Aug 31, 2016

Mutton Do Pyaaza

 Mutton Do Pyaaza, beef, mutton, goat, lamb, buffalo, non veg, meat, indian, onions, recipe, easy, mughal, punjabi,

"Do" means two or twice and "pyaaza" means onions. As the name implies this classic North Indian dish features a lavish amount of onions. Onions are added in two stages, first slowly caramelized then ground with traditional spices to make a rich brown gravy. The mutton is then braised until tender in this bold mix of rustic flavors. This recipe also works well with lamb, beef, or water buffalo stew meat. Pair with with rotis, parathas, or chapattis for a hearty meal.

Mutton Do Pyaaza beef, mutton, goat, lamb, buffalo, non veg, meat, indian, onions, recipe, easy, mughal, punjabi,

1kg/2lbs mutton/goat or lamb, cut into 3 inch pieces, bone in and lean preferred
1/4 C cooking oil
2 C onions, sliced thinly into half moons
1 tsp salt
2 C water or stock
Grind to paste for masala:
2 C onions, roughly chopped
1 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
1 TBS ginger/adrak paste
1 TBS coriander/dhania seeds
1 TBS cumin/jeera seeds
1 TBS garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric/haldi
10 black peppercorns/kali mirch
3 black cardamoms/kali elaichi
3-4 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped roughly
1 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) Grind ingredients listed under masala to smooth paste, set aside.

2) Heat oil in pressure cooker, deep heavy bottomed skillet, or kadhai. Fry thinly sliced onions with 1 teaspoon salt until golden brown, this should take about 10 minutes.

3) Add mutton pieces to fried onions in pan. Stir well and cook until meat is slightly browned.

4) Add ground masala paste to mutton and fried onions. Stir well and allow to fry for 5 minutes.

5) Add 2 C water or stock to the mixture in pan or enough liquid so meat is covered by at least a half an inch.  If using pressure cooker allow to steam for 5-6 whistles or until meat is to desired tenderness. If using skillet or kadhai simmer covered over medium heat until meat is to desired tenderness, adding a half cup more water at a time if necessary (usually this takes at least two to three hours with goat.)

6) The dish should have a thick gravy when finished. If gravy is thin allow to simmer with lid off for a few minutes. Salt to taste and serve.

Helpful Hints:
I'm cooking a Nepali goat in these photos so I'm using a pressure cooker. If you're cooking this recipe with meat that is not as tough such as Kashmiri lamb or American beef you'd probably want to use a Dutch oven or deep skillet and reduce cooking times accordingly.

If you live somewhere that you can't get the pink Desi onions pictured, the yellow onions found in most western markets are the best substitute. Despite the different color they tend to have similar flavor profile & level of  sweetness.  Do not use red onions, 'sweet' onions, Walla Walla onions, or Vidalia onions in place of pyaaz. They tend to be too sugary, scorching easily & often resulting in a burnt taste.

After chopping and grinding all the onions required for this recipe you may find your hands reek of onions. Rubbing a slice of raw tomato on your hands will remove the onion smell immediately.

Aug 29, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Cloves, Laung, Lavang, Grambu

Originating in the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia, cloves have been used as a spice and traditional medicine for thousands of years. Cloves are a unique spice with their fiery, sweet, aromatic flavor enhancing beverages as well as sweet and savory dishes. Because of their exceptional versatility and intense fragrance cloves have always been held in high esteem in the cuisines of Asia, Europe, and North Africa.

The name clove ultimately derives from the Latin word clavus meaning nail in reference to the nail-like appearance of the spice. The Hindi word for clove is laung, the Kashmiri word for clove is rong, the Gujarati word is lavang, the Bengali word for clove is  labango, and in Tamil the word for clove is grambu. All of these South Asian names have no discernible etymlogy in the Indo–Aryan or Dravidic languages.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of a twenty-four to forty foot evergreen tree in the myrtle family, Syzygium aromaticum. They are grown commercially in Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. The flower buds of the clove tree initially have a pale green hue and are grouped in terminal clusters. Just before the buds blossom they turn a brilliant pink, at which point they must be harvested immediately. 

