Monday, April 21, 2014

Almond Blossoms à la Vincent Van Gogh

As I mentioned in this post, I was recently traveling in London and Amsterdam, and while in Amsterdam, I was delighted to visit the Van Gogh museum. Making up the largest van Gogh collection in the world, this museum gives each visitor the ability to trace van Gogh’s development as an artist from his early works in the early 1880s to those completed up until his premature death in 1990. Since van Gogh was only producing art for about a decade, the pure volume of works completed by his hand—over two thousand, is extraordinary.  

Vincent van Gogh, Almond Tree in Bloom, 1888, oil on canvas
Van Gogh painted several paintings devoted to almond blossoms, showing the magnificent trees of the South of France, a setting which proved to be most inspirational to van Gogh, who was very productive there. Van Gogh found brilliant light in lovely Provence and Arles, and completed an average of a painting a day while there, focusing mostly on the blooming trees around him, a sure sign of spring. 

Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossoms, 1890, oil on canvas

His work, Almond Blossoms of 1890, was painted after the birth of his nephew, named Vincent after him. The elder Vincent was so delighted by the news of the birth that he started working on this painting to symbolize hope and new life, which he described in a letter to his mother, in February of that year. 

As we finally make our way in to what is hopefully a long-awaited spring, these rich, yet simple cookies are a great way to get out of your prolonged-winter funk. If you are anything like me, you have been in a deep, seasonably-caused, Vitamin-D depleated depression since November, and the promise of warmer days with sunny skies are to me at this time, similar to what I imagine the happiness in finding out that you have a nephew to be.  If that seems dramatic, you must live on the West Coast!

Almond Blossoms à la Vincent Van Gogh

·      ½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
·      ¾ c. creamy unsalted almond butter
·      1/3 c. granulated sugar
·      1/3 c. brown sugar
·      1 large egg
·      2 T. milk
·      1 t. vanilla
·      1 ½ c. flour (I used a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat)
·      1 t. baking soda
·      ½ t. salt
·      granulated sugar for rolling
·      Hershey’s kisses

picture taken by my brother, Matthew

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and almond butter until completely blended. Mix in the sugars and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add in the egg, milk and vanilla and set aside. In a smaller bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda and salt. Slowly mix it into the wet mixture, until a uniform dough forms. While your oven preheats to 375°F, line a baking sheet in parchment paper or a silicone mat, and shape the dough into approximate 1 inch balls. Quickly roll each bowl into a small bowl of sugar, coating each evenly. Bake for 10-12 min., and once out of the oven, quickly place an unwrapped chocolate kiss on the top of each cookie, gently pressing in.  Let cool completely and enjoy!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Glittery, Diamond Cookie Necklaces

I really outdid myself in the glitz department last month. In only 30 days, I visited both the Queen’s Crown Jewels in London and the superbly crafted jewels designed by Joel A. Rosenthal, also known as JAR, whose work was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Talk about a jewelry overload but that's not a bad thing! Jewels by JAR was the first exhibit of its kind at the Metropolitan Museum, featuring around 400 pieces by a major contemporary artist of gems, and also included a small trunk show.

The show got rave reviews, but also faced a bit of criticism, due to its commercial feel (see before-mentioned trunk show). While there was certainly a promotional factor to the expertly curated-show, the appearance of jewelry in major art museums is nothing new.  One of the results of the Renaissance was an unprecedented use of personal, decorative jewelry on both men and women, and the countless court portraits that survive support this. Unsurprisingly, the appearance of gemstones in costumes depicted great wealth and status, but also served to demonstrate virtue, knowledge and connoisseurship.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Jane Seymour, c. 1536-37, tempera on panel

Hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is a Portrait of Queen Jane Seymour dated 1536-37, by Hans Holbein the Younger. Jane, the 3rd wife of King Henry VIII, was Queen during the time that Holbein completed this picture, and is shown here wearing expensive and ornate clothing as well as beautiful jewels, perhaps pieces specific to her title. Jane had the reputation of being rather strict and uptight, and Holbein did not idealize her in his portrayal. She is neatly dressed, wearing an extravagant costume worthy of her intense power and standing, and looks away from the artist, presenting herself as a formidable ruler. 

