October 24, 2016

Chateau Laurier Ottawa

I am taking a look back to May at part of my birthday celebrations. It is bittersweet to go back about 6 months because some things have changed since then. For one, I no longer live in Ottawa. We moved from Ottawa a few weeks ago, so I am glad I can now look back on the many amazing experiences I had there, including afternoon tea at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. With having a special momentous birthday for me this year, I wanted to do something extra special to celebrate. I requested the fanciest high tea in the city at the historic Chateau Laurier

Afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Laurier

The hotel serves afternoon tea every day in Zoe's Lounge. The lounge was named after Sir Wilfred Laurier's wife Zoe Laurier Lafontaine who was also a piano teacher. It features elegant comfy chairs, chandeliers and an amazing atrium style view of the Parliament Hill surroundings. As soon as we walked in, I felt special and even a little bit regal to be able to sip tea and eat nibblies in the gorgeous setting. 

The first thing you need to do is pick your choice of tea. A tea sommelier comes around with a vintage tea cart of the Fairmont selection of teas that you can smell and look at to make your choice. As a tea lover, it was neat to see the cart being brought around and being able to see the tea being brewed in front of me. You need good tea to have a satisfying "afternoon tea" after all. I believe I chose a classic Earl Grey as my flavour.

Afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Laurier

The second part is a classic fruit salad. It is a nice start to the service as well, and I liked how not everything was brought out at once so you could take your time with everything. Then they brought out the main attraction on tiered plates. The food at the Chateau Laurier tea room is selected by Chef Darren McGrady who was a former chef to Queen Elizabeth II and Diana Princess of Wales. So you know the finger food will be of the finest and most royal quality. 

Afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Laurier Ottawa Ontario

Starting from the bottom of the tray were classic scones with clotted cream and jam. Then the middle of the tray included the savoury--and my personal favourite--finger food options, including an egg salad sandwich, a curry chicken salad sandwich, a smoked salmon and rye wheel and roast beef with beet and horseradish. The combination of beets, roast beef and horseradish was apparently a favourite of Princess Diana. The top tier featured gorgeous mini desserts such as a French macaron, chocolate tart and a jam and custard sweet sandwich. 

You might be thinking "what a dainty selection of finger food, but hardly a meal." Yes, it looks deceiving, but you would be wrong. Although the size of the individual pieces is small, the overall tray is actually quite a lot of food. That is why I would recommend going either right after lunch time or just before dinner time (around 4pm like we did), as you may find yourself too full for a meal afterwards. Also, you tend to also fill up on liquids, like tea (although you can opt for the "champagne" or "cocktail" service as well) so everything together is surprisingly filling. 

Living in Ottawa, I walked by the hotel many times on my way around Parliament Hill or downtown, but to sit in the lounge and see the passersby as you sip tea, as well as people watching other people having high tea, is also an experience. For children, they will also create a Little Prince or Princess tea with smaller portions and a smaller price tag so they can have the experience as well. 

When I thought I was stuffed with bite sized goodies, they surprised me with another tray for my birthday. I think someone tipped them off that is was my birthday...As much as I loved the personal touch and great service, I had to take those ones home because I couldn't eat another bite. I would recommend afternoon tea at the Chateau Laurier if you are looking for something special to do in Ottawa, however, it definitely not an everyday activity. Another more affordable option is to just take a quick detour through the lobby of the Chateau Laurier to admire the architecture on your way to the Rideau Centre for some shopping. 

We walked back along the Rideau Canal on the lovely holiday Monday day that it was. I will miss those walks along the canal now that we have moved. Because my husband's birthday is also in May, there are usually two different cakes and celebrations close to each other. I made him a chocolate orange cake and he showed off his decorating skills with an immaculate cake for me. The balloons from Urban Outfitters were my touch and stayed up on the wall for the entire month. 

Even though my big birthday didn't include a crazy big party, I was perfectly alright with how I celebrated. I don't need all of that pomp and circumstance anymore, although I definitely appreciate feeling like a princess for a day. 

