Cinque Terre, Italy

August 21, 2016

An Italian vacation can easily be filled with many amazing cities, but I was also sure to stop by a few small towns. Cinque Terre, which translates to Five Lands, is group of five coastal towns that are connected by rail (and pathways) along the northern coastline between Genoa and Pisa. Each town has it’s own character, but the common theme is that all the towns are very picturesque (and very crowded at this time of year). My favorite was the adorable town of Vernazza.

The largest and most crowded was Monterosso al Mare. It offered a lot more places to visit and services, along with a sandy beach (a rare thing in Europe).

Riomaggiore is one of the smallest, and has a very small harbor. The town extends upward into the hills. The train station was carved out of rock and is underground, connected to the town by a long tunnel.

We walked from town to town along the pathways. At times, the trails included some very steep climbs. For those who are not up to the challenge, there is a train, but the views were spectacular and worth the effort. Our trip to Cinque terre would have been incomplete without the trails.

Milan, Italy

August 13, 2016

After more than 5 years, I have been taking the summer off for a bit of traveling and to lose a little weight (17 pounds down, 3 more to go). I just got back from a wonderful vacation to Italy and Croatia. Our flight arrived into Milan, which was a beautiful blend of old and new. Milan is the fashion capital of Italy, and the heart of that fashion is the high-end Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The heart of Milan is its beautiful Piazza del Duomo, which has the main cathedral of Milan as well as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Sforza Castle is a castle dates from the 15th century, and has a museums of art by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangel.


Grilled Pizza

June 30, 2016

I understand what Cook’s Illustrated tried to do; make a gourmet pizza. Everybody loves gourmet pizza. Because the sauce is only lightly simmered, the recipe yields deliciously bright sauce. The end result was a delicious pizza. However, there are so many flaws that nobody should bother making this pizza. This recipe a complete disaster. Still, the pizza is 4-star, but so is pizza cooked in your oven.

Tasty, but not worth the extra trouble

Tasty, but not worth the extra trouble

FLIMSY DOUGH: The high-water content of this recipe makes the dough difficult to work with. For my first crust I press the dough out into an 12″x16″ oval, as called for in the recipe. But it was impossibly flimsy to transfer to the grill; even with my son holding the dough a few inches from the grill.

INCONSISTENT GRILL MARKS: The first pizza dough had great grill marks. While the recipe says to replace the lid will you prep the next pizza crust, the grill did not sufficiently reheat. I think the recipe should say to wait 5 minutes

WASTE OF TIME: Because the recipe makes three small-ish pizzas, and the recipe requires me to make each of the three pizzas one at a time. I ended up spending more than an hour outside; flipping, rotating, transferring; it’s far too fussy.

NO GRILLED FLAVOR: The recipe uses a strictly charcoal grill, mostly without the lid. The pizza has no smokiness. Aside from the grill marks on the underside of your crust, there is nothing that would make me think that the pizza was made on a grill.

BIG MESS: Of course I expect to dirty a sauce pan, pizza peel, grater and cutting board. But this recipe makes a much bigger mess than expected; a strainer, bowl, food processor, 3 baking sheets. In some case needlessly so. I am not sure why drain the tomatoes before putting them in the food processor, but it dirtied a bowl and a strainer.


  1. If you will use a gas grill, pre-heat by turning all burners to high, cover, and pre-heat for 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high during cooking, and maintain the cover down during the entire cooking process.

Rating: 4 star.
Cost: $11.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time: 5:00PM. Dinner time: 6:00 PM.

Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

Dough Ingredients:
3 cups King Arthur bread flour (16-1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
1-1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons ice water (11 ounces)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra for counter
1-1/2 teaspoons table salt

  1. Add flour, sugar, and yeast to a food processor and process for 2 seconds to combine. With processor running, slowly add ice water; processing 10 seconds until the dough is just combined and there is no more dry flour. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Add oil and salt to dough and process for 30 to 60 seconds. The dough will form a satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of bowl. Empty dough out onto a lightly oiled counter and knead for 1 minutes until smooth.
  3. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces (about 9-1/3 ounces each). Shape each piece into a tight ball, and set on a well-oiled baking sheet (or into well-oiled individual bowls). Lightly coat the tops with oil. Tightly cover with plastic wrap (being careful not to compress dough). Refrigerate for between 24 hours and 3 days.
  4. An hour before cooking the pizza, remove dough from refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature.