Frans Porbus The Younger, Portrait of Marie de Medici, 1611, oil on canvas


Finished a few decades later, Frans Porbus II’s portrait of Marie de Medici, hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Renaissance city totally immersed in decadence under the rule of the Medicis. Born into the House of Medici and married into the House of Bourbon, Marie was a fancy lady from day one, and Frans II’s 1611 portrait of her depicts the Queen as the ornately decorated diva she was. Her gown, a deep sapphire blue with gold fleur-de-lis, is also adorned with pearls and gemstones and trimmed with satin and lace. Besides the jewels embellishing her dress, the Queen also wore a simple yet impressive crown and pearls around her neck, wrists, and in her ears. Frans II’s choice to excessively decorate the Queen was no coincidence. This work was completed while she was acting as regent Queen following her husband’s assassination, and Marie ensured that she was shown in the most powerful of lights. In reality, she was an uninformed and shallow ruler, concerned more with appearances and eager displays of wealth. Therefore, she needed a positive portrayal, and the surplus of impressive gemstones here helps make the Queen instead look accomplished, strong, regal, and successful in her leadership.

Me and Delia (photo by Delia Langan)

This week I made gemstone-shaped sugar cookies, decorated with royal icing and strung as necklaces. Influenced in part by the masterpiece portraits of the Renaissance, I also took inspiration from jewelry handmade by my friend Delia—modern day jewels for the everyday Queen.. Containing both vivid gemstones and delicate metals, Delia’s pieces are beautiful, everyday accessories that serve the same purpose as the ornaments of the portraits—they grant the wearer magical powers.

earrings, rings and photo by Delia Langan

earring, necklace and photo by Delia Langan
For these cookies I used my favorite vanilla roll-out cookie recipe, last seen here. To shape the cookies, I rolled the dough thin and then used this diamond template to carefully cut the dough into individual gemstones. Before sticking in the hot oven, don't forget to use a skewer or something similar to create a hole large enough to string the cookies onto necklaces after baking. After the cookies have cooled from the oven, decorate into actual gemstones however you choose. I used white royal icing, followed by edible glimmer spray paint and a thin-tipped cookie-decorating pen. String with gold thread, and rock on!

photo by Delia Langan

Monday, April 7, 2014

Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookies

When I was in high school in North Carolina, I had a really wonderful pottery and sculpture teacher, whose classes I adored. His enormous classroom was in the basement of our school, and a true treasure trove of inspiration, filled with pottery in various stages of completion, glass bottles of all shapes and sizes, old windows, doors and drawers, spare lumber, paints in every color and past student's work, all of which overtook (in a comforting, not overwhelming way) the large work space. For me, this class was a safe haven—though I enjoyed all of my academic classes, the hours I spent creating in this studio are some of my most cherished from high school, and the works I brought home are still hanging on the walls of my parent's house (and the broken pottery and sculpture has now started moving outside to their garden, creating a funky sculpture graveyard).

One of the things that I feel really set this teacher and his aesthetic apart from other art teachers I have had was his fondness for "found art," which helped me find the beauty in pieces created from random materials, truly giving meaning to the saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure." In exploring this genre, I studied the works of Claes Oldenburg, Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp, and created some of my own (when we moved into our now family home and replaced the existing windows, I probably surprised my parents a bit when I requested that they keep the old windows so that I could use them for my "art"). 

Lisa Sanditz, Cacti Display, 2004

Despite my less-polished aesthetic in high school, my job pushes me forward over 300 years to the highly finished works of Reynolds, Brueghel, Gentileschi and Botticelli. While my tastes in art have definitely shifted a bit over the years, I still love seeing funky, unconventional modern sculpture, and Lisa Sanditz’s recent show at CRG Gallery was a fun jump back into this genre.

