Hot Fusion

eating musubiRice, to me, is not a comfort food like pasta or bread. It is something far more fundamental and taken for granted until you don’t have it, like blood. Rice is a hint at the great and profound fact that we must eat to live. When I hear the word “Spam,” on the other hand, I feel like I just watched someone trip off the edge of the sidewalk – simultaneously compassionate and amused. Spam does not even deserve to be rice’s opposite – their relationship is more akin to Superman and helpless victim. However! I should have realised that without the helpless victim, Superman is just a dude in tights wearing his underwear on the outside, and I’ve learned that if you put rice and Spam together you get the way-too-unknown Hawaiian snack known as Spam musubi. You won’t see it in fusion restaurants but musubi are true fusion cuisine, combining both the Japanese and American influences in Hawaii in perfect harmony.

musubi on a plate

If you’re going to do a dish comprised of just Spam and rice, do it right. Sushi rice is tricky to make perfectly, and, unfortunately, there is no simple recipe. It all depends on what kind of rice you are using. Once you open this particular can of worms you soon understand why in many Japanese restaurants there’s a guy whose sole job is just to prepare the rice. I quote from the brilliant but absurdly named Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji:

“It is difficult to prescribe an exact formula for the size of pot and the amount of water to use in cooking rice because there are so many variables. Assuming that our interest is only in short-grain rice, we still must consider whether it was grown in a flooded paddy or dry field, whether the rice is newly harvested or whether it has already been on the shelf for some time, whether the climate is hot and muggy or desert dry. These are all factors that the rice chef, with a many-year training period, would have no trouble in dealing with.”

Not being a rice chef, I had some trouble dealing with the factors. I used white medium grain Calrose rice from California, which is often considered a good substitute for real Japonica sushi rice. Shizuo Tsuji suggests as a general rule, for rice of Asian origin grown in wet fields, 1 cup of water to 1 cup of washed rice (not dry), and for rice of American or European origin (grown in dry fields), 1 ¾ cups of water to 1 cup of dry rice. Exhausted yet? I followed his directions for American rice and ended up with rice pudding, not at all suitable for sushi. Fortunately, no one was very hungry yet, so I had time to start again:

Rice for Spam Musubi

2 cups medium-grain Calrose rice from California

2 cups water

4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Wash the rice. This is done by putting the rice in a bowl, covering with cold water and squishing the rice around with your hands until the water turns milky. Do not let the rice stand in the water – when the water is milky, pour it out. Refill the bowl with cold water. Do this for about five minutes, removing the starches, until the water is almost clear. Shizuo Tsuji makes a point of mentioning that later washings should be performed more gently than the first washings, to avoid “bruising” the grains. Sure. Whatever. When done, drain the rice in a sieve and let stand for 30 minutes to an hour. I am convinced this does something, because the rice changes from clear to opaque.

Place the rice in a heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. I used my Le Creuset cast iron casserole. Add the water, cover, and heat over medium heat until the water just starts to boil. Turn the heat to high and let the water get to a vigorous boil. White foam will creep out from under the lid and sizzle on your burner but this is a sign you are doing the right thing. After two minutes, reduce heat to low and simmer for five more minutes. Do not, at any time, take the lid off to see how it is doing.

Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for twenty minutes unmolested.

While this is happening, combine the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. The quantities of the flavourings vary, traditional sushi rice is quite a bit sweeter, but we don’t like sweet things much. When dissolved, cool the saucepan in an ice bath (just kidding. No I’m not. Well, I did it. Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?).

Now enlist your helper with a bamboo fan (or folded newspaper), lift off the lid on the pot, and sprinkle in the vinegar mixture. While your helper fans like a demon, cut the rice with a wooden spatula and turn it, essentially speed cooling it. This also apparently does something essential to the texture of the rice, I’m not sure what, but 126 million Japanese can’t be wrong, can they?

block of rice

And there you have it. Perfect sushi rice, unless you are using a different brand than me or the weather is unsual or… anyway, if you want oodles more detail on the subject, I urge you to consult Japanese Cooking, a Simple Art.

Did I mention you will need a musubi mold?

Sorry about that. A musubi mold, exactly the dimensions of a slice of Spam, is used to compress the rice into a lovely brick shape. I don’t have a musubi mold, but I have a lovely 70s era sushi press that served the purpose. I have heard that some musubi fans use the empty Spam can.