Sauce Ingredients:
14-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  1. Drain the juice from your can of tomatoes directly into a medium bowl.
  2. Put the whole tomatoes in a food processor, pulsing 12 to 15 times until they become finely chopped. Add to the medium bowl with the reserved tomato juice, olive oil, oregano, sugar, salt, and pepper flakes. Adjust seasoning with extra sugar and salt according to your taste, cover with Plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Pizza Toppings:
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 ½ cups)
8 ounces fresh whole-milk mozzarella cheese, torn into bite-size pieces (2 cups)
3 tablespoons shredded fresh basil
Coarse sea salt

  1. If you are using a charcoal grill; open the bottom and top vents halfway. Ignite a chimney starter 3/4 full of charcoal briquettes (about 4-1/2 quarts). When the top-most coals are partially covered with grey ash, empty into a ring around the perimeter of grill; leave an 8″ clearing in center.  Put cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow grill until to pre-heat for 5 minutes.
  2. While the grill is pre-heating, Put the sauce into a small saucepan, bring up to a simmer over medium burner. Cover and keep warm.
  3. Clean and oil cooking grate. Pour 1/4 olive oil cup oil onto center of rimmed baking sheet. Put 1 piece of dough onto baking sheet and flip to coat both sides of dough with oil. Use your fingertips and palms to gently press and stretch the dough to form rough 16″x12″ oval that is evenly thick. Use both your hands, carefully lift dough and put on the center of the grill. (Cooks Illustrated says the the dough will droop slightly to form half-moon or snowshoe shape, but in my case the dough fell apart. If yours also falls apart make the next pizza dough smaller and thicker)
  4. Cook over clearing for 2 to 3 minutes until grill marks form (covered if using gas) . Use tongs and spatula to carefully peel dough from grate, and rotate dough 90-degrees. Continue cooking until second set of grill marks appears, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Flip dough and cook (covered if using gas) the second side of dough for 2 to 3 minutes until is lightly charred in some spots. Using tongs or pizza peel, move crust to cutting board, inverting so side that was grilled first is facing down. Repeat the cooking process with remaining 2 dough rounds, adding 1 tablespoon oil to sheet for each round. Keep grill cover closed and allow to pre-heat for 5 minutes between pizza crusts.
  5. Evenly drizzle the top of 1 crust with 1 tablespoon oil. Evenly sprinkle 1/3 of Parmesan over pizza. Arrange 1/3 of mozzarella pieces, evenly spaced on pizza. Dollop 1/3 of sauce in evenly spaced 1-tablespoon mounds over entire pizza. Using pizza peel (or an overturned rimmed baking sheet), put the pizza on the grill; cover, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until bottom is well browned and mozzarella is melted. Check bottom and turn frequently to prevent burning. Remove pizza to cutting board, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon basil, drizzle lightly with extra oil, and season with salt to taste. Cut into wedges and serve. Repeat with remaining 2 crusts.

Tinga de Pollo

June 18, 2016

Until 6 years ago, I had never heard of Tinga; we are talking about is Shredded Chicken Tacos. While today’s recipe has a definite place in my kitchen, pork remains King of Tinga. If you have 4-1/2 hours then I recommend making this Pork Tinga with homemade Chorizo. But if you want dinner ready in an hour, this recipe is a great, healthier alternative. The recipe boost flavor using a few techniques: Use one pot to add flavor, stretch out cooking time to deepen the flavors; browning the meat, browning the onions, and cooking the chicken until it reached 195 degrees, which makes the chicken very shreddable. The chipotle in adobo sauce adds great smokiness without firing up the barbecue. 4-1/2 stars.

Delicious tacos ready in 1 hour

Delicious tacos ready in 1 hour


  1. When in Mexico, tacos are always served with the corn tortillas doubled up. If you forget and serve these tacos in a single tortilla, you will quickly be reminded by the disintegrating tortilla to make your next taco using two tortillas.
  2. I can never find Cotija cheese, so I follow Cook’s Illustrated advice and substitute with crumbled feta.
  3. The shredded chicken mixture also makes a good topping for tostadas.
  4. In addition to the Mexican-Style Pickled Vegetables (Escabèche) and the toppings included here,

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $11.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time: 5:00PM. Dinner time: 6:00 PM.

Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

Chicken Ingredients:
2-lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
14.5-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lime zest plus 2 tablespoons juice

Taco Ingredients:
12(6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
1 avocado
2-oz crumbled Cotija cheese (about 1/2 cup)
6 scallions
minced fresh cilantro
Lime wedges
Other optional toppings: Mexican crema (or sour cream), and minced onion.

  1. Pat chicken thighs dry using paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to a large Dutch oven, and set over medium-high burner. Pre-heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Brown half the chicken; 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove browned chicken to a large plate. Repeat the browning process with rest of the chicken (no need to add more oil).
  2. Meanwhile, cut onion in half and slice thin. Peel 3 garlic cloves.
  3. Turn down burner to medium, pre-heat 1 more tablespoon vegetable oil until shimmering. Add onion slices and cook for 5 minutes until browned; stir often.
  4. Add garlic, cumin, and cinnamon and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Add can of diced tomatoes, chicken broth, chipotle and adobo sauce, and sugar and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.
  6. Return the partially-cooked chicken to pot, reduce burner to medium-low. Cover, and allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 195 degrees; flip chicken after 5 minutes. Remove chicken to cutting board
  7. Empty the cooking liquid into a blender and process until for 15 to 30 seconds until smooth, returning sauce to the pot.
  8. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred chicken into bite sized pieces. Return shredded chicken to pot with sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sauce is thickened and clings to chicken, about 10 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, warm your tortillas and prepare the avocado by cutting in half, discarding the pit, and dicing into 1/2-inch pieces. Mince scallions and cilantro as garnish.
  10. After 10 minutes add lime zest and juice to pot, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. Prepare the tacos by spooning chicken into center of a warm tortilla, adding diced avocado, Cotija, scallions, cilantro, and squeezing lime wedges as desired.

How to Make the Best Barbecued Pork

June 11, 2016

Most of the recipes on Cook’s Illustrated are full blown recipes; everything you need contained on a few pages. As I was looking for a new rib recipe I stumbled upon this article that gives overall guidelines; no list of ingredients. While I’ve seen most of the advice over the years throughout many of Chris Kimball’s recipes, I haven’t seen a recipe that adhered to all the steps. So today I made ribs according to these “how-to” instructions. The ribs came out delicious and finishing the ribs in the oven provides much more control and then my kids favorite rib recipe. Overall 5-stars; worth updating your favorite recipe to reflect.

Fall-of-the-bone tender

Fall-of-the-bone tender



  1. Step 7: Baking instead of barbecuing the sauced-ribs is an insurance policy against the sauce burning. If you add too many coals when rebuilding the fire the sauce will over caramelize and burn. A properly-calibrated, low, 300-degree oven will give the ribs plenty of time to cook.
  2. The trade-off of baking the ribs is that you can’t cook your beans down in the coals so that the juices from the ribs flavor your beans. You can use the any juices left in the foil and the end of Step 11.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $16.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 12 Noon. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Cook’s Country original recipe is here. I used the spice rub and barbecue sauce recipe from here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

  1. Use a paring knife to loosen the membrane of the back of each rack of ribs. It is chewy and prevents the spices from fully flavoring the ribs.
  2. Using paper towel for added grip, pull off and fully remove the member. Cook’s Country says it should come off in one piece; not true, but it use your paring knife to restart the pulling process.
  3. Season the ribs with a spice mixture, wrap them in plastic wrap and allow to the sit in the refrigerator overnight.
  4. Steeply bank your coals on one side of the grill. This will cook low and slow, while giving plenty to grill space.
  5. Soak your wood chips and wrap them in a foil packet, with slits to allow the smoke to escape. Let them smoke for 5 minutes before beginning to cook the ribs. Starting to cook the ribs immediately can give to harsh of a flavor.
  6. Clean and oil the grill grate, and set the ribs on the cool side of the grill. Away from the direct heat, the ribs can cook for a long time without their exterior burning.
  7. Cover the ribs loosely with a large piece of aluminum foil. Set the foil directly on top of ribs which will help trap steam and keep the ribs tender. Cook f0r 2 hours until the ribs are deeply red. The vents should be 1/2 open.
  8. After 2 hours on the grill the charcoal will be spent. Remove the ribs from the grill and brush both sides with a total of 1 cup of barbecue sauce. Tightly wrap in aluminum foil.
  9. Set the foil-wrapped ribs on to a rimmed baking sheet. Put into low a preheated 250-to-275 degree oven and bake for a few more hours. Baking the sauced-ribs will reduce the chance that the sauce will burn. Also because they are wrapped in foil there is no advantage to rebuilding the charcoal fire.
  10. Test the ribs by inserting a fork into the ribs and lift up ribs. If the fork easily pulls out then the ribs are done. Otherwise, the ribs need to cook longer.
  11. Allow the ribs to rest for 30 minutes, still wrapped in their foil. The juices will redistribute and the ribs will be very moist.
  12. Finally, brush the ribs with more barbecue sauce, slice them between the bones and serve.

