Things About Stuff: Food, Sounds, Comics and Waffle

Braindrops from the Clouds of Earth-X  

Gingerbread, Raspberry, Chocolate

Posted on December 19, 2012 by     Leave a comment

The main difficulty with this recipe is that you need a Beloved to make the gingerbread, due to me being crap at baking – in this case, from Pru Leith’s Baking Bible. But any good version would do. The following should serve 4.

  •  Gingerbread
  • 1 Punnet raspberries
  • Sugar (about 40g plus little extra)
  • Good vanilla ice cream (Fedrici panna cotta is very good)
  • Double cream (80 ml)
  • Willie’s Cacao (60g), grated
  • 2 Knobs of butter


Put the raspberries into a small pan and add teaspoon of sugar (more if you have a sweet tooth!). Gently warm the raspberries, shaking the pan every now and then for about 10 minutes until pulped – work through a sieve with the back of a spoon, collecting the juice in a ramekin and remembering to scrape the pulp from the underside of the sieve. Clingfilm the ramekin and fridge.

Next, make a ‘truffle log’ of chocolate ganache: heat cream and sugar in a small pan, removing from the heat when nearly boiling. Add the chocolate and a knob of butter and stir until mixed (note: Willie’s Cacao is very bitter as it’s 100%, so the amount of sugar required is according to personal taste – I prefer it quite bitter against the sharp raspberries). If the mixture is a little too warm, it may split: just add a little more cream (cold) and whisk the mixture hard. It will recover – but your arm will need a rest!

The  ganache needs to set; you can pack it in clingfilm by sitting a layer of clingfilm in a double thickness of tin foil, to support the film, pouring the chocolate sauce in, wrapping over the clingfilm and then the foil. It can get a bit messy – but these are good-to-lick messy fingers. Transfer to fridge – check every 5 or 10 minutes as it will harden quickly. When still a little give, you can roll the whole thing on a hard surface to improve the shape.

This can be done 2-3 days in advance, if wished, keeping the prepared ingredients cold.

When ready to serve, boil a kettle and pour hot water into a mug – keep to one side. Put a knob of butter in a frying pan and sprinkle over a loose handful of sugar. Cut four slices of the gingerbread, not end pieces, and, when the butter mixture is bubbling, place them in the pan, freshly cut side down.

Meanwhile, on a plate, spread out a healthy teaspoon of the raspberry purée; cut three 3mm thick disks per person from the truffle log and place on the raspberry. Turn the gingerbread over to cook the other side (the pieces want about a minute or so per side, just to soak up the butter mixture, warm them through and give a slightly crisped edge). Dip a scoop or spoon in the hot water and dollop out one scoop per person of good vanilla ice-cream onto the plate, rinsing the utensil each time quickly in the hot water to help get the ice cream out – and give a nice sheen!

Place the gingerbread on the plate and serve immediately.

Gingerbread, Raspberry, Chocolate

(Apologies for the terrible picture!)


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Chicken Burger

Posted on July 13, 2012 by     2 Comments

This started as something of a gag but turned out to be a really delicious snack or starter. Simple and quick apart from the slight faff of the melba toast – and kids would even like it! Probably. [update: at least one kid does – thanks, Dylan!]

  • Chicken breast
  • Pea shoots
  • Capers
  • Tomatoes
  • White bread
  • Mayonnaise
  • White wine vinegar


First make the “ketchup”: roughly chop 4 or 5 tomatoes and cook in olive oil until bubbling. Reduce heat and cover. Leave for around 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. When all pulped, season and add a little off the vinegar to sharpen (no need for sugar but you can add some at this point, if preferred). Force through a sieve to remove all the skin, remembering to scrape the bottom of the sieve to get all the yummy pulp. This can be done a day in advance, transferred to a ramekin, cling-filmed and fridged.

