Orange Power Smoothie

We officially hit summer here. And by that, I mean it is HOT! Thankfully, a couple splash pads and our HOA pool have opened. But I still feel hot most of the day. I try to exercise first thing in the morning. First, it just gets it out of the way and starts my day off with accomplishing something. Second, workout endorphins can’t be beat to get your moving through the day. Third, at least it is the coolest part of the day. But after I workout, I’m still hot and struggle to cool down.

Enter smoothies for breakfast. After a good workout, it is so refreshing to get a nice cold drink. Water on an empty stomach isn’t my favorite. I love to make a big glass of a cold, filling smoothie. This orange power smoothie is so colorful and mild tasting, it’ll be a hit with your kiddos too. Enjoy!

Orange Power Smoothie (Serves about 2)

Orange Power Smoothie<

3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups ice cubes
½-1 cup water (as needed)
2 cups frozen mango pieces
1 banana, peeled
½ cup plain low fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon grated ginger (can use ground ginger)

1. In blender, process carrots, ice, and ½ cup of water on high until mostly smooth (this could take a couple minutes). Scrape down the sides of blender.

2. Add remaining ingredients to blender. Continue to process on high until smooth, adding more water as needed to obtain desired consistency. Serve cold.

Nutritional Information (amount per serving):

Calories: 271
Protein: 12 g
Fat: 1 g
Saturated fat: less than 1 g
Cholesterol: 4 mg
Carbohydrates: 59 g
Fiber: 7 g
Sodium: 96 mg

Recipe notes: You may need to adjust the honey if it isn't sweet enough for you. Also be sure to use a different sweetener if feeding this to a child under 1.

Source: slightly adapted from America's Test Kitchen

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Working out during shutdown

I’ve heard quite a few people talk about gaining the COVID 19 due to being stuck at home, maybe unable to go to the gym, stress/quarantine baking, etc. It is tricky when life gets changed around so drastically to keep to good healthy routines. One of those areas is exercise.

Healthy eating is only part of the puzzle. Physical activity is also an important part. I recently stood on the scale just out of curiosity. I don’t weigh myself often, usually allowing any doctor visit to do that for me. But I was actually surprised at the number. Mostly because it was lower than I felt I looked. This is so important to remember. Weight and BMI are just numbers. Feeling physically strong and able to do the things you want is also very important. Exercise – both cardio and strength – is key for having a body LOOK the way you want.

Cookie Monster Desktop - i'm into fitness fitness cookie into my mouth!

Today, I’m sharing a few sites, apps, resources, etc that I have found useful for exercising at or near home. Most are free or have free options as well. I personally don’t love paying to workout, so that bias is evident here. If you have any other favorites, I’d love if you shared in the comments!

(None of this information is sponsored. Just things I have tried or have been told about by friends.)

Sworkit app – This app allows you to put in your personal goals and will provide workout recommendations based on those goals. You do it on your schedule. You can choose the length of the workout. You have access to personal trainers. You get 1 month free (I believe), then you pay after that.

Fitness Blender – I have been doing Fitness Blender’s workout videos for over 5 years now. They have a HUGE library of free workout videos on youtube. You can search in youtube whatever kind of workout you want and how long and you’ll probably find it. For example, “fitness blender strength 30 minutes”. My only complaint is they don’t always include a warm up or cool down in their videos. I’m too lazy to click on more than one video. Sorry. As I said above, their videos are all free online. You can pay for 4 week programs (or more) if you want something more guided.

Sydney Cummings – This is also a free channel on youtube. I have recently discovered her workouts, and I really like them. She has a variety of cardio and strength. She also has a paid program you can subscribe to, but it is a curated program of the free videos on youtube.

Popsugar Fitness – Popsugar has LOTS of workout videos online. I find most of them are 30 minutes are less. They often feature different “celebrity” trainers. Some are better than others. You kind of find the videos/trainers you like and search for them. At least I do. For example, I really like their videos with Jake Dupree and Kit Rich.

