Perfect Pizza!

I think it is quite obvious that I love food. Maybe a little too much, lately, as I become all-too familiar with skin tight dresses and the swimsuits of summer again.  However, there is one thing that I come back to time and time again – and that’s homemade pizza. I make it at least once a week, and more if I can find any excuse to. It’s delicious, fresh, and not altogether unhealthy since you’re making it from home without the unnecessary oils and questionable meat toppings. But most importantly, it’s probably the most all-encompassing comfort food I have ever known. Let’s talk about  Pizza Margherita.

First of all, it’s a bit of a process. But I don’t care because I love it that much. I don’t care that when I eat it I end up with a blob of fresh mozzarella on my lap, or that I burn my mouth every time, or that sauce gets all over my chin. I promise it’s worth it.

To make great pizza outside of owning a pizza oven, you’re going to need a pizza stone. Now, they aren’t glamorous. You buy them and they look pretty and new, but a well-used pizza stone is pretty ugly as time goes by. Cheese, sauce, olive oil, and dough all get stuck to it, and instantly burn in a 600 degree oven. Then, you scrape it off with a barbeque scraper, and call it a day. However, over time, that build-up of black char marks and character add incredible flavor to your dough, making it taste like a true wood-fired pizza.

A face only a mother can love: (before it was scraped with a bbq scraper)

While you’re doing everything else, you pop this bad boy into the oven at 550 (or higher, if your oven allows for it) and let it get HOT. It usually takes at least 40 minutes to truly heat up to 550, and then I let it hang out in there for another hour after that.

In the meantime, you make the dough. I’ll include a recipe below.

He’s hanging out in his bowl with a good coating of olive oil to keep from sticking. I usually let him rise for an hour or so. Then he looks like this!

As is the case with anything incredibly simple, the ingredients have to be outstanding. The fewer the ingredients, the more each one has to shine. That means that this pizza is a great time to pull out the best mozzarella you can find, the freshest basil available, and a completely delicious (hopefully homemade) pizza sauce.

My favourite mozzarella (so far!)

It’s the perfect combination of slightly sweet, salty, creamy, and still has a firm bite with a soft center. It’s in a bag of water, so you’ll need to drain that, and then pat it dry with paper towels.

When you’re using a pizza stone, you need a pizza peel to slide the dough onto the hot stone. It needs to be well floured to ensure the dough doesn’t stick. Take my word for that, because if it DOES stick, then you may or may not have the entire pizza end up face-down in your scorching hot oven, causing copious amounts of smoke to billow out while the smoke alarm is terrifying condo residents around you, all at 4am because you just can’t just eat pizza at a normal goddamn time, can you?

Not that I’m speaking from experience.

Basil!

When your dough is good to go, you’ll need to poke and prod it a bit into submission. I haven’t quite mastered the whole throw-the-dough-in-the-air-Italian-chef-style thing, so I stretch and mould it a bit to get it into  a relatively acceptable circle shape. The good thing about making pizza homemade is – it’s not supposed to look perfect, so don’t fret. If you have a lot of trouble, use a rolling pin. Generally though I like to just use my fingers, as it naturally forms air bubbles and dips within the dough that make it that much yummier for catching cheese and eating.

There are a few things that aren’t difficult, but necessary, to create a great pizza. You want to go easy on the sauce, because too much sauce can make the dough soggy. You need to ensure that the process of dressing the pizza happens quickly for a few reasons. One – because the longer the toppings sit on the dough, the soggier the dough will get, and two – because the dough will begin to stick to the pizza peel. So have your ingredients ready to go.

Here’s the pizza just prior to popping it in the oven. I give it a liberal sprinkling of sea salt and crack some fresh black pepper over the whole thing. You can add whatever else you like – chili flakes, habanero salt, etc. Just keep the toppings minimal. The more veggies and cheese you add, the more water content there will be, and water = soggy pizza.

Because the oven and stone are so hot at this point, the pizza won’t take long at all to cook. The dough actually instantly cooks when you place it on the stone – you can hear it when you put it down. I like to rotate my pizza after 3-4 minutes to avoid any hot spots in the oven cooking one side faster than the other. Then – voila! 7-8 minutes is all you need:

Simple and perfect. The only thing that made it better was strawberries dipped in creme fraiche and rolled in brown sugar for dessert :)

Summer is hereeeeeee!!!