When ready to cook, first take the bread and cut out rounds; it’s not essential but does look nice! One round is needed per person: toast each one in a toaster until lightly browned on both sides. Flatten chicken breast a little and carefully cut into slices, cutting at a shallow diagonal through the broadest part of the flesh. One chicken breast will do for 2 or 3 people. Season on both sides, then fry both sides in a little olive oil – move infrequently to make sure the pieces brown and thus enhance their flavour. While the chicken is cooking, take the cooled toast and carefully, with a sharp knife, slice in half through the thin edge to give two rounds from each.

Meanwhile, mix small handfulls of peashoots with some creamy mayonnaise and capers – one clutch of shoots per person and 5-10 capers, as per taste.

Place the rounds of toast under a grill to finish the untoasted, newly revealed sides: keep and eye on this as they will turn extremely quickly. This side only wants to be very lightly toasted so that the toasts are not too crunchy. Each toast will be slightly curved after the grilling, so they can be used like shells to hold the contents.

To assemble: place one toast on a plate, top with one or two slices of chicken, then the shoots, then the final toast. Pour some of the ketchup to the side and serve. Can be eaten with fingers!

Chicken Burger






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Duck, Rhubarb and Strawberry

Posted on June 28, 2012 by     Leave a comment

Not a warning and grumble, but nosh. And a terrible picture; it’s nicer than it looks.

  • 1 duck breast, scored on the skin side
  • Coleslaw (white cabbage, carrots, julienned with simple mustard dressing)
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 stick of rhubarb
  • 2 or three ripe strawberries
  • 1 small tomato


Set a pan of water boiling for the fennel which should be roughly chopped. Boil until al dente and drain. Put back in pan.

Preheat oven to 180C and set a small frying pan – that you don’t mind putting in the oven! – on high heat. Season the duck skin and place skin side down in hot pan. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes until the skin colours and crips.

Meanwhile, chop the rhubarb, strawberries and tomato, diced small. Add to the frying pan when duck skin crisped, stir and then turn the duck over onto the flesh side and place the pan into the hot oven for 7 minutes.

Remove the duck from the pan and leave to rest for a couple of minutes whilst putting the compote of fruit on high heat (remember that the frying pan handle is now very hot!!). Put the pan of fennel on low heat and add a generous knob of butter. Keep the contents of the frying pan moving until bubbling then share between two plates. Slice the duck and sit atop. Stir the fennel and heap alongside, adding a dollop of coleslaw.

It really is much nicer than this looks. Honest.


Duck with Rhubarb and Strawberry

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Chicken with Feta and Broad Beans and Footie

Posted on June 20, 2012 by     Leave a comment

I’m a bit iffy with broad beans, even when they’re from Riverford. A hell of a lot of work for a heap of detritus and very few beans. And it’s particularly true if they’re a little old and each bean needs the bitter skin removing. Those little green remains are delicious, for sure, but the effort involved for such small reward hardly makes them artichokes.

Fortunately, this week’s delivery was of pretty young beans, so I chose to use them immediately and balance what bitterness there was with other flavours. It worked better than expected and set the Beloved and I up in the nick of time for the England vs Ukraine game.

  • Half a cup of broad beans or so (once podded)
  • Knob of butter
  • Olive oil
  • Three slices of Proscuitto or Serrano ham
  • Two chicken breasts
  • Two large, ripe tomatoes
  • Parsley
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Feta cheese


Place a pan of water on to boil then add a glug of olive oil to a frying pan under a three-quarter heat, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and begin to fry. Place the broad beans in the hot water.

Turn the chicken regularly until the flesh is browned then place a lid over the frying pan, removing temporarily to turn the chicken every minute (the lid speeds cooking by helping steam the chicken and keeps the flesh moist, whilst also meaning the flesh is not overly browned and tough).

After two or three minutes, the beans will be cooked. Drain and return to the pan, off the heat, immediately adding the lemon juice, butter and two half inch slices of feta cheese, diced. Tear up the ham and leave to one side; dice the tomatoes and roughly chop the parsley.

By now, the chicken will be nearly cooked – add the tomatoes to the pan and stir around the chicken, picking up the caramelised flavours with the tomato liquor.