Les Mills app – Les Mills is a popular workout program often offered at gyms. They also have a paid app you can use to get their workouts at home. I have several friends who are instructors and love this program. You can search Les Mills on youtube to find some sample workouts. They have different levels as well, so be aware of what intensity level you try.

High Fitness – High fitness is a group aerobics class that I really enjoy. With the shut down of many gyms, they have started offering live classes online, have a couple playlists on youtube, and many instructors offer zoom classes (some free, some not). I’ve heard rumors of them having an app, but it isn’t available yet.

Barre3 – There are lots of barre companies and workouts out there. I haven’t tried them all. I have tried Barre3 and like them. They have an app, studios, and a few free videos on youtube. If you are interested in trying barre of any kind, search barre workout on youtube. There are a lot.

Yoga with Adriene – This is a great youtube channel with different yoga videos. These can help you stretch, strengthen/tone muscle, or calm your mind and spirit during these difficult times.

I don’t have a link for this last one, but if you have been attending workout classes (in person or online) for awhile and feel comfortable, create your own workout. I downloaded a tabata app and have done some workouts on my own. It is nice to feel in control and blast my own music while I exercise.

And never forget a good old run, walk, or bike ride outside. Fresh air and workout endorphins cannot be beat!

Let me know if you’ve tried any of these or have any other great resources in the comments!

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Sheet Pan Ratatouille

True story: Ever since the Disney Movie, Ratatouille, I’ve been mildly obsessed with making ratatouille. In the movie, it looked SOOO good. Which is funny, because I haven’t been a historically big fan of zucchini and other summer squashes. I’m coming around as an adult, but it’s still got to be GOOD.

This sheet pan “ratatouille” is perfect for summer. Easy, flexible, uses seasonal produce, and super delicious. Chop up the veggies, lightly coat with oil, season generously, and then cook. If you don’t want to turn on your oven, you could put the sheet pan on a medium heat grill as well. Timing would likely vary that way. As pictured below, you can also cook some chicken or fish on top for the last half to make it a full meal. Enjoy!

Sheet Pan Ratatouille (Serves 4-6)

Sheet Pan Ratatouille

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 summer squash (yellow or zucchini or a mix), cut into 1 inch pieces
2 bell peppers, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme (1 tablespoon fresh)
½ teaspoon dried basil (1-2 teaspoons fresh)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

2. Toss vegetables with oil and seasonings. Spread onto sheet into an even layer. Roast for 25-40 minutes, until vegetables are desired degree of doneness. Stir at least once during cooking time.

3. If adding chicken or fish, lightly season protein and place on vegetables after 25 minutes of cooking time. Return to oven and bake until done (165 degrees for chicken , 145 degrees for fish).

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 156
Protein: 4 g
Fat: 8 g
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 21 g
Fiber: 8 g
Sodium: 160 mg

Recipe notes: The vegetables here can be fairly fluid. Onion, tomato, and garlic should likely stay. But I’ve thrown cauliflower and broccoli in here as well. Use up what you have!

Source: Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

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Summer means simple

Even in the middle of this crazy pandemic time, I feel like summer is still fairly busy at our house. Even if we aren’t going as many places, we keep busy cleaning, reading, playing in the yard, riding bikes, etc. That means by dinner time, none of us are in the mood for a big complicated dinner that will take hours to cook. Also, I don’t mind eating hot food even when it is hot outside, but I don’t want my oven on forever heating up the house.

Summer Watermelon

Today, I’m sharing some tips for simplifying summer meals.

1) Make it a family affair. Rotate who has the job for meals each night. If your kids aren’t old enough to cook, you can have them at least help you pick out one night’s meal. If possible, rotate between you and your spouse. It feels less overwhelming when more people take turns.

