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Pumpkin Bran Muffins

With only two months left until we get to meet our little guy, I started a list of dinners, breakfasts, and baked goods I could make and freeze to have on hand after his birth. One of our favorite muffins is a banana bran muffin using this recipe, subbing white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose, brown sugar for the regular, and adding 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. I made two batches a few days ago that are now wrapped and stored in my freezer for a healthy snack or quick breakfast my first few weeks with baby Liam.

One baked good I’ve had a constant craving for most of my pregnancy is Starbuck’s pumpkin scones, and this copycat recipe is very good, though I like adding 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup to the glazes. After making the banana muffins, I had the idea to combine that recipe with the scone recipe to make a thick but fluffy pumpkin bran muffin with a light spiced glaze.

PUMPKIN BRAN MUFFINS
Yield: 24 muffins
Downloadable PDF of Pumpkin Bran Muffins

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together:
    • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 2 eggs
    • 6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 3 cups bran flake cereal
  • Set pumpkin mixture aside, letting sit for at least 5 minutes
  • In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together:
    • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
    • ½ cup brown sugar (sift to break up any lumps)
    • 4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
    • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
    • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture; mixture will be thick and fluffy
  • Fold in ½ cup chopped pecans
  • Use a cookie scoop to scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins
  • Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; mine were perfect after 22 minutes
  • Transfer to wire racks and allow to cool thoroughly before glazing
  • To prepare glaze, mix together in a small mixing bowl:
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 2 Tablespoons milk
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1 pinch ground ginger
    • 1 pinch ground cloves
    • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
  • Spread a light layer of the spiced glaze over all the muffins
  • Set aside until the glaze hardens
  • Either store in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to one week, or freeze for later consumption.

FREEZER STORAGE and THAWING INSTRUCTIONS

  • To freeze the muffins, place them unwrapped on the wire racks in your freezer until frozen through.
  • Once frozen, wrap each muffin in plastic wrap (I use cheap sandwich baggies, smoothing the excess air out and then tying the top of the baggie into a knot) and place in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Individually wrapping the muffins before placing in the freezer bag provides an extra layer against freezer burn as well as any unpleasant freezer odors should there be any in your freezer over time. One gallon freezer bag should easily hold 12 muffins.
  • Remember to label your freezer bag with the date and name of the food inside.
  • To thaw, simply remove the number of muffins desired from the freezer, unwrap from the plastic, and set in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight (to ensure the glaze doesn’t melt onto the plastic wrap.) Alternately, they can thaw on the counter top in a few hours’ time as well.
  • You can place a frozen muffin into your or your child’s lunch box in the morning and it should be thawed by lunch for an easy, nutritious, yet still slightly sweet treat.
  • If stored properly, the muffins should last up to 3 months in the freezer.

The batter is very thick but fluffy. Using a cookie scoop (mine is the capacity of 2 Tablespoons) is the easiest way to scoop the batter into the paper liners. The batter will not spread and bake up pretty; it stays in whatever form it’s in when put into the oven. While they may come out of the oven not looking as pretty as other muffins, the inside is very moist, thick, and fluffy. Top with the light spiced glaze, and you can’t tell they were the ugly ducklings of the muffin world.

Pumpkin Bran Muffins

Downloadable PDF of Pumpkin Bran Muffins

~Ingredients to nourish the body put together in ways to nourish the soul to share with family and friends to nourish the heart~

Corn Casserole

I’m trying out a new routine for three reasons.
One: yesterday was our first 100 degree day of the summer, and we have many summer days to go,
Two: I hate spending the evening cleaning up after making a big meal,
Three: hubby and I are lucky enough to both work at home every day.