Pizza dough

*note – I have no idea where I originally got the backbone for this dough recipe. I have been making the same one for years, and I keep adding and taking away things as I see fit. If you recognize it from somewhere, let me know and I’ll give credit where it’s due.

  • 2 cups of all purpose flour, or italian tipo 00 flour. More for dusting and adjustments
  • 2 1/4th tsp of yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbls extra virgin olive oil

sometimes I like to add a couple tsps of additional flavouring such as garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano, etc.

  1. mix together the yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl or measuring cup and let it sit to proof for 11-13 minutes
  2. mix together the flour, salt, proofed yeast mixture, EVOO, and any extra flavourings in a mixer fitted with a dough hook
  3. let the dough mix at medium-high speed for 10 minutes
  4. remove the dough and coat it with a tsp or so of olive oil to keep it from sticking. Place it in the same mixing bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for an hour or so in a warm place.

Margherita Pizza

  • pizza dough
  • pizza sauce (homemade or otherwise)
  • fresh mozzarella (I use Saputo brand)
  • fresh basil
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • fresh black pepper
  • flour
  • additional and optional flavour: chili flakes, flavoured salts, drizzle of good olive oil, fresh parmesan
  1. roll out your dough into a respectable circle shape. You will need to keep the surface well-floured to prevent sticking
  2. put the dough on the floured pizza peel, and, working fairly quickly, spread the sauce onto the dough. Add chunks or slices of the fresh mozzarella, and as much fresh basil as you want. Sprinkle sea salt on top, and add your fresh black pepper.
  3. make sure that the dough is sliding well on the pizza peel before trying to put it on the pizza stone. Once it’s sliding with ease, put it in your preheated 550 degree oven, directly on the pizza stone. Close the oven, and wait 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, gently slide the half-cooked pizza dough back onto your peel, and rotate it so that it cooks evenly in the oven. Leave it in for another 3-4 minutes, or until cooked to your liking!
  4. let it cool for several minutes before slicing

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APRIL: OPERATION BUDDHA + EARLY BIRD

This is the first day of operation Buddha + Early Bird, and I look something like this:

But, that’s okay. I’m surviving on 4 hours of sleep after waking up at 8:30am, so my goal is accomplished. I am attempting, throughout the month of April, to make myself into an early bird, as opposed to the relentless night owl that I am. I have this image of the person I want to be (waking up at 8, working out in the morning, getting more work done, being a generally productive member of society etc) which is in stark contrast to the person I am (waking up at embarrassing times, knowing all of the wait staff at an amazing sushi place because I routinely eat Udon soup there at 2am, not recognizing the day concierge at my condo because his shift ends at 3pm and I don’t leave the house before then, being a degenerate, etc).

Operation Early Bird will likely be easier than Operation Buddha, however, which goes against my very nature. I have decided to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, if even only for ONE MONTH, to see if it makes me feel like Mother Teresa. I started today.

Here is a complaint I received from a client the other day:

hey, ive been pretty patient considering my projects began feb 16…

i know there have been problems but its getting frustrating how both of them are taking

and so far not seeeing any results or rank for keywords chosen and domain links being worked on

can you advise?

thanks,

Really Annoying Client

While this may not seem like a horribly obnoxious complaint, it is one of many, many messages I have received from this micromanaging client. What is particularly annoying about his complaints regarding time-line is: I have a system in place for this. A well-thought out client portal that outlines exactly when project milestones are due. In addition; the project itself is a longer-term one that requires patience. Also, this client has little-to-no IT knowledge which makes trying to communicate with him especially complicated. And he’s kind of illiterate. I hate that.

This is the response that I wanted to give him:

Oh Hello!

As we have discussed many times, this is a longer term project. Which you ordered, perfectly aware of the timeline. The deliverables are right. there. in. front. of. you. Your keywords have moved, as I just took the time to check, and if you were computer literate then this would be obvious to you. We still have 40% of your project to go, and I assure you I am not trying to screw you over and use your $300 for hookers and blow. Also, I just spent 20 minutes looking for the OTHER project you have with me, as you indicated you have more than one, before determining that you are a moron and you have only ordered one package with two different links.

Go play in traffic,

Me.