Cloves are harvested at one to two centimeters long and consist of a long calyx that terminates in four spreading sepals and four unopened petals that form a small central ball. One adult tree yields about a seven-pound harvest.

The freshly picked cloves are spread out to dry on mats in the sun until they turn a deep brown hue. They are then hand sorted for size and perfection. Cloves from Sri Lanka are considered the best in quality.

Eugenol is the oily the compound most responsible for the distinctive aroma of cloves. Although eugenol has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties it is toxic in relatively small quantities. For example, a dose of 5–10 ml has been reported as a near fatal dose for a two-year-old child. Eugenol or clove oil can also pit or dissolve plastic so it is best stored in a glass container.

Although cloves are native to Indonesia they do not play a major part in Indonesian cuisines. However, Indo­nesians are the main con­sumers of cloves and use nearly half of the world’s pro­duction.  In Indonesia clove flavored cigarettes called kretek are extremely popular and enjoyed frequently by nearly every Indonesian male.

In South Asian cuisines cloves are mainly valued for their heat and aromatic sweetness in savory dishes. Nearly every variant and regional blend of the spicy mix garam masala contains powdered cloves. Cloves are often used whole in sabut or khada masalas along with peppercorns, cassia bark, and cardamom to fragrantly flavor curries, biryanis, and pulaos. my morning & afternoon cuppa!

My favorite use of cloves is in the traditional spicy milk tea called masala chai. A single clove and two green cardamoms per tablespoon of Assamese black tea leaves is my favorite chai blend for Spring and Summer. Although cloves work well in sweet dishes there aren't many Indian desserts that feature them. Most Indian desserts that do contain cloves are Mughal inspired such as the carrot based gajjar ki halwa, the fragrant rice pudding kheer, and the creamy vermicelli noodle dessert seviyan.

Helpful hints:
Use cloves sparingly, their bold flavor can quickly overpower a dish and will intensify the longer they are cooked.
Store cloves in a non plastic container as their volatile oils can dissolve plastic. Be careful when grinding cloves as their oils and sharp edges will pit and score a plastic top on an electric grinder too.
Equal amounts of allspice is a good substitute for cloves.

Aug 26, 2016

Yellow Bird, Up High in Banana Tree

Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me
You can fly away, in the sky away
You're more lucky than me!

Two of these beautiful yellow birds sang gloriously for about twenty minutes outside my kitchen window the other day. The photo really doesn't do their brilliantly saturated yellow plumage justice. This is a male Indian golden oriole (Oriolus kundoo). That snazzy winged eyeliner differentiates them from other Eurasian orioles. They're usually a rather secretive bird preferring to live near the edge of forested areas and come to Nepal to breed. How any creature can be secretive with eye scorching yellow coloring like that I do not know. The males are quite territorial and these two were evidently contesting each other in song. We used to see much more of these forest birds years ago before our rural neighborhood started becoming gentrified.

And here's the aforementioned banana tree. Bananas love this Monsoon heat and humidity. Bananas are the messiest plant ever. They sustain a universe of bugs as well as continuously dropping and dripping all sorts of leaves, sap, and whatnot everywhere. Definitely a low maintenance but way way wayyyy back of the garden sort of plant. 

Speaking of messes and gentrification, I am no longer allowed to feed livestock on the road nor in front of our house. We now have a home owner's association on our street. A nasty neighbor lady complained about me feeding the animals on the street to the association. So now I have to walk about a half mile to the farmhouse pictured above to donate our leftover rice to the water buffalo that lives there. As you can see this gentrification nonsense has walled in this once rural farmhouse too. That's a typical Nepali rice straw haystack on the right and the buffalo's shack on the left.

Here's Ms Buffalo inside her tiny pen behind the gate. She's looking sleek, sassy, and happy to see Bibi bringing her some treats. I wonder how long before they ban Ms Buffalo from the neighborhood? I haven't seen my old friend Blackie in months, I hope he went up to higher ground for the Monsoon and is eating well. I'm not liking all this gentrification hooey either Ms Buffalo! I wish our homeowner's association would do something useful like fill the bathtub sized holes in our road or arrange garbage pick up for the neighborhood.