2) Go fresh. Now is the time for fresh fruits and vegetables. Let the freshness shine! We have been eating our version of a veggie tray as our side dish for a lot of dinners. I buy the fresh veggies we like, cut them up, and have them waiting in the fridge ready to go. Homemade ranch has also been a huge hit this summer. Watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, pineapple, cherries. All of these are beautiful as is. Just slice, chill and serve!

3) Grill. Grill. Grill. Grilled food just tastes like summer. It also cooks quickly, is generally healthy, and doesn’t heat up your house. Kebabs, chicken breast, fish, and vegetables are great items to grill. Even the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs can fit in a healthy diet. Just pair them with the simple fruits and veggies from above.

4) Prep ahead when possible. By the end of a long, hot day, everyone is tired. So prep as much as you can in the morning or at lunch time. Slow cookers are great for this. But you can slice veggies or fruit, make kebabs, marinate meat, etc. By moving the grunt work to when you have energy and enthusiasm, you are more likely to eat better later.

5) Store standbys. When possible, I like to keep ingredients for quick meals I know my family likes on hand. The pressure cooker chicken tacos I shared recently are a great example. Everything is freezer or shelf safe. Spaghetti, homemade macaroni and cheese, black bean nachos, and potato soup are just a few examples. Then, even when I’m tired and what I originally planned sounds like too much work or I don’t have enough time, I know I have a back up that can be ready in a flash.

Hope these tips help you have a healthy and fun summer!

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Brownie Date Bites

Are you a chocolate lover? I hope so, because I sure am. I’ve tried giving up chocolate before, and I found I just ate more junk. I like all forms of sweets, don’t get me wrong. But I’ll almost always choose the chocolate option.

Being at home often leads to more snacking. These little bites are healthy and chocolatey. They also easily lend themselves to portion control because eating too many dates can really upset your tummy. They don’t taste healthy though. The dates make them rich and gooey like a fresh brownie. Yum!

Brownie Date Bites (Makes 20 bites)

Brownie Date Bites

½ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup pitted dates
⅔ cup almond butter
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
cocoa powder (optional)
shredded coconut (optional)

1. Place dates in a food processor. Process until almost a paste. Add remaining ingredients except walnuts. Process until well combined. Mix in ½ of walnuts by hand.

2. Roll into 20 balls. Roll each ball in remaining walnuts, cocoa powdered, or shredded coconut. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes until eating. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Nutritional information (amount per 2 bites):

Calories: 190
Protein: 5 g
Fat: 14 g
Saturated fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 17 g
Fiber: 4 g
Sodium: 97 mg

Source: adapted from Cooking Light

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Creamy Spring Pasta

Even though we are spending more time at home, I don’t find that personally translates into wanting to cook long, complicated dishes. I especially don’t want to make 5 pans dirty that I then have to clean up. Any one else?

This creamy spring pasta is quick, easy, and doesn’t make a ton of pans dirty. I could even lie to my children and say it was like mac and cheese, so they ate it. Wins all around. It LOOKS there is alfredo, but this is a mornay sauce. What is the difference? Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce with cheese added to it. Béchamel is a roux based sauce, so like how this macaroni and cheese starts. Alfredo sauce is technically a sauce made by reducing cream, but many recipes start with a basic béchamel recipe. All of that was a convoluted way of explaining why I didn’t call this alfredo. Hope you enjoy it no matter what you call it!

Creamy Spring Pasta (Serves 4-6)

Creamy Spring Pasta

1 lb pasta (any medium shape would work, penne, rigatoni, bowties)
1 bunch asparagus, chopped (about 1 – 1 ½ cups chopped)
¾ cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups skim milk
1 can chopped artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained well, chopped
½ cup parmesan, divided
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Boil pasta without salt or oil according to time on package. With 6 minutes left, add asparagus to pot with pasta. With 2 minutes left, add peas. Drain all well.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan. Add garlic, cook stirring, for about 1 minute. Add flour. Whisk together for 1-2 minutes. Stir in milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until desired thickness, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in ¼ cup parmesan cheese.