The new routine? I am making lunch our big meal of the day (dinner, as my grandparents called it). I can use the oven or stove top as needed before the temps outside rise to the unbearable heat of the afternoon, and the cleanup after the big meal is done early in the day. We’ll have our lighter meal in the evening (what my grandparents called supper), consisting of big leafy salads filled with chopped veggies, hummus with pita bread and veggies, sandwiches, and anything else easy, fresh, and not requiring any heat preparation.
Corn Casserole
Corn casserole, Lemon Pepper Chicken, Tomatoes with Olive Oil

Today’s big noon-time meal was baked lemon pepper chicken (pre-seasoned and put in the oven straight from the freezer), fresh cherub tomatoes cut in half, seasoned with a tad of salt and drizzled with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil, and freshly baked corn casserole. I don’t know why I’ve never made corn casserole before. It was so creamy, gooey, and pure sweet deliciousness. I am giddy to have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, and that’s saying something since I haven’t been able to stomach leftover anything since being pregnant. All-in-all, today’s meal was a complete winner. Dessert was a nice helping of fresh cantaloupe and strawberries to finish the meal.

CORN CASSEROLE
Adapted from Paula Deen’s recipe on foodnetwork.com
Downloadable PDF of Corn Casserole recipe

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together the following:
    • One 15 1/4-ounce can whole kernel sweet corn, drained
    • One 14 3/4-can cream corn
    • 1/2 cup full fat sour cream
    • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
    • 1/4 cup margarine, melted (I used Smart Balance Light with Flax Oil)
    • 1 8-ounce package Jiffy brand corn muffin mix
  • Mixture should be a creamy consistency
  • Pour evenly into a greased 9×13 baking dish
  • Place in oven and bake 45 minutes or until edges turn a golden brown
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle top with 3/4 to 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, just enough to lightly cover the top
  • Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes, until cheese is melted
  • Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before cutting to serve

I tried to lighten the recipe just a tad while maintaining the flavor, which is why I used nonfat Greek yogurt for half of the sour cream in the original recipe, as well as using half the butter, subbing in Smart Balance butter for the rest. I also didn’t put a ton of cheese on top – just enough to lightly cover the casserole. Trust me, there was no sacrifice in the flavor! It was so bright and fresh, gooey and delicious. The cheese didn’t overpower the rest of the dish in any way (because I hate it when cheese smothers the rest of the flavors). It was a perfect balance of flavors in an easy side dish to go along with the rest of the meal.

Corn Casserole

Downloadable PDF of Corn Casserole

And, in other news…we found out we’re having a boy! I’m so excited! With two stepdaughters, having a boy makes this experience a first for hubby, which is awesome. His name is Liam Edgar. I can’t wait to see his little face and hands and feet in about 18 weeks.

~Ingredients to nourish the body put together in ways to nourish the soul to share with family and friends to nourish the heart~

There’s a reason I haven’t been sharing many new recipes or foods on the blog lately. Truth be told, I have lost interest in most foods the last few months. As my doctor said, “there’s definitely a baby in there!” We’re having a baby (!) and… I’ve pretty much quit cooking. Turns out, as exciting as pregnancy is, the first trimester food aversions have turned my food life upside down.

So now that the thought of preparing any food is enough to make me gag, what have we been eating? Here’s a list of my top (or should I say only?) first trimester survival foods:

  • Raw almonds
  • Almond butter and all natural strawberry fruit jam on whole wheat bread
  • Egg salad with finely chopped celery and tomato folded in, on whole wheat bread
  • Mango smoothies made with fresh mango, frozen pineapple juice concentrate, and plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • Bananas
  • Tillamook brand smoked cheddar cheese (or any Tillamook cheese, really) with Dr. Kracker brand seeded spelt flatbread crackers
  • Whole wheat bread toasted, spread with Nutella and topped with fresh, sliced kiwi
  • Frozen battered fish fillets served alongside whole wheat macaroni & cheese (seriously, this has been on our weekly dinner rotation for a few weeks now)
  • Beef, particularly:
    • bacon-wrapped filet mignon prepared at home
    • Texadelphia Founder’s Favorite (without jalapenos) – a Philly sandwich made with beef, grilled 0nions, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and smothered in the most addictive mustard sauce around (a one-time splurge, but I crave it about once a week)
    • Freddy’s steakburger with cheese and onions only, no condiments (my meal directly after our first doctor’s appointment, and it couldn’t have been yummier, though I doubt I’ll get another anytime soon)
  • Anything potato: baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, hashed brown potatoes, french fries, sweet potato tater tots
  • Total brand bran cereal
  • Hot ginger tea with honey
  • (LOTS of) nonfat organic milk
  • (LOTS of) water with lemon