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May 09, 2016

Baked vegetable egg rolls

In the food world, there seems to be a distance from the word "authentic" these days. The chatter used to include phrases like "to get authentic so-and-so food, you have to go to this place" or "this restaurant makes truly authentic dishes." I think people have realized that "authentic" is like one of those buzzwords that doesn't mean all that much, such as "superfood" or "paleo." If you watch cooking or restaurant shows these days, you will hear things like "this is my interpretation of a classic dish" or "I drew inspiration from traditional dishes to make this take on..." After all, is anything truly "authentic"?

homemade vegetarian egg rolls

For this post, I am describing my take on "egg rolls." Maybe someone who makes them his or her own way won't like my interpretation or maybe my interpretation is way off of from what they should be. Does this matter? I liked how the rolls turned out and maybe other people will too. 

"Egg rolls" have different definitions depending on which kind you are referring to and this makes categorizing them a little difficult. You could also call them "spring rolls," especially if you use rice paper to roll them. Depending on which region of Asia you eat them in, the rolls have different fillings and may be fried or not. To me, this makes them open to interpretation while taking inspiration from Asian flavours. I like to think I'm respecting the original origins and not completely tarnishing the dish (Butter Chicken poutine, I'm looking at you).

Somerset Bridge Ottawa

Speaking of something authentic, I think it's safe to say it is indisputably spring. I snapped this photo of the canal in Ottawa a few weeks back where you can see one side of the canal stuck in winter with snow and the other side ready for summer with green grass and people having picnics, walking and biking. The padlocks on this bridge (the Somerset Bridge) are similar to the "love locks" in Paris, France where people hang locks from the bridge to symbolize their love. I have had a few walks by the canal in the last little while to enjoy the nice weather. 

I bought half a dozen scones from The Scone Witch in Ottawa on the weekend. I can now say I have completed the unofficial bakery tour of Ottawa. I suppose tasting regional cuisine involves going to a specific place to try a particular food although I don't know what Ottawa's regional cuisine would be. Maybe "Beavertails"? Ottawa has some great bakeries, but would someone in England say that a scone made in Ottawa, Canada is "authentic."? In terms of these scones, they were airy, flavourful and not too dense, and I enjoyed the imaginative flavours, such as lemon, currant, ginger, vanilla, cheddar and herbs.  

The Scone Witch Ottawa

Back to the egg rolls. I based my recipe on this recipe I found for baked chicken egg rolls. You will find egg roll wrappers in the produce or deli section of the grocery store. I have also tried this recipe with wonton wrappers and had similar results. I believe the difference between the two wrappers is that egg roll wrappers are made from flour and wonton wrappers are made from rice flour. Both of the wrappers have a slightly different size and I found the texture of each was similar after baking. 

Egg roll ingredients

Baked Vegetable Egg Rolls

20 egg roll wrappers
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 package of coleslaw mix
1/2 cucumber julienned 


1. Combine the coleslaw mix and cucumber. You can also add additional shredded carrots if you want. Add the hoisin and soy sauce.
2. Fill a small bowl with water. Lay out the egg roll wrapper and fill it with about 2 to 3 tbsp of filling.
3. Fold the left and right edges in and then roll the wrapper. Seal the edges with a dab of water.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray some cooking oil on a foiled baking sheet.
5. Halfway through baking flip the rolls. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. 