Stir the beans whilst adding in the torn ham, bits at a time, then share between two warmed plates (don’t stir too roughly – the feta should be beginning to collapse and dissolve but should still remain in pieces). Place the chicken on the beans then add the parlsey to the remaining tomatoes, turning off the heat and quickly stirring. Share over the chicken. Season with black pepper if required.

Chicken with Feta and Broad Beans


Successful food and something I’ll certainly make again.

Successful football, too, although that was considerably more stressful. I couldn’t understand why Andy Carroll was not playing from the start – I don’t think he’s a great player but he looks really up for it and if we are going to play wingers, and an attacker like Rooney who makes unpredictable moves and passes, surely we want a strong header of the ball? Rooney’s miss seemed to underline the point. Welbeck was OK but I fear he fancies himself as better than he is, especially after his goal in the previous match, which I suspect will have him making unwanted backheels and other tomfoolery.

Milner was a revelation. Like Revelations is: apocalyptic. I appreciate he is on for his defensive capabilities but, really, if he can’t pass the ball, is there really any point? Ironically substituted after first good pass of the game.

Ukraine denied a definite goal (what does the guy on the line do? I could see that was in as it happened on TV; why couldn’t he, scant yards away?). England, however, denied one or possibly two penalties to my eyes – it appears that grabbing shirts wilfully and tugging players to the ground in the penalty area is not being penalised in the Euros (it’s not just the England game this has happened in).

Rotten yellow card for Cole; surely a warning was justified at that point in the game? He can blame his teammates for not giving him a target to throw the ball at. Hart looking a bit more secure in his catching. As with the first two games, plenty of effort, which is all I would ask, even if little real skill. We’ve already done better than anticipated and will probably beat Italy just so that Germany can dump us out because that always hurts more.

All in all, the result was probably just about fair – Ukraine played with more energy but England somehow had the more clear chances. A draw may have been merited, but still wouldn’t have been enough. Gutted for them, though, especially in light of France’s result.

And the French couldn’t win the group, so now we play on Sunday instead of Saturday. Bloody French.



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Left Over Roast Chicken

Posted on June 19, 2012 by     Leave a comment

I love roast chicken; it’s one of the rare roasts that works all year round – I touch of lemon in the gravy and new potatoes in summer lighten it up. But much as Heston Blumenthal’s lengthy cooking method is good, it is time-consuming and I quite like the taste of a properly scorch-roasted chicken. As long as it’s basted and kept moist.

For Beloved and I, however, the problem with a whole chicken is the leftovers. On occasion, roasting whole breasts with frequent basting can manage a reasonable fake but the real thing is better. Carve the breasts and scoff with everything else. Then pick over the carcass and remove the meat, making a stock of the remains. The following day, the choice of what to do with the remaining chicken is the problem.

A curry or a risotto are obvious options, and sometimes ones I take, but the main thing, I find, is to do something that really only needs the chicken to be warmed at the end. Otherwise it develops a strong taste of “old chicken”. It’s not inedible but it is preferable to avoid.

Last night, whist fancying rice, I didn’t really fancy the clagginess of risotto (unusually for me) and we had some fresh coriander that was edging towards bin time. So:

  •  Two healthy handfuls of basmati rice
  • Leftover roast chicken
  • Good fist of fresh coriander, including stems
  • 1 Lime
  • Sesame oil
  • Frozen peas
  • Seasoning


Just cover the rice with water, add a pinch of salt and boil gently until all the water is absorbed (no further salt will be needed other than that used in the water, unless you prefer to drain rice; the slight stickiness of keeping all the starch rather than rinsing is better here, I think).

Reduce the heat to lowest and add a little olive oil, a small knob of butter and a twist of black pepper. Stir in throughly then add the cold, leftover chicken. Keep moving, then chop and add all the coriander, a capfull of sesame oil*, juice of a lime and a tablespoon or two of pease, depending on your preference.

Keep the whole thing moving gently until the peas are just warm; that’s a good indicator the chicken will be, too. Serve immediately.