Sanditz is traditionally a painter, and has long been influenced by human consumption—both in an organic/food sense and a consumer-focused one. In her previous show, Sock City, she looked more into the origin of our everyday products; a project which took her all over China, visiting factory towns. In Surplus, her CRG show, Sanditz took a more organic look at consumption, tackling the origins of food in both painting and sculpture. In examining our relationship with the land as a source of our food and therefore, life, Sanditz brings up questions of modernity and what that means for food production. In her words, she hopes to “reconcile, through color, form, surface considerations, and art historical traditions, the relationship between modern quotidian desires and their tragic, comic, and complex impact on the American landscape.”*

After seeing the show for myself, I instantly craved one of my favorite NYC bakery discoveries—a Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookie. These cookies are delicious, and echo Sanditz’s intelligent-hodgepodge sculpture style in a sugary-sweet way. Completed after a trip to Tucson, Arizona, the sculpture portion of the Surplus series consists of a group of brightly- colored, ornately decorated, seemingly random cacti, some with Styrofoam cups propped on their limbs to protect them.  The organization of each cacti seems both thoughtful and arbitrary, and is strangely comforting. This is one of the few works that I can see in the context of a gallery space or museum, but also in a classroom space, acting as inspiration for students to dig a bit deeper into their creative subconscious.

*from here

Lisa Sanditz, Cacti Display, 2004

Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookie
Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker

·      1 1/3 c. bread flour (why bread flour?)
·      ¼ t baking soda
·      ½ t. baking powder
·      pinch of salt
·      1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature (how to rush butter to room temp?)
·      1 c. brown sugar
·      2/3 c. light brown sugar
·      1 T. corn syrup
·      1 egg
·      ½ t. vanilla extract
·      ¾ c. chocolate chips
·      ½ . butterscotch chips
·      1/3 c. oats
·      2 ½ t. ground coffee or espresso
·      2 c. potato chips (I used plain air-popped)
·      1 c. mini pretzels (I used honey wheat)
·      graham mixture (see below)

Graham Mixture:
·      1/3 c. graham cracker crumbs
·      1 T. milk powder (I used fat-free)
·      1 ½ t. sugar
·      pinch of salt
·      1 T. unsalted butter, melted
·      1 T. heavy cream

Please note that this dough must be made ahead of time, since you need to let it chill for at least a couple of hours, or even a few days. Please don’t try to rush and make this same day—I promise the flavor will be better if you wait :)

First prepare the graham mixture: combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter and cream, and then slowly mix in the dry ingredients. Mix until it reaches an even, wet texture, set aside.

For the cookie dough: Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugars and corn syrup for a couple of minutes, scraping the edges of the bowl periodically. Add in the egg and vanilla, and continue to beat for a few more minutes. Slowly add in the flour mixture from before—adding in a couple of stages. Only mix until it comes together, and then continue adding in the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, graham mixture, oats, and coffee, again being careful not to over-mix. Finally add in the more fragile potato ships and pretzels. At this stage, you can either stop, seal the top of the bowl with plastic and refridgerate, or you can scoop the dough into 2-3 T. mounds**, and then chill. Regardless of when you do it, please chill the dough! After it is ready, say, in a couple hours or a few days, remove the dough from the fridge and preheat the oven to 375°F. As the cookie dough comes to room temperature a bit, line a baking sheet in parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Either scoop the dough into small portions or jump straight to positioning it onto the baking mat. When oven is ready, bake each baking sheet for about 13-14 minutes, carefully watching after the 10 min mark for faintly browned edges.  Let cool completely and serve.