Barbecued Burnt Ends

May 21, 2016

I have been so sick for the past month that my body would not even tolerate Chicken Soup, nearly an entire month eating nothing but plain vegetables. However, my two sons still have wanted to eat regular food. I made them this Burnt Ends recipe for an episode of Cook’s Country a few weekends ago. While the recipe takes 8 hours, it required very little effort and gave them a few day’s worth of meals. The sauce is light; no molasses or anything special (like root beer or coffee); which allowed the smoked beef flavor to come through. Using boneless beef means the meal is more straight-forward to eat using a knife and fork, but the bone would have added flavor and texture during the slow cooking time. Also the uniform thickness of the brisket was more like eating cubes of beef instead of burnt ends. Both my sons loved the recipe and they gave it 4 stars. I tasted the beef, but my compromised taste buds did not like it at all. Instead I ate boiled potatoes and broccoli for 3 weeks, which made my girlfriend happy because I lost more than 10 pounds.

Not as delicious as ribs

Not as delicious as ribs

  1. Chris Kimball says to for a brisket with a significant fat cap; but supermarkets always package brisket with fat cap down.
  2. If your schedule doesn’t allow for 8 consecutive hours, you can brined the beef ahead-of-time, and refrigerated for up to a day in a Zip-log bag.
  3. If you don’t have 1/2 cup of juices from the rested brisket, you can make up for the deficit using beef broth.
  4. If you are using a gas grill you will need 2 disposable aluminum pans. Also you should add 1/2-cup of ice cubes to 1 wood chip packet. When you prepare your gas grill you should remove the cooking grate and put both wood chip packets directly on primary burner; and both disposable pans each filled with 2 cups water directly on secondary burner. Replace the cooking grate, turn all burners on high, cover, and pre-heat grill until for 15 minutes until hot and wood chips are smoking. Leave the primary burner set to high and turn off other burners. During cooking, adjust the primary burner as necessary to maintain grill temperature between 275 to 300 degrees.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $20.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Low/Medium.
Start time 10:00 AM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

Brisket Ingredients:
5-to-6 pound beef brisket, untrimmed flat cut
1 cups plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons pepper
4 cups wood chips
13″x 9″ disposable aluminum roasting pan

Barbecue Sauce Ingredients:
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. Add 2 quarts of cold water to a large container, stir in 1 cup kosher salt (5 ounces) and 1/4 cup granulated sugar until dissolved.
  2. Slice brisket with the grain into long 1-1/2 inch wide strips. Add to brine, cover the container, and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove from brine and refrigerate for 2 hours, and use paper towels to pat the beef dry.
  3. Combine 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 2 tablespoons pepper and remaining 1 tablespoon kosher salt in a small bowl. Season beef all over with rub.
  4. Just prior to grilling, soak 2 cups of wood chips in tap water for 15 minutes. Drain and divide equally into the center of 2 large pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Wrap wood chips up in 2 foil packets. Cut 3 to 4 vent holes in the tops.
  5. Open the bottom vent of your charcoal grill halfway (see comment #4 if using gas grill). Put disposable pan filled with 2 quarts water on 1 side of grill, with the long side of pan facing center of grill. Lay 3 quarts of unlit charcoal briquettes on opposite side of grill and put 1 of the wood packet on top of the until coals. Ignite a large chimney starter filled halfway with 3 quarts of charcoal. After 15 minutes when the top-most coals become partially covered with white ash, evenly pour the lit coals on top of unlit coals. Top with the second wood packet ontop of the lit coals.
  6. Replace the cooking grate, cover, and open the lid vents halfway. Pre-heat grill for 5 minutes until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes. Clean and oil cooking grate.
  7. Lay brisket slices on cool-side of grill as far away from the coals as possible. Cover the grill positioning the lid vent directly over brisket to draw the smoke over the meat. Cook without opening for 3 hours.
  8. Set and oven rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 275-degrees.
  9. Remove brisket from grill and set in a rimmed baking sheet, lined with aluminum foil. Tightly cover with more aluminum foil. Roast for about 2 more hours until a fork slips easily in and out of meat. The meat should register about 210 degrees using an instant-read thermometer.
  10. Remove from oven, and allow to stand for 1 hour (while still covered with foil). Remove foil, transfer brisket to carving board, and pour accumulated juices into fat separator.
  11. Prepare the barbecue sauce by combining the ketchup, sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire, granulated garlic, cayenne, and 1/2 cup defatted brisket juices into a medium saucepan. Put over a medium burner, bring up to simmer and cook for 5 minutes until slightly thickened.
  12. Cut brisket slices crosswise into 1-to-2 inch chunks. Add brisket to barbecue sauce and toss to combine. Serve in a large bowl.