Amazingly simple, and utterly delicious. Surprisingly so, in fact, which is why I didn’t have a useful picture. So it’s the aftermath, instead…

This is an ex-dinner


*sesame oil is often used as a flavour rather than as a heat medium; that’s the case here. Be careful not to add too much as it’s potent!




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Evil Ketchup and Mysterious Freedom

Posted on May 26, 2012 by     Leave a comment

The Beloved won’t eat fish, shelfish, anything out of the sea, iffy about things on the bone (because they look like they came from animals) and won’t touch offal of any sort.

I understand this; as the cook in the house, it’s limiting – but I get it.

And then she heads off on a hen party, for the glorious Al, and with the excellence of Suzi and Roselle. I feel that I should warn the town, but there doesn’t appear to be a central contact for such. It leaves me, however, with all the options of food that I could want. And other ways to fritter time away. Crossword and pint;  great – also with additional value of SkyGo giving me the cricket in one ear and visual when fun happens. Maybe Moon, finally? It’s Eurovision as well, for all of the soft lark that brings – though really, that’s only fun with other peeps and I appear to have run out of anyone who gives a toss. And the first England friendly since Roy Hodgson took over.

Well, options, then.

Perversely, the thing that has knackered most of my waking days for seven of them now, is what I should “treat” myself to… a hotter curry? Liver? Steak and kidney pudding?

There were so many options: I like the sense of spice beyond reason. But I also like food across the whole gamut – from crisp sandwiches, through a pub’s lasagne and all the way to Michelin starred marvellousness. In the end, I went with hot dogs. Princes’, not some clever variation. A hot dog isn’t a hot dog unless it’s an inherently processed, slightly rubbish thing.

But that allows for a  little leeway. Firstly, with hot dogs, one must have fried onions (which are a bit burnt, regardless of the opinion on that phrase). Cheese, mustard, ketchup and such are all optional but if you don’t have fried onions, you are de facto, a nitwit. Fact.

Spice was the thing for me. So, herewith, is a way to make ketchup EVIL (this is for one lovely tin of 8 hot dogs):

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 hot green chillies, or other sense of HOTness. You know best.
  •  1 clove garlic
  • fresh ginger, about a teaspoon, sliced and diced
  • 1 cap fish sauce
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • pinch salt
  • pinch black pepper
  • 3 level tablespoons of good ketchup; your choice.


Chop garlic and chillies and ginger; pan fry lightly in the oil, just until you sneeze, then add fish sauce, salt (be careful on this – fish sauce is salt, essentially) and pepper. Turn heat off and add lemon juice. Mix together in heat of the pan, give a minute and then tip into the ketchup. Leave for 2 hours minimum for all the heat and madness to spread and mungle.

Use in the usual way you might any sort of ketchup.

I went with larger bread because it was better bread – should have been finger rolls really. But it just meant it was two dogs per bun. No major loss!


Until this point in this post, it was all predictive, because I was “cooking” as blogging. I’ve now tried and eaten. One word and some accurate grammar: yum!!! Also, ran out of ketchup.






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Condiments that Zing!

Posted on May 22, 2012 by     Leave a comment

Yesterday I had Cumberland sausages and greens. Filler was bread. With large slather of mustard on it – if it doesn’t make your nose fizz and brain expand like a sniff of amyl nitrite, then you’re not using enough.

The thing is, this mustard had been open for a few weeks, so it’s potency surprised me. As a long-time fan of Coleman’s English mustard*, the one thing I dislike about it is how fast it loses its punch. Not so with this variety. But then it is Tracklements – and they pretty much make the best condiments about. If you like English mustard, this is the one – their perky piccalilli and horseradish are also marvels.

Another good brand, particularly if you’re a fan of the sausage sandwich game (which scandalously ignores mustard), is Stokes, who do a very fine brown sauce. Better than HP. Their ketchup remains untried; these things are for bacon, not sausages, but I tend to prefer a chilli pickle, just to be perverse.