I served the rolls with a dipping sauce of soy sauce as well as sesame oil with a dollop of chilli garlic sauce. My reasoning behind using coleslaw mix is the convenience factor. Feel free to add any other chopped vegetables you want for texture. You want the vegetables to be long and thin to match the size of the wrappers. There are few tutorials online on the best way to wrap the rolls. As long as the edges stick together and there are no holes for the filling to come out, they should look and taste pretty good. 

egg rolls

These got good reviews from my house and some weekend guests. I also convinced people that these are healthier than Chinese takeout. I mean, they are literally vegetables in a wrapper right? I'm not saying I never crave Chinese food takeout, but these are a nice alternative as an appetizer before my own version of stirfried rice or noodles.

baked vegetable egg rolls

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April 10, 2016

Chicken quinoa mac and cheese

I don't know where my cookbook collection came from. It was one of those things that I started collecting and then without thinking, I had amassed almost an entire IKEA Billy bookcase worth of cookbooks. The first cookbooks I owned were some of the books that originally got me into cooking like Delia Smith's "How to Cook" and Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." With any cookbook collection, you need some examples of the masters of cooking. They are the ones who inspire you to jump right into the beautiful pages and try the recipes yourself.

cookbook shelf

When I think of Canadian cookbook authors, one of the first names that comes to mind is Rose Reisman. Rose has published 18 books over the last 20 years with recipes focusing on healthy living. She is now a columnist, speaker and owner of Rose Reisman Catering and Personal Gourmet. I have two Rose Reisman cookbooks in my collection: "Rose Reisman Brings Home Light Cooking" one of her classic books, a bestseller published in 1993; and one of her newer books "Weekday Wonders". They are my go-to cookbooks when I need a healthy recipe for a busy weeknight or something light on the weekend. The recipes also follow the recommendations of Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating and trust me, they are still tasty dishes.

Rose Reisman cookbooks

Finding comfort food recipes that are also good for you is a challenge. Mazola Corn Oil has partnered with Rose Reisman and the Make Good campaign to create five delicious recipes that are comforting and healthy. The recipes all use Mazola Corn oil, which has a high smoke point and neutral flavour profile. It is perfect for cooking, grilling and baking, and has lower cholesterol than olive oil.

Over the last year I have seen family members struggle with heart issues. With recovery and rehabilitation, a concerning factor is how to eat right. With so much nutrition information out there, it is difficult for anyone to know the "right" foods to keep your heart healthy, as well as the right balance of foods. That is another reason why Rose Reisman's books and message of these recipes is so important to me. Healthy food doesn't have to be boring. You can still have fun with healthy food and get the whole family involved in living a healthy lifestyle.


This recipe (full recipe) is creamy, comfort food with protein rich ingredients like quinoa and chicken. I used leftover cooked chicken and substituted the feta cheese for Boursin cheese because that was what I had in the fridge at the time. All you need to balance the dish is a crumbly cheese and a soft cheese. The recipe seems like a lot of steps at first. It is worth it for this take on a classic comfort food that masks that sometimes bitter taste of plain quinoa. 

chicken and quinoa

Chicken and Quinoa Mac and Cheese

Quinoa Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
6 ounces/200 g diced chicken breast
1 tbsp Mazola Corn Oil
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped re-hydrated sundried tomatoes
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Sauce Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
3/4 cup shredded cheese
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
Dash salt and pepper


1/3 cup panko or unseasoned breadcrumbs
2 tbsp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
2 tsp Mazola Corn Oil

Chicken and quinoa mac and cheese by Rose Reisman


1. Heat quinoa and water/broth in a saucepan. Simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Toss chicken with flour in a medium bowl. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 5 minutes until well browned.
3. Place quinoa, chicken, tomatoes and feta cheese in a large bowl.
4. For the sauce, heat milk, chicken broth, flour and mustard in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes until slightly thickened. Stir in cheese and salt and pepper.
5. For the topping, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
6. Pour the sauce over the quinoa mixture and stir until combined. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the top.
7. Bake in a 375F pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes until the topping is slightly browned.

Chicken and quinoa mac and cheese by Rose Reisman

I have teamed up with Mazola Corn Oil to GIVEAWAY some fun stuff so you can get your family in on the healthy cooking action. Enter below to win a Mazola Oil Gift basket that includes 1 bottle of pure Mazola Corn Oil, a recipe card box including all five of Rose Reisman's custom recipes and kitchen goodies, including 2 green tea towels, a wooden spoon and wire whisk (approximate value $50). 