On a more pleasant note this gorgeous sizzling hot pink double hibiscus started blooming on the side of the driveway. I think this must be the Carmen Miranda of flowers with all those fantastic fuchsia frills. It was just a stub of a bare stick about six months ago and then BAM! (You know Bibi had to stick at least one flower in this post.)

The heliconia is doing it's thing on the side of the driveway too. Heliconia or lobster claw plant is in the bird of paradise family. It puts out six foot high cane like stems then puts out amazing two foot long blooms like this for a month or two. You have to cut them back and split up their rhizomes every year or they become a rangy raggedy mess.

Ms Dawg and I have figured out this system to beat the Monsoon heat. I run the air conditioning in the front bedroom then strategically place the floor fan in the hallway so it blasts the cool air out the front door. Ms Dawg then positions herself thusly to enjoy the refreshing breeze. (Please pardon the ripped screen door - that's part of having pets.)

Wish I was a yellow bird, 
I'd fly away with you
But I am not a yellow bird,
So here I sit, nothing else to do.....

Aug 24, 2016

Bhang ki Chaatni (Hemp Seed Chutney)

bhang, cannabis, chaatni, chutney, easy, hemp, Indian, marijuana, mint, Recipe, seeds, veg, vegan, vegetarian,

Zesty, zingy, and healthy too this recipe combines the goodness of hemp seeds with the bright flavors of mint and lime. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of the "right" fatty acids, fiber, and all the essential amino acids for a "perfect protein" in a vegetarian diet. Try this tasty chutney as a healthful addition to any rice or roti based meal. 

bhang, cannabis, chaatni, chutney, easy, hemp, Indian, marijuana, mint, Recipe, seeds, veg, vegan, vegetarian,

Yes, "bhang" means hemp or marijuana. No, you will not get "high" or even a buzz from this chutney as hemp seeds are not psychoactive. Bhang or hemp seeds are actually a fairly common pantry item here in the Himalayas. I bought these bhang seeds our local market for a few rupees an ounce. They are favored for their nutty flavor in chutneys and they do taste a lot like sunflower seeds and a bit like pine nuts. I can certainly see how they'd be great in a basil pesto. Nutritionally, hemp seeds are a great source of balanced omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, both soluble and insoluble fiber, and all the 20 amino acids necessary for good health. They are considered a "warming" food in the Ayurvedic and Unani sense so eating them in small amounts as in this chutney is recommended.

1/3 C hemp/bhang seeds
1 tsp garlic/lahsun paste
1 tsp ginger/adrakh paste
2-3 green chilis/hari mirch, roughly chopped (omit for less heat)
2 TBS oil of choice (I used rice bran oil)
1 TBS lime/nimbu luice
3 TBS chopped fresh mint/pudina or 1 TBS dried mint
2 TBS water
1 tsp chaat masala or dry roasted cumin/jeera seeds
salt to taste

Here's what to do:
1) Dry roast hemp/bhang seeds in a kadhai or deep skillet for about 3 minutes or until seeds begin to turn brown. Remove from heat and allow seeds to cool to room temperature.

2) When cooled grind dry roasted hemp seeds to powder using mortar and pestle, sil-batta, or electric coffee grinder. Mix ground hemp seeds with garlic paste, ginger paste, green chilis, oil of choice, lime juice, mint, water, and chaat masala until smooth in mixie or food processor. Salt to taste and keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

Helpful Hints:
The hemp seeds you buy in western countries are usually steamed to make them non viable. Steamed hemp seeds go rancid fast. Buy hemp seeds at stores that keep the hemp seeds in the refrigerated or freezer section.

Aug 22, 2016

Ingredient of the week: Cashews, Kaju

A native of Brazil the cashew tree was brought to India in the sixteenth century by Portuguese traders. The actual cashew nut or seed is inside a kidney shaped shell that is attached to the bottom of the edible cashew apple. Delicately sweet and somewhat buttery in flavor, cashews are used in cuisines world wide.

The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is evergreen and thrives in tropical regions. It is in the same family as both mango and pistachio trees, It grows to around thirty to forty feet in height and prefers well drained soils. One of the reasons Portuguese traders introduced cashews to coastal India and Mozambique was to prevent erosion of the sandy soils. The English word cashew comes from the Portuguese word caju which is derived from Brazilian indigenous peoples'  name for the seed acajú, literally meaning "nut that produces itself."