Thankfully the food aversions are starting to go away with the close of my first trimester, because I’m still dreaming about the barbacoa taco I had at Torchy’s Tacos last week, and the better-than-grandma’s food at The Goodnight Diner in Wimberley, where we split pierogies filled with pork and topped with a paprika mayonnaise, followed by the most delicious dinner of chicken fried steak, bacon-braised turnip greens, and mashed potatoes. If you are ever in Central Texas, go to The Goodnight Diner in Wimberley. It is comfort food amped to a whole new level of delicious.

~Ingredients to nourish the body put together in ways to nourish the soul to share with family and friends to nourish the heart~

Baked Salmon over Pasta with Vegetables

I finally own matching dishware for a service for 12! I was ecstatic the day I brought them home. Hubby, however, just wanted dinner because it was late by the time I brought the new dishes home. I threw dinner together while I washed a couple of my new salad plates to serve it on.

The dinner was incredibly tasty for something so quick and easy. So much so, that I’ll definitely be making it again sometime when we have the kids. They’ll love the pasta and veggies, and they’re always asking when we’ll be having salmon again because it’s one of their favorite foods. Besides, when “my stepmom’s good food” makes one of your kids’ required “things I like” lists for school, how can you not make them what they like?

BAKED SALMON OVER PASTA WITH VEGETABLES
Serves 2; can be doubled easily to serve more

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees
  • Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stovetop
  • Line a baking sheet with foil
  • Place 2 6-ounce salmon steaks on foil, skin side down
  • Drizzle olive oillightly over the salmon, brushing it to coat all of the meat
    • I have rosemary and pink peppercorn infused olive oil my cousin made for Christmas that I love to use on salmon. I think it adds the perfect hint of spiciness and flavor.
  • Season the salmon generously with salt and black pepper
  • Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes per inch of thickness; I baked mine for 20 minutes
  • While salmon bakes, add 1 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni to the boiling water and cook according to package directions
  • A few minutes before the pasta is done, add 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables to the pasta and continue to boil
  • Once pasta and vegetables are done, drain and toss with 1 Tablespoon butter
  • Divide the pasta with vegetables evenly between two plates
  • Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons shredded Parmesan and cracked black pepper to taste over each serving of pasta and vegetables
  • When salmon is done baking and easily flakes with a fork, take a metal spatula and carefully remove the steak from the skin and place on top of the pasta with vegetables. I don’t grease the foil specifically so the skin sticks to the foil and the salmon steak slides right off the skin.

Baked Salmon over Pasta with Vegetables

The measurements for the pasta and veggies are an estimate. I had leftovers of already cooked macaroni in my refrigerator that I simply warmed up with some frozen vegetables in the microwave. This meal is incredibly easy and fast to put together. The Parmesan is a must with the pasta and veggies, really adding a punch of flavor. Be sure not to under-season the salmon before baking. You need that seasoning to enhance the flavor of the fish.

~Ingredients to nourish the body put together in ways to nourish the soul to share with family and friends to nourish the heart~

BBQ Chicken Taco

There’s a barbecue place in Central Texas that has this tasty little creation that every once in a while, I just have to have. Fuschak’s takes a tortilla, loads it with refried beans, brisket, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, cheese, and onions, and wraps it all up, creating the most delicious burrito, what they call a bar-burrito. When my hubby insisted we serve barbecue at our wedding because “otherwise it wouldn’t be a real Texas wedding,” I insisted we hire Fuschak’s to cater just so I could order myself a bar-burrito. They kindly delivered a handful of their delicious bar-burritos for hubby, my stepsister, and me.