This giveaway is open to Canadian residents only. The winner will be contacted by email to confirm a mailing address for shipping the prize. No purchase necessary. Ends April 18, 2016. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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March 11, 2016

Espuna Tapas Essentials

Look on any hip restaurant menu right now and you will most likely see some kind of cheese course, charcuterie or "tapas" plate. I will take a savoury meat and cheese plate over dessert any day. People appreciate savouring a good cheese or piece of cured meat. I think it stems from the increased attention and appreciation to where food comes from. Sometimes I make a "plate" of food for lunch with assorted meats, cheeses, vegetables, hummus, pickles, etc. that I find in the fridge. For entertaining, you can't go wrong with an elevated version of that with fresh olives, nice cheeses, crackers and crusty bread. Espuna Tapas Essentials were kind enough to send me a few selections from their Tapas Essentials line to sample. 

Espuna Tapas Essentials

Espuna launched the collection in Ontario and Quebec in December. Their line of authentic Spanish tapas and cured meats includes 15 varieties of tapas, some of which are ready-to-serve and heat-to-serve. The Spanish company is family-owned dating back to 1947. Espuna sent me chorizo salami and original salami, as well as original salami canitas, chorizo canitas and salami canitas. For the salamis, they recommended slicing and serving in a small bowl with mini toasts or bread sticks. When you have beautiful products, it is imperative to plate them equally as nice, and this is something I struggle with sometimes. I cut up the some of the meats into smaller pieces and served with olives, cheese and crackers. 

Espuna Tapas Essentials

The Spanish term "tapas" actually used to mean "cover" or "lid" which was a slice of meat or bread that covered your wine to keep it free of dust. Now, it refers to light meals, small plates or an appetizer served with drinks. I usually know which cheeses to buy if I want to make a nice cheese plate, however, I never know which types of cured meats are the "right" ones to impress people. It is a whole new territory of snacking that I enjoyed exploring. 
Tapas platter

Normally, I am not a big fan of chorizo. I find it too spicy and overpowering. The Espuna chorizo was quite mild and had a nice, deep red colour. I was expecting the canitas to taste like "pepperettes." They are obviously much nicer than those and pack a lot of flavour punch for such thin sticks. I did prefer the salami canitas over the chorizo canitas. Like most cured meats, they can be salty, so I find I need to only eat a few at a time or balance it all out with cheese or something neutral. One thing I did love--which I'm not sure if I was supposed to do--is cut up the meats to use in cooking. I used some of them on a homemade pizza and more in a quiche. I almost preferred the tapas cooked and warmed. Just goes to show how versatile they are and how many ways you can serve them.

Homemade pizza with sausage

Last weekend we had friends staying for the weekend, so it was the perfect time to bring out some tapas, drink some wine and sit by the fireplace. As much as I love having people come to visit, I wonder how people with Airbnb's host people all the time. From cooking to cleaning and organizing things to do, it is fun, but sometimes tiring. Along with some relaxing, movie watching and chatting, we made time to check out some Ottawa hot spots because no trip is complete without checking out some local food. I bought a half dozen donuts from Suzy Q donuts and some bread from Art Is In Bakery beforehand. Then we went back to Art Is In to stock up on more supplies (i.e croissants and bread). 

House of Targ Ottawa

One of those local hot spots that I have wanted to go to forever was House of Targ. It is a bar, live music venue and pinball and classic arcade. You would think that kind of place would be hopping on Friday and Saturday nights (and it usually is) and would not expect it to be a happening hangout on a Sunday morning. They also do Sunday brunch along with arcade games. I didn't know what to expect as I had never been there before, so at first I was a little hesitant taking friends there for Sunday brunch. I was relieved that so many other people--especially families--were loving the vibe and the brunch. House of Targ's food speciality is perogies and the brunch came with some of the delicious perogies as well as kolbassa sausage (photo from Instagram).