Which brings me to one last condiment, one that I’ve lost, it seems, and miss: sambal oelek. Some years ago, Indonesian foodstuffs popped up in a Sainsburys; a variety of items all under the same brand (Conimex – Dutch, oddly enough, it may have been). Sambal manis, a sort of fried onion relish, was okay if a little sweet for my tastes but the sambal oelek was wondrous – salty, spicy bite. Simple, clean and ferocious – barely anything to it other than chilli and salt. I could eat it by the jar – and frequently did.


It still exists, of course, but other versions are, well other versions. They don’t, ahem, cut the mustard.  But the supermarkets, and even delis, seem to have stopped stocking this particular version. And frankly, the Conimex version is probably not it. It’s the illustrated version that I can find a picture of but nothing else. Humbug. Oh well, keep looking…



*English mustard for cheese or sausage sandwiches; Dijon or wholegrain for dressings. Obviously.



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Chinese Takeaway Curry

Posted on April 28, 2012 by     Leave a comment

I love spicy food – spicy and/or hot; but hot, preferably. Pretty much anything with chillies in it is OK with me – chocolate included. Chilli con carne used to be the standby meal in my house (since superceded as preferred regular by chicken tandoori) and it’s still something I’ll tend to have in the freezer as standby. It’s also something that highlights a difference as to what “hot” means. It’s a very personal thing.

I can have chilli extremely hot, whereas curries I tend to prefer at the Madras or Jalfrezi (where the inclusion of fresh chillies allows a choice of heat per spoonful!) level. That, of course, depends on what you’re used to and what takeaway defines your base level – my base level was defined by the Royal Benghal in Stockton and its Madras was rather hotter than any Vindaloo I’ve had anywhere since, so it’s perhaps not useful as a general reference…

Anyway, whilst Indian food, for a particular generation,  perhaps, defines one’s heat limits, it’s not the only curry: Chinese curries have a particular flavour and heat that is sometimes just the right thing. Oddly, as generic across the country as a Chinese takeaway curry tastes, it’s remarkably difficult to find a reliable recipe. This might be because most of us don’t have MSG sitting in the cupboard or because a purchased paste is used as base. I’m not sure. But I found one that needed tweaking for my tastes and it looks and tastes close enough – I think it needs a little more ginger and a certain something else I haven’t put my finger on. But I’ll get back to it another time…

So, the sauce (adapted from this), which will serve two hungry hectors quite happily:

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp hot curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 apple

(Note: major changes are addition of apple, which is usually used for “chip shop” curry sauce, and removal or paprika – I only had “posh”, good smoked paprika and it nearly spoiled the entire thing. Additionally, I suspect making the curry powder/spice mix may be the way forward with this.)

1. Mix curry powder and flour.

2. Heat oil, add chopped ginger, finely chopped garlic and diced onions. Stir until sweated then add peeled, chopped apple pieces. Give another minute or so, stirring continuously.

3. Add flour mix, salt and chilli powder, stir for 30 seconds or so until flour bound in to the pulpy mix (this will aid it binding with the water), then add the water and stir briskly whilst bringing back to the boil.

4. Add tomato purée and then cover on very low heat for 20 minutes.

5. Blend the resultant mix and check seasoning; this is the base sauce that can be frozen or left for a day or so in the fridge.


For a standard curry chop up chicken* (one breast per person) into smallish chunks and drop in the sauce with some large pieces of roughly sliced onion. Gently bring the sauce to the boild and simmer for 15 minutes or until the chicken is poached (pre-fry and brown chicken for a stronger flavour and texture). Add some frozen peas a few minutes before serving, just to defrost and warm through. Fling onto rice and add as much soy sauce as you prefer. Yum!

You could fancy this up with some chopped coriander but I really don’t think this sort of food needs garnish or smart presentation!


*Or prawns! But don’t chop those…





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Loving Loves

Posted on September 2, 2011 by     Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago I went to Loves restaurant for an a la carte lunch in Birmingham with The Beloved and Drs Thom and Faith Oliver. Now a good meal can be made by many things – company is one of them, so I was safe here as you won’t get much better than these three cherubs. Atmosphere matters, too and Loves brings that – over a bridge by the canal, the approach is slightly marred by the ramshackle view to the left; and entertained by the “Vibro Suite” to the right.