**The original recipe suggests that you use a 1/3 c. measuring cup to portion the dough into individual cookies. Perhaps it is my healthier upbringing, but I have a life-long appreciation of portion control, which I can only credit to my father. With this in mind, I usually prefer my cookies and baked goods to be more bite-sized than saucer size. In this recipe, feel free to stick to the original and make larger cookies. Just remember to increase the baking times to about 17-18 minutes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

life lately, according to instagram

While I finish up a new post, here’s what I have been posting about on instagram lately.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Judith's Bloody Orange Scones

After spending the last week in London and Amsterdam where spring has definitely sprung, I was delighted to come back home to a teensy-bit warmer New York. Despite spending four years attending college in the Midwest, where the long winters are dominated by snow, I was truly not prepared for the 50+ inches of snow that we have gotten here this winter. And the longevity of it too—just when I get a glimpse of spring weather one day, it returns to 25 degrees the next! Post London trip, I decided to seek comfort in a decidedly more British fashion—through warm beverages and hearty scones, which are best enjoyed while hibernating in bed.

When presented with the orange display at my local grocery store, it was easy to head straight for the blood oranges. With more antioxidants than your standard navel orange, blood oranges make me think of Stella McCartney’s Spring 2011 line, Italian sodas and Judith holding the head of Holofernes. Weird association, right? 

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, oil on canvas

I can’t help it that I interpret the “blood” in blood oranges literally (and apparently I am not alone, since one variety of the fruit is called sanguinello for the “full-blood” hue) and therefore, artistic renditions of Judith’s gory story are a quick connection to make. Most depictions show Judith moments after she has cut off the Assyrian general Holofernes’ head, but there are some, like Caravaggio’s portrayal dated 1598-99, that show the empowered Judith during the act of dismemberment. Caravaggio’s choice in scenes was not surprising, since he is best known for his dramatic renderings, made only more so through his skillful shading and dramatic lighting. Caravaggio’s Judith is spectacular here—she is captured as being both disgusted by the nature of her task and determined to complete it to save her people; she grips his hair carefully with her left hand, pulling towards her as she decapitates him.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Judith with the head of Holofernes, 1530, oil on panel

The subject was a popular one, and heavily used throughout the Renaissance, with works by Sandro Botticelli, Donatello, Andrea Mantegna and others. Thirty years before Caravaggio’s work, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) painted the subject (actually more than once), with an equally dramatic flare, considering the fairly conservative style of the time. Cranach lived and worked in Wittenberg, Germany, and is known for his highly stylized and decorated portraits, all painted with a slight 2 dimensional flatness to them. Albrecht Dürer’s success with woodcuts influenced artists like Cranach to experiment with the medium, and Cranach employed some of the same techniques (namely his non-complex use of color and tendency to outline rather than shade with light and dark) in his paintings.  

Gustav Klimt, Judith I, 1901, oil on canvas

Almost 300 years later, Gustav Klimt approached the same subject (a couple times too), but instead decided to focus exclusively on Judith, and therefore only showing a glimpse of Holofernes’ severed head in the right lower corner. Here, Judith is seen as a fierce and elegant femme fatale, a common motif in Klimt’s work and generally popular in art at the time. Inspired by a rise in interest in psychoanalysis and the psychology of sexuality, Klimt portrayed Judith as an intense yet elegant woman, staring seductively at the viewer. Her head is titled upwards slightly, showcasing her confidence and pride, something this is certainly missing in both Caravaggio’s and Cranach’s pictures. Klimt probably used his lover and frequent collaborator Adele Bloch-Bauer as a model, and he showcases her trendy hairstyle and fashionable dress with decorative Byzantine motifs. 

While all three pictures show Judith as a strong lady—an instrument of salvation from the Old Testament story, each work is also dramatically different, creating three separate components, not unlike the oats, blood orange and currants in these scones. Alone, each of these ingredients is delish—I could honestly probably survive eating only oats for days—but the combination of all three makes my day that much better.  While I sincerely hope that none of you are tasked with decapitating someone this week, I hope that everyone has the chance to bake these and revel in the slightly warmer temperatures we are seeing as we approach the first day of spring!