Smoked Bourbon Chicken

April 25, 2016

My General Electric oven has electronic ignition and every few years I have to have a new electronic ignition installed. GE has designed the oven so that you cannot replace the part without removing the oven door, making it more trouble than its worth. Until I can get the repairman out I am stuck using my grill for most of my cooking. I saw today’s recipe on a recent episode of Cook’s Country TV show. It looks deliciously smokey and is a minimum about of work. I used more wood chips than called for in the recipe, and there was beautiful pink smoke ring. 4-1/2 stars for its simplicity and wonderful smokiness.

Deeply smoked chicken with minimum effort

Deeply smoked chicken with minimum effort


  1. I had trouble finding 3-1/2-pound chickens, so I used the smallest I could find; 4-1/2 pounds.
  2. If you are using a gas grill, replace Step 7 with the following instructions: Remove the cooking grate and set the wood chips directly onto the primary burner. Replace cooking grate and set all burners to high. Cover and pre-heat grill for 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner set to high but turn off all other burners. You may need to adjust your primary burner to maintain grill temperature between 350 to 375 degrees.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $12.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Low/Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 5:45 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

1 shallot
4 garlic cloves
1-1/4 cups bourbon
1-1/4 cups soy sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (3-2/3 ounces)
2 teaspoons pepper
2 whole chickens (3-1/2 to 4-lbs each)
1 cup wood chips
4 wooden skewers (12-inches)

  1. Mince your shallot and 4 garlic cloves. Add to a medium saucepan along with equal amounts of bourbon and soy sauce. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 teaspoons ground black pepper.
  2. Cover and put saucepan over medium-high burner until comes up to a boil; about 5 minutes. Boil for 1 minutes and remove from heat source; allow to cool completely; about 1 hour, but you can make and refrigerate it up to 3 days ahead-of-time.
  3. Set aside 3/4 cup bourbon mixture for basting in Step 8.
  4. Prepare the chicken by discarding giblets (or reserving to make chicken stock). Set chicken on a cutting board with the breast-side downward and use kitchen sheers to cut on each of the backbone.  Flip chicken over with skin-side upwards. Use a chef’s knife to cut through the center of the breast and split the chicken into two halves. Cut 1/2-inch deep slits, spaced 1/2-inch apart. Put one chicken (two halves) into 1-gallon Zip-lock bag (total of 2 zip-lock bags). Equally divide the marinade between the two bags. Seal and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight. Flip occasionally to evenly distribute the marinade.
  5. Soak 1 cup wood chips in water for at least 15 minutes. Remove wood chips from water and put center of a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Wrap up and cut two 3″-slits in the top.
  6. Remove chicken from marinade-filled bags and pat dry using paper towels. Throw away the marinade. Insert a skewer length-wise through the thickest part of breast down and through the thigh of each chicken half. (see photo)
  7. Open the bottom vents of your grill half-way, and ignite a large chimney starts filled with charcoal; about 6 quarts. When the top coals become partially covered with fine grey ash, empty so that coals are steeply banked against on side of the grill, while the other side is completely empty.  Set wood packet directly on top of coals. Put grill grate in place, cover and allow to pre-heat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil cooking grate using paper-towels dipped in vegetable oil.
  8. Set chicken on the grill with the skin-side up and the legs towards the fire. Cover grill and cook for 1bout 1-1/2 hours, basting with the reserved marinade every 15 minutes. After 45 minutes rotate the positions of the chicken so that they cook evenly; but still keeping the lets closer to the fire. The chicken will be done when the breast reach 160-degress and the thighs reach 175-degrees.
  9. Set chicken on carving board and loosely tent with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 20 minutes, before carving and serving.

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