Spam Musubi

Prepared sushi rice

1 can Spam

2 sheets nori

Furikake seasoning

De-can your Spam and slice it into eight even slices. Heat up a frypan and toss in the Spam. When it begins to brown on the underside, pour in a mix of soy sauce and sugar. How much? Well, let’s say about three tablespoons of soy and 1 teaspoon of sugar, but you can mix it up to your own taste. Spam is far more forgiving than rice. The Spam will quickly suck up the soy; turn it off the heat.

frying spam

Place rice in mold. Squash rice under high pressure until it is a firm brick. Sprinkle the rice brick with furikake and add slice of Spam. Since I was using a long sushi mold, I found it the perfect size to hold four slices of Spam, which I then turned into individual musubi with a sharp knife.

nori

Cut strips of nori, and wrap the musubi up prettily. The nori is essential, it adds a fresh vegetable aroma to the heavily meaty Spam.

Spring & Scotch

Week 1: Creme, Tart, Spring

Weekend agenda:

  • Make twinkies
  • Make something with rhubarb
  • Learn how to make spring rolls

1. Made the easiest thing first: rhubarb syrup for cocktails, or as I’m enjoying it most, over ice with seltzer water and a slice of lime for a refreshingly tart soda. A couple stalks of rhubarb, some lime juice and sugar (from past experience I’ve learned to always use less sugar than a recipe calls for; not all rhubarb is tongue-twisting sour, so it’s better to start with less and build as needed). Also good mixed in gin & tonics.

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2. Made the second-easiest thing next, vegetarian spring rolls, an item M & I order nearly every time we see ‘em on a menu and so frequently that we have restaurants rated by spring roll. (Best ones in Seattle that we’ve discovered so far are at the Tamarind Tree . . . they have a ridiculously too-long menu, but if you bring us beers, and spring rolls [and keep 'em coming], we’ll be perfectly content.

So it finally occurred to me that since M & I also like lounging around in the park or beach on sunny days as well as camping, wouldn’t it be economical and tasty to just wrap up our favorite veggies and get on with our tans? I’m almost embarrassed to discover how easy spring rolls are to create. Once I found the wrappers (they’re not near the egg roll, wonton or pot sticker wrappers in the refrigerator section; just go directly to the Asian section of your grocery store and find them all stiff and shrink-wrapped like dinner plate-sized communion wafers). So you do all your veggie prep, fill a shallow bowl (I used a 9 x 13 pan) with hot water, dip a wafer in for 15 seconds, then carefully lift the transparent and flexible wrapper out to drain for a couple of seconds, then place on a towel. Dab the top to remove any excess water.  Arrange your fillings in the center, avoiding the urge to overfill. We used microgreens, cilantro, julienned carrots and cucumbers, and sliced avocado. Fold the bottom up and over, turn in the sides, roll up all the way and set aside to proceed with the rest of the rolls. Dip in spicy peanut sauce and crack open a Rainier beer or two and toast your good life. They were so good I forgot to photograph them, but I’ll save that honor for future rolls.

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3. The Twinkie experiments begin!

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I first tried a white sponge cake that was intended to be paired with strawberries and whipped cream. Result: nice and light and spongy, but bland. Then I tried a recipe that claimed it was a Twinkie recipe. Got the color right, but so dense and heavy there’s not room for a cream filling . . . not moist enough. But the batter itself? Significantly lightened with whipped egg whites, it was delicious. I had more than a couple spoon fulls. I’m not normally a cake batter lover, but this was so yummy that I was surprised the cake was so drab.

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Recall that idea I had a couple posts back for whipped cream flavored with banana? I went ahead and pulverized some freeze-dried bananas and folded them into whipped cream that I’d stabilized with gelatin. The result? I was slathering thick servings of it on top of the twinkie cakes, then finally dismissing the cake for the cream exclusively. Real banana flavor, and so creamy. This is a keeper that will make a return in other desserts.

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Went to work and got a hot tip from our resident chef; Barbara will be sending me a Twinkie recipe that should closely approximate actual Twinkie flavor and texture and I’ll be trying it out with a strawberry-banana cream filling.

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———

Week 2: Ice, Smoke, Scotch

This week I discovered Sur La Table sells an item called Smoked Brown Sugar. I got a whiff before I left work today and it’s followed me everywhere. Amazing, sharp, tangy wood on top of molasses and caramel. Perfect for baked beans, or roasted with apricots and peaches on the grill . . .in a fruit crisp.  The blurb online recommends barbecue ribs, crème brûlée, grilled salmon, pulled pork, acorn squash. I’m thinking the salted caramel ice cream trend could use an update, honestly. Smoked butterscotch ice cream, anyone?