Oat, Blood Orange and Currant Scones with Buckwheat Flour
Adapted from With the Grain
Makes 8 scones

·      1 ¾ c. whole wheat flour
·      ¼ c. buckwheat flour
·      1/3 c. sugar
·      1 c. oats
·      2 ½ t. baking powder
·      ½ t. baking soda
·      pinch of salt
·      zest of 2 blood oranges
·      ¾ c. unsalted butter, cold
·      ¾ c. dried currants
·      ¾ c. buttermilk (can be low-fat), cold + additional for glaze
·      ¼ c. blood orange juice

For the sanding sugar:
·      2 T. blood orange juice
·      approx. 4 T. sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F and sift together the flours in a large bowl. Whisk in the sugar, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and work in to the dry mixture with a pastry blender. When the butter is all generally pea sized, stir in the dried currants, zest, orange juice and buttermilk. The dough might be a bit hard to work with now, so feel free to mix with your hands until is has developed into a fairly uniform dough. Dump out onto a floured counter, and shape into a large circular shape, about 2 inches high. With a knife, carefully cut into 8 equal, pie-shaped portions. 


Arrange scone slivers onto a parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheet, and quickly brush with the extra buttermilk. Top with sanding sugar, and bake for about 25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Let cool if you can, and enjoy!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Westminster Dog Show Peppermint Bark

Happy President’s Day! I hope everyone had a nice Valentine’s Day, and more importantly, a great start to both the Olympic games at Sochi and the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The Olympics are still going on, and have brought with them a series of highs and lows for the US—high: the USA hockey team’s win against Russia, low: Shaun White. While the US is currently a bit behind in medal count, the dog show this past week certainly must count for something. The (sometimes called?) “Olympics for Dogs” is actually a few years older than the Modern Olympic Games, yet it seems like Sochi-fever has overshadowed some of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the annual dog show. It is with that in mind that I decided on a particularly easy, no-bake recipe this week (who has time to bake with all of these televised dog and human sporting events?)—a very dog inspired Peppermint Bark.

Just like dive bars with Sochi-inspired drink specials, dogs seem to be another commonplace in New York City these days—just check out this blog. Once thought of as the ultimate status symbol for the wealthy that could afford their care, the friendship between people and dogs has overridden practicality, and our tiny island (not to mention nearby Brooklyn) is full of domesticated city dogs, both on the streets and on the walls of its museums. While having a dog in a small city with an extremely small green space to occupant ratio is still only reserved for those “who really have it together,” new luxuries such as dog walkers (who get paid extremely well, and sometimes employ assistants), doggy daycare and apartment buildings that allow dogs (except mine) have made it easier for the average city dweller to own a happy and healthy (and maybe award-winning) dog. 

William Hogarth, Miss Mary Edwards, oil on canvas, 1742

Hanging at the Frick, William Hogarth’s Miss Mary Edwards depicts his wealthy patron sitting for a portrait with her dog, which looks up at her admiringly. A woman with great fortune, this portrait shows her decked out in her finest red dress and jewels, next to a business letter, illustrating her as both financially independent and intelligent, the ideal New York City lady. 

Thomas Eakins, The Artist's Wife and His Setter Dog, oil on canvas, 1884

Hanging nearby at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Thomas Eakins’s work of 1889, The Artist’s Wife and His Setter Dog. Like so many other artists working as “Realists,” Eakins’s work is blatantly unidealized, showing his wife looking up at him from her reading, her dog at her feet.  The negative space surrounding Eakins’s wife, Susan (an artist as well) is dark and muted, while her light blue dress and red feet stand apart, as if a spotlight is shining down only on her. 

This spotlight brings me back to this Peppermint Bark, whose star ingredient is the left over candy canes, which if you are anything like me, you definitely still have lying around. If not, check your local Rite Aid or CVS, I have still seen them lying around the clearance section. 

Peppermint Bark
Adapted from Martha Stewart

·      2 lbs. white chocolate, melted
·      12 large candy canes
·      ½ c, semi-sweet chocolate, melted
·      ½ t. peppermint oil

The steps here are extremely simple: first, place all of your unwrapped candy canes in a Ziploc bag. Using a meat tenderizer, pound the candy canes into pieces over a cutting board, set aside. In a large bowl, mix the melted white chocolate, candy canes and peppermint oil until combined. 