Cashew trees flower and set fruit during the dry winter season in tropical climes. The flowers are produced in a panicle up to ten inches long. Each flower pale green at first, turning reddish or pink upon opening.

The part we know as the cashew nut forms first as it is the seed. The cashew apple is not a part of the plant ovary like most fruits and is actually just the swollen stem of the fruit.

The cashew apple turns from pale yellow to an attractive red as it ripens. Cashew apples are quite sweet and juicy with a bit of an acidic, astringent, hesperidic, and slightly peppery mango-like flavor. Unfortunately their skin is quite fragile and does not travel well so unless you live in the tropics don't expect to see them at your local grocery store.

The pulp of the cashew apple can be eaten fresh, canned in jams or chutneys, or used for juice. The sugary juice can be fermented into vinegar or distilled into an alcoholic drink called feni, fenny, uraak, or arrack.

The seed or part that we call the nut is encased in a leathery, kidney-shaped shell at the end of the cashew apple. The leathery shell contains the caustic substance anacardic acid. Anacardic acid is similar to the uroshiol oil found in  poison ivy and can produce severe skin lesions with the merest contact. 

Cashew nuts will keep well in their shell for up to two years. Because of the toxic oil in their shells processing cashews is a complex and difficult process. To neutralize the anacardic acids the nuts must be heated in their shells. Unfortunately the toxic oil is quite volatile making the fumes from this process extremely irritating to skin, eyes, and lungs also. Probably why cashews are so darned expensive. If you'd like to read the misadventures of an American who tried to open a raw cashew nut with his hands and mouth you may do so here.

Kaju Katli
Cashew nuts are called kaju in South Asia and are prized for their buttery and sweet flavor in Desi cuisines. They often appear in delicious and delicately flavored sweets like the famously fudgy kaju katli or baked into biscuits. Ground into paste or powder cashews can also be utilized to decadently thicken and enrich curries. Cashews are used whole even as simple yet elegant garnishes on both sweet and savory dishes.

Helpful Hints:
Now that we know cashews must be processed by heat we also know there's no point in paying extra money for those "raw, unprocessed" cashews sold at health food stores.

Aug 19, 2016

Monsoon Plant Rant

Icky, sticky, muggy, and buggy.  That's what the Monsoon is like here in Nepal. Alternating between scorching heat and torrential downpours it is absolutely miserable! This time of year about half of my garden turns to a mouldering mess and gets tossed upon the compost heap. I don't dare plant anything until September. 


The first to go was the Autumn Beauty sunflowers. I salvaged what was left of them for a lovely bouquet that lasted/festered for about 3 days on the breakfast table. 

The next to go were these lovely Candy Cane Mix zinnias. These were from Burpee's heirloom cut'n'grow collection and indeed the more I cut them the more they grew! Ranging from 3 to 4 inches across they're an excellent variety for long lasting cut flowers. The packet said they'd grow to about 18 inches in height so I planted the seeds in pots. Mine grew to an astonishing forty inches in height and had to be transplanted to a bed. Unfortunately they weren't as fungus resistant as promised. Not much is around here though. Off to the compost pile they went. 

Here's my favorite vine that puts up with just about everything. Ipomoea alba or moonflower is a night blooming member of the morning glory family.  These enormous 6-8 inch blooms open around four in the afternoon remaining open until the morning sun hits them. Supposedly they are fragrant, I've grown them for years and never caught a whiff of any scent from them. 

This is a rare breed of moonflower. It also opens around four in the afternoon and remains open until dawn. It's lavender blooms are only an inch across and are supposedly fragrant also. They look beautiful intertwined with the larger white moonflowers in the evening. No fragrance detected with this variety either. 

These are the fragrance bombshells in my garden. Don't let those diminutive tiny pale yellowish trumpets fool you. This is raat ki rani, queen of the night, night-blooming jasmine, or Cestrum nocturnum. It is not a true jasmine but a member of the potato family, Solanaceae. It lets out sporadic nightly blasts of the most powerful, sweet, honey-like fragrance I've ever smelled. Why it blooms some nights and not others I don't understand. When it really gets going some nights it develops a salicylate/wintergreen tinge to it's fragrance in addition to it's sweetness as tuberoses do. I bought a tiny start of this in a pot at a local nursery. It looked dead after a week so I chucked it in a back flowerbed. Now it is an eight by twelve foot monster.