I also decided I’m tired of buying $4 coffee every morning so I made a big–

Jug o’ Iced Coffee

1 lb ground coffee

8 qts cold water

Mix coffee with water. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature 8 hours or overnight. Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set over a pitcher or other container. Pour coffee/water mixture through the strainer, allowing all liquid to run through. Discard grounds. Place coffee liquid in the fridge to chill. Use as needed.

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I also discovered that adding chocolate to a balsamic vinaigrette is a good thing. Shaved chocolate melted into vinegar and whisked into oil. The chocolate adds a lovely depth to the vinegar.

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Olive oil, balsamic, chocolate: together?

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On Friday I attended a Sur La Table Bread-making Workshop where I made Raisin, Rosemary and Cinnamon Focaccia, a cute little Sourdough loaf, Pesto Rolls and an Old-Fashioned Sandwich Loaf. This has made me determine that my refrigerator is in need of a permanent new resident–a sourdough starter.

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And of course, I made one more attempt at the Twinkies. This time I tried one new cake recipe and two new cream filling flavors. The cake flavor is right….texture still not there. The white shortening-based room-temp stable cream was disgusting and went entirely into the trash, sans two spoons to test. The strawberry-banana whipped cream was awesome. At this point, it’s safe to say I’m twinkied out and ready to move on.

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How about I go ahead and finish off the week with Smoked Butterscotch Ice Cream!

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Smoked Butterscotch Ice Cream

1 cup firmly packed Darkhorse smoked brown sugar

2 T. butter

1 T. Orlando Mexican vanilla

2 t. bourbon

1 1/2 c. whipping cream

2 c. half -n-half

6 large egg yolks

Melt brown sugar and butter over medium heat until mixture is bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes. While whisking, slowly add 1/2 cup whipping cream. Remove from heat and add vanilla and bourbon.

Combine remaining 1 cup whipping cream and half-n-half and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Beat egg yolks. Whisk 1/2 cup of warm cream into yolks, then pour back into pan with cream. Stir constantly over low heat until mixture is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour through fine mesh strainer then whisk in butterscotch mixture. Chill and freeze. Maybe add something in for texture: chocolate chunks, broken up bits of brittle, some toasted slivers of almonds.

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Mmmmmmmmm. So good.

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What a donkey.

sparkle donkey i don't want it

31st century (for 4 tequila drinkers)

4 ½ oz lime juice

8 oz Sparkle Donkey double distilled Silver Tequila

6 oz Crème de Cacao

2 droppers of Thai chili tincture*

¾ oz simple syrup

Small handful of mint leaves

Muddle mint in the bottom of shaker. Add ice then rest of ingredients. Shake and strain into 4 chilled absinthe-rinsed coupe glasses.

sparkle donkey man who thinks

My girlfriend Sheena came over the other day with a couple bottles of Sparkle Donkey tequila (The World’s Best Tequila™), distributed by Black Rock Spirits, where she works, and we endeavored to determine their best qualities by finding a couple of cocktails to try from the PDT Cocktail Book. We made the East Village Athletic Club Cocktail with Reposado (golden) Sparkle Donkey tequila, lemon juice, chartreuse and Grand Marnier, which was delicious, but made us more ready to try another cocktail. We turned next to the 21st century cocktail, whose name is actually a riff on the gin-based 20th century cocktail, named after the 20th Century Limited luxury train that traveled between New York City and Chicago from 1902 to 1967. This was accomplished by shaking Sparkle Donkey silver tequila, crème de cacao and lemon juice and pouring into an absinthe-rinsed glass.

cocktail 31st century 1

We liked the second one better, but when we realized we were out of lemons, we made some modifications. You see, we were expected at a public viewing of Conan the Destroyer** at the park for Friday night fun with friends, so we located an empty bottle and increased the ratios for 5 people (which turned out to be best for 4) and mixed away, adding lime (better), chili tincture for some nice heat, simple syrup to take the edge off, and mint for some herbal complexity. The result is spicy, sour, sweet and effervescent.

cocktail 31st century

It’s always a joyous occasion when one creates a cocktail that’s so pleasantly delicious (which is why I’m sharing it here).

I’m not sure I’ve grown fond of the name or the packaging, truth be told, but I do like the wit and cleverness of SD’s marketing, particularly the vintage magazine ads above, and the absurdist history, poking fun at the idea that the only good tequila has to be one that’s been around since times ancient. The drink’s delicious, the name is silly, and it’s worth a try.

Next, I’m thinking of trying the Nouveau Carré, an agave riff on one of my very favorite cocktails, the rye-based Vieux Carré). (”You’ll Be Without a Carré in the World”? Nah.) or the Conquistador, wherein rum sidles up to the tequila and gets frothy with some egg white. Oh, yeah.