After covering a baking sheet in parchment paper, spread the mixture evenly, making sure that the outer edges are not too thin. Finally drizzle the melted semi-sweet chocolate over the cookie sheet, swirling with a wooden stick if desired. Chill in the fridge for about 30 min. When ready, cut into bite-side pieces to serve/eat right away, or store in an airtight container until they all disappear!

image taken by Matthew Strumph

image taken by Matthew Strumph

image via the Westminster Kennel Club

And lastly, a huge congratulations to this year’s dog winner: "GCH Afterall Painting The Sky" a.k.a. "Sky," 2014’s Best in Show!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chinese New Year Fortune Cookies

Happy Year of the Horse! Last Friday marked the beginning of the celebration of the Chinese New Year, which dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).  The Chinese calendar coincides with the cycle of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals—rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This year is the year of the horse, which Chinese astrologer/fortune tellers predict will bring many scandals and conflicts (um, yikes!), much like Georges de la Tour’s work The Fortune Teller, which was completed around 1630, which was also the year of the horse. Coincidence? 

Georges de la Tour, The Fortune Teller, oil on canvas, c. 1630

The Fortune Teller depicts a young wealthy male surrounded by four women, most likely gypsies. While the older woman to the far right of the picture reads his fortune (and distracts him)—he is in the process of handing her a coin, which serves as both payment and her source of telling his fortune, the younger women surrounding him are in the act of robbing him. The woman to the far left of the picture is reaching in his pocket to steal his coin purse, while the woman directly behind her reaches her hand out to catch it, and likely run. Meanwhile, the woman standing behind and between the young man and old fortune teller is watching the victim closely (and not quite making eye contact) while she slowly cuts away at the gold chain he has fastened around his torso.

Since moving to New York, I have been blown away by the number of modern-day fortune tellers operating businesses out in the open. There are your everyday run-of the-mill fortune tellers handing out coupons and flyers on the streets, and then there are the successful fortune-tellers with storefronts in some of the most expensive and sought after real estate in the city (color me surprised the first time I saw a fortune teller set up in a swanky Upper East Side neighborhood). Evidently these mystical entrepreneurs have (mostly) come along way since the stereotypes of their profession that were prevalent during de la Tour’s time, and for that, I celebrate them, along with this new, horsey year. So much in fact, that I baked healthy fortune cookies made with apples and oats, so that they may just appeal to the horses eating in kitchens these days, or at the very least, those with healthier goals this year. You can restart your New Year’s resolutions at the Chinese New Year, right?

Apple-Oat Fortune Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes about 15, depending on size

·      4 large egg whites
·      1 c. sugar
·      ¾ c. all-purpose flour
·      ¼ c. oat flour (grind oats in your blender or food processor until they reach a flour-like consistency)
·      pinch of salt
·      5 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
·      2 T. heavy cream
·      2 T. apple cider
·      1 t. almond extract
·      15 assorted printed fortunes, cut into tiny strips

Preheat the oven to 400°F, and line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. With an electric mixer, beat the sugar and egg whites on medium speed for about a minute, before adding the flours and salt. Beat until combined, and then add the butter, cream, apple cider and almond extract, beating for about 30 seconds after the last addition. 

Using a rubber spatula, gently portion a small amount of batter directly onto the left side of the baking sheet. Spread out into a thin, yet even, 5 inch-diameter circle, ensuring that the batter is thin, yet not so thin that it is translucent. Spread another identical circle onto the right side of the baking sheet, and bake for 6-7 minutes, until starting to turn golden brown. 

When the cookies are ready, quickly remove from the oven, and gently flip over with a slim offset spatula. Working quickly, arrange a fortune (or two!) in the bottom half of the cookie, and fold over, gently pinching the sides closed. Fold over once more (so now quartered), and then balance cookie over the edge of a glass, so that as it cools and hardens, it maintains its folded shape. Once cool, transfer the finished cookie to a muffin tin, which will also help it keep its shape, and start the process over, baking until you have used up all of the batter and/or fortunes. Happy Year of the Horse!

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