But the restaurant itself is welcoming – friendly staff and nicely understated, crisp decor with good natural light – you don’t feel as though you’re expected to be anything other than yourself.

And then there’s the food, of course.

Flavours are, obviously, a must – but I admit to being a sucker for great presentation; happy claps are difficult to suppress when a truly marvellous looking plate of food is placed in front of me, before I get anywhere near trying it. And Loves present plates that one is tempted to leave alone. But this is not food to revere; it’s food to eat.

My starter was described as “Sashimi tuna, beetroot – raw, cooked, pickled, jelly and sorbet”.

I mean, good God: look at that!!! The number of styles of beetroot are underestimated in the description. As well as raw, cooked, pickled and jelly, there was additionally a pureé, an espuma*, in the glass and with a magical texture, some powder (that can just be seen, looking like dropped blusher on the plate) and what I believe was a Ferran Adria-like spherication. The latter popped on the plate when I prodded it, to my annoyance; had I gone with my hunch it would have popped in my mouth where it belonged!

After that, I opted for the beef:

This consisted of beef rump (presumably cooked in a water bath), with braised ox cheek and crispy tongue, carrot purée and smartly carved mushrooms. The braised beef was sat on smoked mashed potato (smoked mashed potato!); the rump on a shallot purée and dusted with carrot powder, which was rather marvellous. At the bottom of the plate was a saki jelly, which whilst good, was the only thing I thought a little incongruous.

We had opened with an amuse of a foamed parsnip soup and before dessert came a pre-dessert; a lemon custard with a light tuille. These were both little freebies, something else I’m a sucker for. The desserts themselves were exceptional but since I have no pictures, I shall leave these as a tease (clue: well worth making sure you have space in your tummy!).

Open less than 2 years, Claire and Steve Love have created a gem here – they already have 3 AA rosettes and surely a Michelin star, should this matter to them, can’t be far behind. Having eaten in the last 12 months (ooh, la di da!) at the Nut Tree, Hand and Flowers and the quite fabulous Olive Branch Pub, I don’t see Loves as being behind these in quality. Different in style, perhaps, but not quality.

Considering this was the same day that was followed by Batman Live! and fine drinkies into the evening as Beloved and I hooked back up with birthday boy Thom and Faith, it’s says something that it left such an impression. Looking forward to going again…


*or “foam”, as I’ve now realised these are the same as

 [Thanks to Thom for the photographs!]



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Give us This Day…

Posted on September 2, 2011 by     Leave a comment

Sandwiches. Probably the finest invention of the United Kingdom, named after the Earl of Sandwich who purportedly liked meat between bread so that he wouldn’t get grease on his card fingers. Nice.

Well, meat sarnies are all well and good but it’s really CHEESE that counts. I had an epiphany many years ago: on the way to the pub, for some unaccountable reason, I abruptly realised that a cheese and tomato sandwich was going to be the finest sandwich ever. It was true – although I didn’t find this out until the following day, as there was drinking to be done.

The thing is, the notion of the sandwich came intuitively and fully formed; it’s quite specific in the requirements even though I had not eaten one previously but the it remains unchanged for me to this day. Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of bread – white for preference. Good quality.
  • cheddar cheese – a good processed one, not a proper flash one (leave that for the cheese board)
  • tomato – crucial that it’s not a wet, tasteless supermarket one. Riverford’s are nice!
  • margarine or butter as preferred
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • white pepper
  • mug of tea (critical: see below)


Slice cheese and tomato generously but not too fat. Place on marged bread. Pinch of salt. Good grating of fresh black pepper. Now the important parts: firstly, lots of white pepper. Black pepper is good for an aromatic flavour but white pepper has its own distinct flavour and a much harder spice bite that works really well. Secondly, a steaming hot mug of tea (not sugared). Slurp between bites – the tea brings life to the white pepper, leaving tingling sensations at the corners of the mouth. Absolutely joyous.

If you don’t have any tea, make a cheese and onion sandwich instead. The second best of all sandwiches.



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