My rose of Sharon finally bloomed after four years. As soon as it bloomed every beetle and ant was swarming over it. At about ten feet in height I think it's going to get butched this Fall. Especially since I just read it only blooms on new growth.

Possibly the happiest plant of all during the Monsoon months is the sacred blue lotus! A native of Egypt this Nymphaea caerulea resides in a bucket/mosquito farm in the neighbors' yard. What makes this stunning plant sacred you ask? Well, the ancient Egyptians figured out the plant contained the psychoactive alkaloid apomorphine. The mildly sedating effects of N. caerulea make it a likely candidate (among several) for the lotus plant eaten by the mythical Lotophagi in Homer's Odyssey. It is also fragrant and has been used in perfumes since ancient times. So not only will it make you happy and but it'll make you smell good too!

On a not so happy note:
On Monday, August 15th a bus that was going from Kathmandu towards the village of Madan Kundari veered off the road and rolled for about 1,000 feet. The bus had skidded backwards on a steep and muddy grade even though the driver applied the brakes according to eyewitnesses. About ninety passengers were traveling on the thirty-five seater bus some of which were riding on the roof. Twenty-seven passengers were killed and forty-three were injured in the accident. Most of the passengers were survivors of the 2015 earthquakes going home to sign agreements to receive government grants for reconstruction of their homes. How anyone survived this crash is a miracle to me. It was said that many of those who were traveling on the roof jumped off the vehicle and survived. Road disasters are quite common in Nepal, particularly during the monsoon. An average of around five people die daily in vehicular accidents in Nepal. Another bus crash that same Monday killed three passengers in far western Nepal.

Aug 17, 2016

Kashmiri Garam Masala

Kashmiri Garam Masala Kashmiri Garam Masala shahi jeera indian spice mix authentic kashmir fennel

Every region of India has it's own blend of garam masala. The word garam means heating to the body in the Ayurvedic sense and masala means spices. The Kashmiri version of garam masala differs from other North Indian spice mixes in it's use of shahi jeera and fennel seeds.  Richly flavored and warmly aromatic and this recipe perfectly complements the savory dishes of Kashmir.

Kashmiri Garam Masala shahi jeera indian spice mix authentic kashmir fennel
Traditionally, about a half teaspoon of this spice mix is stirred into whatever savory Kashmiri dish you've made just before serving. If you wish to use this garam masala mix in this manner you must dry roast it. Unfortunately dry roasting spices causes them to go rancid sooner so either make this recipe in small batches or store it in an airtight container in the freezer. The mace and nutmeg do not require dry roasting so simply grind them in after roasting and cooling the other spices.

1 TBS black peppercorns/kali mirch
1 TBS cumin/jeera seeds
1 TBS shahi jeera/black cumin seeds
1 TBS fennel/saunf seeds
2 blades of mace/javatri
7  black cardamoms/kali elaichi
2 two inch pieces of cassia bark/dalchini, broken into smaller pieces
25 cloves/laung
2 blades of mace/javatri
1 tsp nutmeg/jaiphal, ground

Here's what to do:
1) Preheat oven to 220F/100C.
2) Spread all spices except for nutmeg and mace on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.
3) Remove baking sheet from oven and allow to cool.
4) When spices have cooled add nutmeg and mace to mixture. Place all spices in mixie, blender or food processor and pulse to grind spices coarsely. Store in an airtight container away from heat and light for up to one month.

Helpful hints:
You can use this as you would any garam masala mix in any recipe for a bit of Kashmiri flair.
If you plan on using this garam masala mix in a recipe where it is to be heated or fried you do not need to dry roast it.

Aug 12, 2016

Trouble in Paradise - Continued

And so the unrest raged on during our Eid visit to Kashmir.
The internet was blocked, curfew was imposed, phones went dead, strikes were called, death tolls rose, injuries occurred, - pandemonium ensued.