The only problem about getting a bar-burrito craving is that I’m not about to hop onto IH35 and spend up to two hours in death-trap-like traffic just to get one. The only solution is to make our own version at home. And on Friday evening, that’s just what I did – except I switched the brisket for chicken and the white flour tortillas for whole wheat.

BARBECUE CHICKEN TACOS
Makes 6-8 tacos, serving size 2 per person
Downloadable PDF of Barbecue Chicken Tacos

  • In a large, deep skillet, add:
    • 1 pound chicken breast; I used a package of chicken breast tenders
    • 1 cup barbecue sauce; use more if needed – you want just enough sauce to simmer the chicken, but not so much that it covers the chicken. I used Jack Daniel’s Original No. 7 Barbecue Sauce
  • Bring the sauce to a boil, then cover and reduce heat, letting the chicken simmer until just cooked through and no longer pink, about 15 – 20 minutes
  • While the chicken cooks, prepare the beans:
    • You can use a can of refried beans, or you can use my method below for smashed pinto beans. I prefer the smashed pinto beans because canned refried beans are too dry and thick for my liking. If you make your own homemade beans, that would be absolutely perfect.
    • Drain just a bit of liquid from 1 15-ounce can pinto beans
    • Pour beans and remaining liquid into a medium saucepan
    • Using a potato masher, mash the beans into the liquid until they are all smashed, resulting in a creamy, slightly thick consistency.
    • Cook over low heat until just heated through, cover to keep warm and turn off heat so as not to burn.
  • While chicken and beans are cooking, finely chop half a small onion and set aside.
  • Set aside 1/2 cup shredded colby jack or cheddar cheese
  • Also set aside 1/2 cup barbecue sauce of your choice and 2 Tablespoons hot sauce of your choice, such as Tobasco.
  • When chicken is cooked through, turn off heat and shred the chicken using two forks. I shred it in the skillet.
  • Stir the chicken into the sauce remaining in the skillet, adding more if necessary to coat chicken, and heat through.
  • Heat 6 7-inch whole wheat flour tortillas by either wrapping in damp paper towels and steaming in the microwave until hot (30 seconds – 1 minute) or warming for 15-30 seconds per side in a dry skillet over medium heat.
  • To assemble:
    • Spread beans onto each tortilla
    • Place chicken on top of beans
    • Sprinkle shredded cheese over the chicken
    • Sprinkle on the finely chopped onion
    • Top with 1 Tablespoon or so of barbecue sauce and 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, give or take for your own preference
    • Fold tortilla and enjoy!

BBQ Chicken Taco

I’ll be honest – I forgot to put the hot sauce on mine and I was missing it. It adds that perfect kick to enhance all the flavors. They were not the Fuschak’s bar-burrito (chicken is not a replacement for slow cooked brisket!). But they were still really good – good enough to fulfill the craving. I’ll definitely be making them again, especially when I can talk hubby into firing up the charcoal grill to grill the chicken.

The girls loved these for dinner, without the hot sauce and onions, of course! And the leftover chicken was used for:

GRILLED SMOKED CHEDDAR SANDWICHES WITH SHREDDED BARBECUE CHICKEN

The next day the girls wanted grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I sliced some smoked cheddar, buttered some bread, used the leftover barbecue chicken, and made a tasty take on grilled cheese that was a hit with the kids.

Downloadable PDF of Barbecue Chicken Tacos

Are there any restaurant specialties you like to recreate at home? I’m always trying to recreate different dishes I had at restaurants, especially since we drastically scaled back how often we eat out, venturing to a restaurant only twice a month now.