3. Add pasta, asparagus, peas, and artichoke hearts to cooked sauce. Stir well. Top with parmesan. Serve with extra parmesan at the table.

Nutritional Information: (Amount per serving)

Calories: 437
Protein: 18 g
Fat: 8 g
Saturated fat: 4 g
Cholesterol: 19 mg
Carbohydrates: 74 g
Fiber: 6 g
Sodium: 275 mg

Recipe notes: You could mix up the vegetables here with whatever you have on hand and like. These were just nice spring flavors.

Source: Adapted from Food Network and NYT Cooking (recipe was free but now is behind paywall, so no link, sorry!).

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Teaching Kids to Cook

I’ve seen quite a few parents share lofty goals of things they’d like to teach their kids during this time of staying at home. Teaching kids how to cook frequently shows up on that list. As this period of staying at home has gone on, I’ve also seen most of those people post that they aren’t accomplishing most of the goals.

First, I want to say that is 100% ok to not accomplish the goals and just move on. This is a difficult time for all of us in different ways. Doing your best is all you can do.

I will be honest, I had lofty goals of things to accomplish for MYSELF, but didn’t really think about goals with my kids. Sadly, I haven’t accomplished most of my personal goals. And that’s ok. The answer to most things in this post is “that’s ok”.

Why? The most important part of teaching your kid any life skill is actually building a positive relationship with your child and having a positive experience. So do what you have to do and that’s ok. Repeat it to yourself.

However, I have actually randomly had a fair amount of success cooking with my kids during this time. This isn’t something that comes naturally for me, actually. And we have plenty of failures. But today, I thought I’d show some tips I’ve found to work for me and my kids in the kitchen. If you have any, please share in the comments. (None of the links in this post are sponsored or affiliate links. I get nothing from you clicking them. Just passing on information.)

1) Find something that makes your kid(s) excited to cook. There are subscription services out there that can be very fun, like Raddish. My daughter got a cookbook for her birthday that has really set her cooking dreams aflame. We are liking that one, but there are plenty of options out there. During this time of quarantine, America’s Test Kitchen has opened up their kid website for free. Not everything is open, but a lot is. And their kid’s club is discounted right now as well. But you don’t need any of these “official” things. Just ask your kid what they want to make and find a recipe somewhere. If they are old enough, have them find the recipe.

2) If you have multiple children, only cook with one at a time. This has caused huge breakthroughs in our house. I used to always try and cook with everyone. It just led to fights between the kids and me yelling. By going individually, things go much smoother. Does it mean my other kids sometimes watch tv? Yes, and that’s ok. Not only does this eliminate fighting amongst the kids, it lowers your stress level. You aren’t having to watch more than one kid with a knife or hot stove, etc. Also, kids love one on one time with parents, so it is a win on multiple levels.

3) Make it a “set” thing. As set as you can make it. We don’t have a set night, but my daughter knows she will cook dinner one night a week. When I am menu planning, she picks it out and we put it on the schedule. She knows it is coming and is excited about it. This also makes it a bit easier only allowing one kid in the kitchen – the other’s know when their turns are.

4) Allow for spontaneity. I know that goes against the last one. While we have the set times, if my daughter randomly asks to make breakfast or a dessert, I try to work that in as I can. But if I’m not feeling up to it, I say no. And that’s ok.

5) Be prepared for a mess. A huge mess. As they are making the mess, just take deep breaths. Realize you were going to have to clean up no matter what. If they are old enough (or have cooked enough to know how to not make as much of a mess), make them help clean it up. Nothing like cleaning up your own mess to teach cleaner cooking. But also, it is ok to have messes. It’s part of the process. However, if the mess is getting out of control and raising your stress level, you can end the cooking session with kids at anytime. And that’s ok.