Photo from newspaper Greater Kashmir

The newspapers were shut down but it isn't clear by whom. Probably because of unflattering photos like this one which appeared on the front page of the local newspaper Greater Kashmir. It was stated that this photo is of Indian security forces kicking a woman trying to retrieve an injured youth. (That pink figure on the ground is a woman.)

Photo from newspaper Greater Kashmir
Okay, let's get something clear here. The "pellets" being fired into crowds of protestors in Kashmir by Indian security forces are lead shot from a 12 gauge shotgun. This photo is a 14 year old girl from the south Kashmir village of Shopian whom is now permanently blinded, suffering numerous skull fractures, and pneumocephalus (a condition where air enters into the brain cavity) from these "pellets." Most of the "pellet" injuries seen at the local hospitals are directly to the head and face not extremities. I've not heard of "pellets" being used anywhere else in India against civilians by Indian security forces and in my opinion this practice only incites more violence in Kashmir. According to local doctors, at least 117 civilians were likely to lose their eyesight as a result of injuries caused by theses "pellets" as of July 25th. If you wish to read more about this situation you may do so herehere and here

What does one do when this sort of thing happens? Well, the big iron gate to the family compound is locked and one stays inside. Our family compound has a fifteen foot by thirty foot courtyard bounded by five buildings. The photo above is from the last remaining bit of the oldest house in the compound. That and the communal privy/bath house was to be my view during our stay.

The neighbors enjoyed staring at me (the foreigner) for hours from their window overlooking our courtyard. This part of old Srinagar is a maze of tiny alleyways with houses butted up closely to each other. Our compound is one of the few that has a large courtyard.

We had lots of leisure time for reading and playing games like badminton in the courtyard. Here's two of the newest additions to our family, Mr Jerry and Mr Berry.

Jerry and Berry's mama was the local "mother of the multitudes" who lived for years under the stairs of the old house with her numerous progeny. Unfortunately she recently succumbed to a mauling by a stray dog. Out wandered these two kittens from under the stairs a day after her demise. So now our family is caring for mama cat's orphans.

They now rule the courtyard with their antics. Everyone loves them and they are well cared for drinking fresh milk every day as well as mutton and chicken scraps from the butcher.

I'm not sure which one is Jerry and which is Berry. They're both so darned cute!

I was worried about the kittens as we were tear gassed and pepper gassed a few nights. The kitties seemed to instinctively run to their safe little hideaway under the stairs and suffered no ill effects. I've been tear gassed before but the pepper gas was a new experience. Pepper gas has no tell-tale stench like tear gas, it starts as a tickle in your throat and then you start coughing uncontrollably. Apparently pepper gas is a new addition to the Indian security forces' crowd control arsenal. I'm not sure if the pepper gas is a grenade or a canister fired from a gun like the tear gas.

August 10, 2016 photo from Greater Kashmir 
And so the unrest went on with the sounds random gunfire, shouting, yelling, the pops of gas canisters, sirens, and sometimes eerie silence during the days and nights. A few of the menfolk would leave the family compound in the early morning each day to buy milk, meat, and rotis from the neighborhood shops that would briefly open. We are now able to call in to Kashmir but our family can not call out by mobile. Kashmir remains under partial shutdown and curfew to this day. One glass window in our compound in a bedroom facing the street was broken by stone pelting protesters. I have to say as we drove through Srinagar to the airport at dawn  I saw little to no property damage. No burnt buildings nor destroyed vehicles just a few broken windows and walls spray painted with political slogans.

Srinagar, August 10, photo from Indian Express
What you see in the above photo taken on August 10th in Srinagar is typical of the violent protests. Young males in their teens and twenties masked and throwing rocks at Indian security forces. What you have here is as much a socioeconomic problem as a political problem. As you can imagine the economy in Kashmir is severely depressed because of these sorts of protests. Local businesses must close due to the protests, curfews, and ongoing strikes. Summer is the height of the tourist season in Kashmir, obviously there won't be many tourists this Summer. This economic depression results in a lot of unemployed young males with not much to do. A lot of young males with not much to do usually results in trouble.  More than 50 people including 2 policemen have died during this ongoing unrest. As of July 25th over 5,800 people have been injured including 3,550 security personnel and 2,309 civilians. The unrest in Kashmir has now continued for over 33 days.

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