautiful is a genius idea. Who would have expected that something so small and simple could (and obviously has) made such a difference to so many people? If you happen to come across this blog and read this specific post, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to leave a note with encouraging words. This needs to be passed on.
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