6) You don’t have to let them do everything. A kid with a knife stress you out? Don’t give them one. That’s ok. The kid can’t muster the muscles to mash potatoes (true story at our house)? That’s ok. Every time the kid whisks half of the mix ends up on the counter? Don’t let them whisk. That’s ok. Let them do as much as you can while keeping the experience positive for both of you. If either of you hate it, it won’t keep happening.

7) Keep the end goals in mind. Positive time together. Building a relationship. Some day (far away likely) they will be independent. Teaching some health and life skills. A picture perfect meal with a picture perfect kitchen isn’t in there. And that’s ok.

I hope any of these tips help you out. Let me know if you have any great tips for cooking with kids. We all need all the help we can get!

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Pressure Cooker Mexican Chicken

I love celebrating holidays with food whenever possible. Cinco de Mayo is a great holiday for food. Who doesn’t love a big spread of Mexican food, however authentic? (If you don’t, I hope we can still be friends.)

Today’s recipe is very versatile. You can make tacos, enchiladas, salad, nachos, and rice bowls. The world is your oyster with this one. And it uses lots of canned ingredients you may have hanging around. I also could find all of these ingredients at my local Walmart this week, so if you don’t have them, they shouldn’t be hard to find. Have a bueno Cinco de Mayo next week!

(Sorry for no picture. We ate it before I got a picture.)

Pressure Cooker Mexican Chicken (Serves at least 6)

1 can no salt added black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced green chiles
1 can corn, rinsed and drained
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 T taco seasoning
1 can no salt added dieced tomatoes (not drained )
4 ounces low fat cream cheese

1. Place all ingredients except cream cheese in pressure cooker. Close lid.
2. Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Use natural pressure release for 10 minutes. Then release any remaining pressure and remove lid.
3. Shred chicken (can do this in pot or remove it).
4. Return pressure cooker to moderate heat (saute function if instant pot). Stir in cream cheese and shredded chicken.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 336
Protein: 46 g
Fat: 9 g
Saturated Fat: 3 g
Cholesterol: 142 g
Carbohydrates: 17 g
Fiber: 5 g
Sodium: 295 mg

Recipe notes: I didn’t include tortillas or anything else as the way you serve this is up to you. You can start with frozen chicken as well. I add about 5 minutes to the cook time when the chicken is frozen. I’ve kept everything else the same but cut the amount of chicken in half as well if you are rationing meat. Worked very well, but would say it definitely only served 4 as tacos that way.

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More tips for healthy eating during a pandemic

Line for toilet paper at my local Wal-Mart recently

I like to keep posts fairly short and sweet around here. Especially right now, I often don’t have the world’s greatest attention span. Small steps help me. I hope you enjoyed my tips last week and found them helpful. Here are a few more tips for eating healthy while staying safe during this pandemic.

1. Keep to your pre-pandemic routines. If you had a good routine for meal prepping or making a lunch to take to work, I would recommend keeping that up. While it may seem silly since you are home, it will have at least two good effects. First, it will make life feel a bit more normal in this crazy time. Second, when life does go back to normal, you won’t have to start your good habits up again. Plus, if you make lunch in the morning, you can use your “lunch break” time to eat and go for a walk or read a book or something else fun.

2. Celebrate food holidays. There are tons of food holidays. Use your time at home to celebrate them if you can. We need any reason to celebrate. A friend or relative having a birthday? Make their favorite foods for yourself. Next week is Cinco de Mayo. This Saturday was supposed to be the Kentucky Derby. It is beef, barbecue, egg, salad, salsa, and strawberry month in May. Have fun with it!

3. In a similar vein, try new things. Always wanted to learn how to cook a certain dish? Maybe now is the time to try. Perfect your Grandma’s pierogi recipe (see Some Good News for a cute segment on that). Have fun!