House of Targ brunch

I have this knack for taking people to weird and wonderful places when they are in town. Thankfully it was a big hit. That night we went for dinner at Two Six Ate for half-price bottles of wine and shared a feast of chicken confit poutine, foie burgers, pasta and more. We had a few dinners at home cooked by yours truly, including chicken drumsticks, sesame noodle salad and an Asian-inspired green salad. Seriously, if you stay at my house, you will be fed well. 

Spinach salad

On Sunday night we got back from dinner in time to watch the Academy Awards with some tapas. I printed out some Oscar ballots and had everyone fill them out with their guesses. Overall it was a dun weekend. Espuna definitely helped me out with the tapas. My personal tips for entertaining are to include some downtime in the plans, make sure guests are comfortable and have everything they need. If they are from out of town, show them some cool things that tourists might not know about and obviously, wine and dine them well!


Disclosure: I received free samples of Espuna Tapas Essentials for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own based on my own experiences.
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February 22, 2016

Valentine's Day cupcakes

Valentine's Day is one of those occasions like New Years Eve that makes you stress out unnecessarily. You stress out if you end up not doing anything and you stress out about what you are doing: Is it perfect? Will I have fun? Did I buy the right gift/drink/food items? "Oh my god, this is a lot of pressure for a holiday that is not a real holiday!" In the end, it doesn't really matter or have to be perfect. For instance, I had grand ideas to make cupcakes and decorate them nicely with candy and chocolates. As I was making the cupcake batter and scooping the batter into the muffin pan, I put the pan into the oven and realized the oven was not warm and the light was not even on; it stopped working all together.

Valentine's Day cupcakes with buttercream icing

There is a reason sometimes that people think millennials cannot do anything practical. I tried switching it on and off again, unplugging it and plugging it back in and generally trying to see if it would magically turn back on again, thinking to myself "is there an Uber-type service for this?" and "What YouTube videos can I watch to figure this out?" I had a dozen cupcakes ready to go and no way to bake them. Knowing it probably wouldn't get fixed before the weekend and I didn't have time to take them over to someone else's oven, I googled how to freeze the batter. Yes, you can freeze cupcake batter. All you do is either freeze the batter in a ziploc bag or already in the cupcake liners. Then when you want to bake the cupcakes, allow the batter to thaw slightly and bake for a few extra minutes. 

Sainte Adele Quebec

After a phone call to the landlord, it ended up that some switch must have been wiggled and after that it started working again. No trip to the hardware store or visit from the handy person was needed. The cupcakes were baked and I also managed to roast the two whole chickens we bought on sale that week, so the crisis was averted. 

The only reason I thought we should do something special for this particular Valentine's Day weekend is because we needed a weekend getaway. Seriously, the winter gets to you and with no destination to warmer far off places tentatively booked until later this year, I was alright with just a little change of scenery. As is our tendency to book things last minute, many of the hotels in the area we were looking (near Mont Tremblant and close enough to Montreal and Ottawa) were all booked. The one that had vacancy for a long weekend that also happens to be Valentine's Day weekend, and a long weekend in Canada with Family Day weekend, was Hotel Le Chantecler in Quebec. 

Hotel Le Chantecler Quebec

It was also the coldest weekend of the year. The low was minus 35 to 40 degrees celsius on Saturday. Look at the happiness of enjoying the weekend (i.e bitter pain from the cold) in our faces. I didn't realize the sheer amount of skiing around that area of Quebec. It is the Laurentians after all, which has some of the best skiing in the world and all of the amenities of world-class ski resorts and towns. To be honest, if I were at home I would have probably stayed inside all weekend. We decided to skip the skiing all together because of the cold and thought we should at least attempt one outdoor activity. 