~Ingredients to nourish the body put together in ways to nourish the soul to share with family and friends to nourish the heart~

Lemon Cream with Blackberries

I used to bake a dessert nearly every week, but I’ve grown tired of cupcakes, pies, brownies, cookies, and the like. I’ve always considered my family’s diet healthier than most, and we’ve continued that trend into 2012, modifying it a bit by cutting back on baked treats. My alternative, and our family’s new favorite dessert, is lemon cream with blackberries. It’s so lemony, perfectly sweet, and made with only four ingredients. It’s quick to throw together, easy to adjust, and can be made with whatever berries you prefer. It’s a lighter dessert that satisfies the sweet tooth without making you feel heavy or guilty.

LEMON CREAM WITH BLACKBERRIES
Serves 2
Downloadable PDF of Lemon Cream with Blackberries

  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the following, stirring until smooth:
    • 1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
    • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
    • 3-4 Tablespoons sugar, adjusting to your preference
  • Thaw 1 cup frozen blackberries in microwave using microwave safe bowl
  • Divide most of the blackberries (reserving a few) evenly between two clear glasses
  • Top the blackberries with the lemon cream, dividing it evenly between the glasses
  • Spoon the reserved blackberries over the top, letting the juice drip down the lemon cream
  • These can be made ahead of time and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to eat, or you can serve them immediately.

The lemon zest and juice add a wonderful fresh, brightness to the cream. The Greek yogurt turns very smooth and creamy with the lemon juice whipped in, making it taste like fresh lemon cream once you’ve added just the right amount of sugar. I tried it with thawed frozen strawberries last night. It was good, but I prefer the blackberries. They’re so dark, adding a beautiful color contrast to the cream, and they’re not too sweet or too tart. I think tonight I’ll be trying this with blueberries! Blueberries and lemon are always a tasty combination…

Downloadable PDF of Lemon Cream with Blackberries

While I haven’t been blogging much (a two-month hiatus!), follow me on Pinterest to see all the recipes I’ve been collecting from around the web and the ones I’ve tried!

Are you eating healthier foods in 2012? We’ve added legume night to our weekly menu. Last week I made these vegetarian “Snobby Joes” recipe from The Post Punk Kitchen and they were awesome served on steamed, buttered whole wheat hamburger buns.

What are your favorite healthier desserts? It’s fair to say this lemon cream with berries has become my new favorite. Or sometimes I simply want a glass of chocolate milk for dessert :-)

Any new favorite health websites or blogs in 2012? I have been enjoying the posts by Heather Morgan at her Muffin Top Makeover blog. She’s hosting a virtual Healthy Living Book Club with a different book each month in 2012. Check it out!

~Ingredients to nourish the body put together in ways to nourish the soul to share with family and friends to nourish the heart~

Thank you for everyone’s support and prayers for my baby great nephew! His surgery was successful! He is still in the hospital, in recovery, but his sweet mom finally got to hold him a couple of days after the surgery and he has an amazing team of nurses, doctors, and specialists looking after him.

Beef and Barley Stew
Beef and Barley Stew

I am going to discuss a practice this week that I rarely take part in: Freezer Meals. Even when I had a busier schedule, I only made freezer meals a couple times a year. But for many families, they are very helpful, and on occasion I find myself wishing I froze more meals in advance, for days when I’m too tired or sick to deal with the prep work of a meal, or days when our schedule is just plain hectic. I love having a freezer meal option on days when we tackle big house projects, like painting. All the energy spent on home improvement zaps any desire to stand in the kitchen and cook!

This past Saturday, I spent the entire day in the kitchen on a sudden whim to prep as much as possible for the week’s upcoming meals. In one day I made or prepped:

  • Beef & Barley Stew (can be frozen, but I left mine in the refrigerator for Sunday’s dinner)
  • Chimichurri marinade for salmon steaks
  • Two Chicken & Spinach Pasta Casseroles
  • Chicken Tikka Masala (chicken boiled & cut, but meal assembled the next day for lunch)
  • Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
  • Green Chili Pork Stew (chopped meat & veggies, all frozen in separate freezer bags, then stored in one larger freezer bag, prepped and ready to be thrown in the slow cooker another day)
  • 8 cups of chicken broth, divided into portions.