4. On the opposite end of the spectrum, remember not every meal needs to be a made from scratch homemade gourmet wonder. If you have kids, they very likely could make their own lunches. Many school districts around the country are offering school lunch pick up. We do this a couple days a week. They also pack breakfast for the next day – we usually use these as the rest of the day’s snacks. Check with your local school district to see what options they have. Just because you are home does not mean you need to spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. I am personally veering toward quick and easy dinners as I’m usually out of patience by the time dinner time rolls around.

5. Get creative in your grocery shopping. Most of us are trying to go to the store less. There are often CSA’s or other produce services out there that will deliver produce to you. You can also choose produce that lasts longer. Carrots, potatoes, onions, brussels sprouts, garlic, apples, and oranges are a few items that keep particularly well. Frozen veggies are also a good option. Not storing your produce wet will often help it last longer. Placing asparagus bottoms in a glass of water in the fridge helps it last longer.

On a side note, many sites have some great offerings to help in this time. America’s Test Kitchen has some great recipes, substitution tips, free videos for kids, and more. There are many others as well, but that is one of my favorites.

I hope you find these tips helpful. I’ll hopefully be back later this week with a pantry friendly recipe for Cinco de Mayo. Happy staying at home!

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Eating healthy and reducing stress during a pandemic

Pandemic life shouldn’t be THAT different than my regular life. I’m generally home with 3 of my 4 kids everyday anyway. But trying to get a good schedule and routine where I have time for posting here is harder than I anticipated. Also, I want to make sure things I am posting right now are applicable to today’s situations. I have lots of recipes and pictures ready that use a lot of ingredients that maybe are harder to find. Still working on that.

Today, I wanted to share a few tips for trying to eat healthy during this crazy time while also not increasing your stress level. Hope any of these help!

The in and out of stock board at my local Costco recently

1. Menu planning is your friend. If you are trying to go to the grocery store less frequently, plan out LOTS of meals and buy the ingredients. I generally plan about a week of menus. Right now, I’m trying to go about a week and a half to two weeks out. Do I have to know exactly what day we will eat everything? No. But knowing what meals I have food for reduces my stress.

2. Strict menu planning is your enemy. Try to pick recipes that have somewhat flexible ingredients. Be flexible about what types of beans, pasta, vegetables, cheese, meat, you need for a recipe. These things can often substitute with ease. For example, my daughter had a birthday in the midst of this pandemic. She requested lasagna for her birthday dinner. I warned her ahead of time I would make her some sort of pasta casserole, but it would depend on what noodles I could find at the store. Luckily, lasagna noodles were about the only pasta stocked that day.

3. Keep fruits and vegetables in the mix – in any form you can get. At least at the stores I have been to, fresh produce has been fairly well stocked. One or two things might be wiped out, but they generally have things. Frozen has been pretty obliterated. Canned is hit or miss. Just remember a couple things if you are having to get canned fruits and vegetables. First, that is 100% ok! Second, look for no salt added vegetables or canned in water or juice fruits. But just doing your best is all you can do. So give yourself grace!

4. Watch your sodium intake. A lot of us are switching to more canned products than normal or using more shelf stable products to avoid frequent shopping. That is great. Just know that shelf stable products often, but not always, have sodium added. So check your labels. And check yourself on adding more salt.

5. Teach your kids or yourself how to cook. I’ll have a post soon about tips for teaching your kids to cook. But with yourself and your children stuck at home, it is a great time to add in some cooking lessons. Or if you don’t have kids, teach yourself a new cooking skill!

Learning to make pretzels with my daughters

6. Give yourself grace! If you need a treat now and then, it is ok. If you can’t handle a long drawn out meal but really on freezer food, that is ok. This is not going to be normal life forever. Try to keep things as healthy nutritionally as you can while still maintaining good mental health. (And if that involves a lot of diet soda like it does at our house, go for it!)

Got soda?

Hope these tips help! If you have any questions I could help with your nutrition or cooking in this pandemic, please email me at kimberlykmarsh at gmail dot com.

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