Drink well, love well.  Be well, friends.

Mw

*I realize you probably don’t have this lying around . . . this was a gift from M&D. Essentially you chop up jalapenos and soak them in vodka until the liquor’s infused with spicy goodness.

**This is the second time I’ve seen this movie this year, and let me tell you, it’s all about Grace Jones for me. Such an original.

Cream & Cake

A friend of mine, Steve, has a predilection for bringing treats to parties that are naturally colored. There was the time he brought a trio of frosting-dips that had been dyed with blueberries, mango and matcha powder. So in a nod to Steve, I was inspired to create a naturally-colored cream filling of my own devising. Steve, I hope you will use this recipe to romance someone along your way away from Seattle. Have sweet travels.

And the rest of you…try this deliciousness. ;)

tjoe's freeze dried strawberries

Strawberry Whipped Cream

2 cups whipping cream

1 pkg. Trader Joe’s freeze-dried strawberries

2 T. powdered sugar

2 t. vanilla

Put strawberries in mini food processor or (clean) coffee grinder and process into powder. Put cream in large bowl, add sugar and beat until incorporated, then add strawberry powder and vanilla, beat on low until mixed, then beat into thick cream. You won’t have to do this for long, so don’t overbeat it into butter.

The result? Whipped cream with the flavor of fresh strawberries. How can red dyed artificially flavored syrups compete? They cannot. Reject them. Make your own sweet treats to keep your tongue buds pleased.

strawberry whipped cream

A couple of days later I was eyeing some Trader Joe’s Roasted Coconut Chips (The subhead description sounds a tad demented: mature coconut soaked in young coconut milk, roasted with a touch of salt & sugar). They’re one of my new favorite snacks. A couple or three half handfuls offer a slightly sweet crispness on demand. I’m thinking of pulverizing some into powder for another whipped cream flavor. In fact, I may just go on a freeze-dried freak run to Trader Joe’s for an array, an entire BUFFET of whipped creams. Heh. You know. WTFN?*

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In other news, I’ve been brainstorming up names for the following iconic snack cakes: Twinkies, Ho Hos, Sno-balls and Ding Dongs. For work not for whim, in case you wondered.

A uniquely challenging challenge it is, naming a snack cake. How do you draw the line around where’s too far over the line? Snack cake names, after all, connote lewdness yet inspire a nostalgia that compels you to long for soft cakes cream-filled and occasionally frosting-dipped. At least that’s what I tell myself, since I have not had a snack cake in years.**

ho hos

The reason for this most unusual of tasks is that Sur La Table will be rolling out new pans and implements for the truly nostalgic cooks out there to make their own home-crafted snack cakes. If you ask me, this just opens the oven door to creating snack-things far and away tastier than the originals.

Over a weekend I rolled out a white board and went through numerous cookbook indices in search of inspiration: Maidda Heater’s Book of Great Desserts, David Leibovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, Fran Bigelow’s pure chocolate, Lindsey R. Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts, Flo Braker’s sweet miniatures, and even 2002’s Minnesota-printed collection of my extended family’s recipes, Cooking with the Wencl’s. Here are some of my favorite names I dreamt up.

snoball mirror glassDing Dongs: Cake Knocks, WTFudges, Dream Cremes, Choco-Lottas

Twinkies: Crème Declairs, Golden Sponges, Winkie Cakes, Cream-filled Winkies

Ho Hos: Choco-Ritos, A-Hoy-Ho’s, Royo’s

Sno-Balls: Sno-Cremes, Cloud Cakes, Whiteouts, Mallow-Moons

ding dongs

Only time will tell if any of my brainstorm ends up branding an actual snack cake pan, but those pans will have to get rolled out quickly, since the latest news from Slate is that the Great Twinkie Shortage is soon to be over. I think I’d just as soon get a pan of my own and make my own version of Twinkies. I’ve always wondered what the originals tasted like. They had a banana filling that was eventually switched to vanilla cream when shipments of bananas to the States were rationed during WWII.

Note to self: Add freeze dried bananas to your shopping list.

freeze dried bananas

*Why the Fudge Not?

**Okay, that’s a fudge. When I first heard a whiff that Twinkies might finally be entering permanent retirement a year ago, I swiped a box from a Safeway. The first couple bites did indeed whisk me into a sweet tizzy of nostalgia, but then my palate began to detect a slight chemical undertone that was rather off-putting. Nevertheless, the entire box was eventually consumed. Ugh.

Banana Ice Cream

nom_nom

For years I ate oatmeal with bananas every day for breakfast. But one must not get caught up in the rut of repetition. One must try new things, explore new avenues, conquer new experiences. And so at some point I switched over to eating my oats with raisins.