That’s seven meals ready to go, plus a full 8 cups of chicken broth to have on hand for soups, stews, casseroles, and so on. I also restocked the cheeses in my freezer. I buy shredded cheeses in bulk for a lower unit cost, divide them into 1-cup portions, and freeze them. I always keep monterey jack, colby jack, cheddar, and mozzarella on hand for casseroles, enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas, lasagna, etc.

Beef and Barley Stew

BEEF AND BARLEY STEW
Serves 4; Stew can be doubled so half can be served immediately and half can be frozen
Downloadable PDF of Beef and Barley Stew

  • This stew can be frozen in individual portions and reheated in a microwave safe bowl or on the stovetop
  • Use frozen stew within 2-3 months
  • Options for freezing and reheating:
    • Freeze portions in individual freezer & microwave safe dishes, topped with foil, then tight-fitting lid. To reheat in the microwave straight from freezer, remove foil, vent lid, and thaw using the microwave’s defrost setting. Once stew and container have gently defrosted enough, microwave at 50% power for 2 – 4 minutes, stir stew, then microwave at full power an additional 1 – 2 minutes until thoroughly hot. Let sit for a minute, stir, then serve.
    • Freeze portions in individual sized freezer plastic bags. To reheat in the microwave, tear the bag away from the frozen stew, place frozen stew in microwave safe dish and follow above instructions. To thaw on the stovetop, tear bag away from frozen stew, place frozen stew in a saucepan, and heat over medium low heat until thawed. Increase heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes until stew is heated through and steaming hot.
    • Freeze one batch of stew in a large freezer safe container. To reheat, place container in refrigerator 24 hours before you want to serve the stew (the night before serving). Pour thawed stew into stock pot and reheat over medium heat, simmering at least 5 minutes, until heated through and steaming hot.
    • When putting a dish straight from the freezer to the microwave, I ALWAYS use the microwave’s defrost setting to thaw the dish and food gently. Many dishes will crack or even explode if exposed to extreme temperature changes so ALWAYS be careful.
  • In a large stock pot, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat
  • To the hot oil, add: 3/4 pound beef stew meat, cut in bite size pieces
  • Sprinkle stew meat with salt and black pepper to season while browning
  • While meat browns, dice 4 large carrots
  • Add diced carrots to browned meat and saute 4-5 minutes
  • To the carrots and meat, pour in 32 ounces low sodium beef broth
  • Add 1/2 cup barley to the soup
  • Stir in 12 ounces cream of mushroom soup (I use Pacific Organic brand, which has a wonderful, rich flavor)
  • Bring soup to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low
  • Simmer for 30 minutes or so
  • Serve immediately, or cool to freeze
  • Cool soup thoroughly in refrigerator before freezing
  • Divide into desired freezer-safe containers, label with date, name of meal, and reheating instructions, and freeze.

Beef and Barley Stew

This is one of my all time favorite stews for fall and winter. It’s so rich and hearty with very few ingredients. It freezes and reheats well, so it’s easy to double a batch and freeze half for later. I have been known to freeze portions of stews in individual microwave safe containers, take them to work, and heat them for lunch. They make an easy and filling homemade lunch at the office.

Remember to always, always ensure your dishes are microwave and freezer safe, and never subject them to sudden, extreme temperature changes for your safety. Exploding dishes are very dangerous. Also be sure to reheat food thoroughly, to steaming hot, to avoid food-bourn illnesses. Never freeze partially cooked meat. Freeze it raw, or fully cooked, never partially cooked. When in doubt, consult the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service’s website on Freezing and Food Safety.

Downloadable PDF of Beef and Barley Stew

~Ingredients to nourish the body put together in ways to nourish the soul to share with family and friends to nourish the heart~

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