The Hotel Le Chantecler, built in 1938, sits on top of a hill overlooking a lake view, which is probably lovely in the summer. We ventured down the hill to the lake to check out the skating. The lake was a nice, smooth skating surface with a figure eight-like track around the lake and a warming cabin at one end. Plus we were able to get a nice view of the entire hotel from the lake. Even with about four layers of clothes on, as well as a hat, hood and scarf, it was still so cold that you couldn't actually comprehend how cold it was. It's like when you don't realize you're getting dehydrated when it's hot outside and you know it is going you're going to hurt later. After walking and skating for about an hour, that was enough outdoors time for the day.

The room itself was quite nice, if a little basic, keeping in mind the hotel is an older, cabin-style building. That also means creaky floors and paper thin walls, so there was quite a lot of noise from the hallway and all that. I suppose that's the charm of an older hotel. Sometimes I find these kinds of hotels cozier and more comfortable than something that is so new and modern that I feel like I'm sleeping in a conference room. For the price, I was happy with the room and the hotel itself, as well as the amenities. On the first night, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant Namos with standard hotel restaurant food and drinks and live piano music.  

Hotel Le Chantecler

After working up an appetite with skating it was time to continue the full Quebec experience with an authentic Quebecois lunch at Restaurant Au Petit Poucet in Val-David--the next town over from Sainte Adele. There are a serious number of restaurants nearby for "apres-ski" meals, including all of the standard Canadian chain restaurants and even St. Hubert chicken. As we waited for a table, we enjoyed complimentary hot chocolate and coffee and browsed their gift shop with homemade jellies, maple syrup treats and take away tourtieres. This was the place for a hearty, homemade meal in a rustic chalet with roaring fireplaces and was so perfectly what I wanted at that moment. 

Restaurant Au Petit Poucet

In case you're not familiar, "tourtiere" is Quebec's version of the meat pie that is a staple in many cultures usually made with veal, beef, pork, game or all of the above. Mike had the "Authentic Quebec Meal" with smoked ham, meat pie, baked beans and home fried potatoes. You can't get anymore authentic than this meal. With bitter cold weather, it was all we needed to warm up and fill our bellies. 

Restaurant Au Petit Poucet Quebec

I had the "Le Savoie" sandwich with smoked ham, liver pate, swiss cheese and dijon mustard. I don't know if the photo captures the sheer size and layers of meat and pate. This time of year is still early for maple syrup sugar shacks, which is another Quebec experience I would like to try at some point. If I was skiing all morning, I would love to warm up at this restaurant for lunch. I don't know how much skiing I would do afterwards though. 

Restaurant Au Petit Poucet Quebec

Back to the cupcakes and the special treat that was my "Valentine's Day gift." The cupcakes were inspired by a few different images I found on Pinterest. They were supposed to be "pink velvet." As you can see, the colour baked right out of them. I added red food colouring to the buttercream icing, added some "conversation heart" candies and got creative with chocolate. 

"Love" cupcakes with chocolate

Pink Velvet Cupcakes (from Taste of Home)

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice added)
A few drops of red food colouring

cupcakes with strawberry jam filling


1. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar and food colouring until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then beat in the vanilla.
2. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed mixture alternating with adding the buttermilk.
3. Fill a paper-lined muffin tin with the batter about 2/3 full. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before filling. 

cupcakes with pink buttercream icing

For the filling, I scooped a little hole out of the top of the cupcake with a melon baller. Then I added a blob of strawberry jam and put the little piece that I scooped out back on top. Since I iced the cupcakes, you don't see the top that I took off anyway. Alternatively, there are "cupcake filling" tools or you can bake the filling into the cupcakes. I like adding filling because it adds a little extra texture besides cake. The icing is the standard Wilton buttercream icing recipe. 

cupcake filling


The chocolate work was inspired by these cupcakes and these ones. All I did was melt chocolate and fill it in a piping bag. I piped out hearts, words (and blobs to practice) onto parchment paper and put them in the freezer overnight. Then I carefully peeled them off the paper and used the shapes to decorate the cupcakes. It's something I've never done before and the chocolate, as well as the cupcakes, seemed to work out without (hardly) any meltdowns. 

Valentine's Day pink cupcakes

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