I still do love bananas, though. But there’s always been the issue with them going bad so quickly. The only possibility I’ve heard of for overripe bananas is banana bread (admittedly, I have not researched the subject, and surely there are many uses). But banana bread is a project, and when you’re being too lazy to eat your damn bananas, the chances of making bread out of them is no doubt diminished.

So, on Facebook I mentioned that I was eating bananas for dinner. We had a bunch that was on the edge of becoming overripe, and I was feeling lazy about preparing a proper meal for myself. It seemed a perfect idea… for the first few bananas. Ah well. Sometimes in reality, what was thought of as brilliant idea, is really just a weird dinner.

Fortunately, Matt mentioned on my FB post about “banana ice cream.” I was intrigued, especially since:

  1. the ONLY ingredient is bananas (what the?)
  2. I’ve cut dairy out of my diet, and so I have limited “ice cream” options
  3. the ONLY ingredient is bananas (no, seriously, WHAT THE?!!)

So, I tried it. The ingredients? Bananas. Seriously. Just peel them, cut them into pieces (inch or less), and freeze them for a couple hours. Then put them in a food processor.

The immediate result was very soft and creamy, but after putting the “ice cream” in the freezer overnight, it became a perfect ice cream texture. It has not gotten overly hard like ice-cream does. And it’s naturally sweet, so, although I may try adding maple syrup or sugar to future batches — I feel no dying need to.

It’s a good day to like bananas. A good day for monkey-kind.

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Summer’s Golden Ratios

Copper & Silver

So if a Moscow Mule & Mint Julep spill into each other, do they become a Mintcow Mulep?

Happy Mule by George Guy

Ahem. Anyway.  I’ve been writing copy about the Moscow Mule’s traditional receptacle, the copper mug, and the Mint Julep’s silver tumbler, both created decades ago in the name of marketing, then abandoned after enthusiastic imbibers began stealing the mugs and tumblers. Now they are making a comeback, as the craft cocktail movement continues to pick up speed.

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The Moscow Mule’s origin story isn’t all that interesting, your basic successful marketing plan, but it’s one of the best vodka cocktails I know, mainly because the ginger beer gives a nice spiciness to counteract the lime. Can’t wait to make these further into the summer, when it’s hotter.

Which happens to be how I feel about the Mint Julep as well, and its back story is fascinating. Mint leaves muddled into bourbon and chilled with crushed ice and garnished with mint. It’s that simple–one of those things so perfectly balanced that I considered purchasing a Sno-Cone machine to make liquorish mid-summer treats.

The word “julep” is traced as far back to the Middle East, and a rose-flavored water called Julab. When the drink made its way to the Mediterranean, the rose petals were replaced by mint leaves. Americans eventually mispronounced the drink and switched out the water for liquor, and a classic infusion was born. The Derby’s marketing tool of silver tumblers made a great julep even better, the frosted edges of the stainless steel tumbler rim embellish the drink with teeth-chattering cold, then you taste the smooth burn of bourbon and the brisk herbal note of mint. Delicious.


Relish: Ratio

I just finished reading Relish, by Lucy Knisley. It’s delightful.

Relish Cover

And now I’m reading Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman, after receiving a copy in a class offered by Sur La Table of a similar name, Ratios Not Recipes. I’ve taken about 5 classes at Sur La Table now, and this one was my favorite. We made crème brûlée, pie crust, shortbread cookies topped with crystalized lemon and dark chocolate drops, and a pâte à choux, which I mixed with goat cheese and chopped basil and dropped in big globs that puffed to the size of hamburger buns. Really good. The cookies were tasty too (I never miss a chance to mix lemon with chocolate) but the pie crust inspired me. I went home and straightaway made a Rhubarb Crostata.

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It was delicious.

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Speaking of crostata, there’s one on the cover of this month’s Sur La Table catalog. I’ll bet you’ll easily guess which pages I worked on. :) You should request a copy.

June 2013 Sur La Table catalog

Best thing I saw today was Portion Control by Christopher Boffoli, these wonderful mixtures of miniature people among huge blow-ups of food:

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Rock Candy Icefall

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….including this awesome photo of Fran’s Grey Salt Caramels, attended to by the Salt Harvesters

M and I are off to San Francisco for a week. So I need to finish up this blog and get back to my research.  I’ll leave you with a shot of what I think just might be my first completely successful loaf of bread. I created a sourdough starter over the Memorial Day weekend and made this gorgeous loaf. Perfectly browned crust, soft and tender center: San Francisco Sourdough loaf. I will never forget it.

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