(P.s. the go play in traffic was kind of mean, I’m sorry. But please stop messaging me with your mundane shit and I assure you the results will be there in less than 8 days, as your project timeline indicates.)

Obviously this would be bad for business and I restrained myself. But, after having a couple douchey clients over the last week or so, my tolerance is waning. Luckily, I can hide behind my computer and gain composure!

After several seething minutes where I tried to think of my goals and the meaning of life; I implemented OPERATION BUDDHA.

In Operation Buddha, you have to assume that the other person is having the worst day of their life. Cut off in traffic by some douchebag with a popped collar driving a Honda Civic? That’s okay. He’s probably rushing home to help his sick and feeble grandmother. Some asshole in the movies refuses to turn off his phone even though it’s rung twice and his ringtone is “Milkshake” by Kelis? He’s probably waiting to find out if his wife is in labor. Give the guy a break.

Similarly; perhaps my Really Annoying Client was working for another client, who was breathing down his neck about timelines. (Doubtful though; if Really Annoying Client is taking ANYONES money for computer related services they would be better off hiring an enthusiastic armadillo). Maybe he has the flu and is feeling particularly cranky. Whatever the reason, Operation Buddha was in full effect.

Here was my actual response:

Hello,

I just checked your keywords and your serps have improved for you 3rd and 4th keywords. You still have another full round of submissions left in your project. I apologize that we had to delay all projects by 10 days – we were frustrated with the google changes too, however I assure you that we did it out of an interest in doing the very best thing for you and your site. If we chose to rush ahead with the project, we ran the risk of submitting to directories that google had penalized.

I would ask for your patience while we complete more submissions on your site; the diamond package is a longer term project under ordinary circumstances, and unfortunately the delays lengthened that process. When your final report is due we will re evaluate your serps, post the before and after screen shots, and go from there.

Let me know if this seems reasonable to you, as it’s important that you’re happy :)

Buddha Me

This went over very well and my Really Annoying Client admitted that he was being impatient and apologized. And – his results look fabulous, a couple days later, so everyone will be happy.

The end!

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My path to self-improvement has been full of far more failures lately than successes, unfortunately. Important, though, is that I’ve identified what to attribute the successes to. It’s the simple statement I ask myself multiple times per day, “What would the person you want to be do in this situation?”

For me, this question helps me envision what I want (results) and the action required to achieve them all in one short breath. However, it’s not always fun and as much as I’d like to say it’s changed me 100%, that simply isn’t the case.

I think I know myself fairly well, now (and much better after having spent 6 months in Central America) and one thing I’m confident of is that when I’m having a really, really hard time, the worst thing I can do for myself is what I have been doing: moping and watching re-runs of CSI. (On a completely unrelated note, I used to have a ridiculous, unabashed crush on Grissom from CSI Vegas. This was so embarrassing that I never mentioned it to anyone, and indulged it alone with popcorn on Thursday nights. Once, my ex boyfriend sat next to me on the couch and silently regarded the show. He was apparently unimpressed and stood up to leave, but as he reached the doorway he paused, snapped his fingers and said, “Oh I’ve GOT it. I’ve been trying to figure out who Grissom reminded me of for like 10 minutes. He’s exactly like your Dad.” I turned off the TV immediately and sat with my back completely straight for a few minutes alone. I’ve never been so disturbed.)

I digress.

The person I want to be would seek help when they feel so lost they don’t know where to start. It’s an important distinction because the person I am NOW does not seek help, ever. I’ve never gone to therapy and I was always taught growing up that my problems were miniscule in comparison to the problems of others, so suck it up.

So, I tried therapy. Very recently.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected. She was a very nice lady but I’m not sure she was entirely prepared for what goes on in my head. The conversation started something like:

“Okay, G. I know you said you’ve never done therapy before. You need to remember: be honest with me. We can’t get anywhere unless you’re honest.”

“Ok.” I said

“Please tell me why you’re here and what you want to talk about.”

And I think I said something like:

Fuck. Where to start? I could use a glass of wine.” She smiled sympathetically. Then I said, jokingly; “I hate to inform you of this but after this session I think you might be the one in need of medication.” She didn’t correct me. I’m positive that’s a bad thing.

She asked me at one point what I thought about someone who (in my opinion) had severely wronged and offended me. I told her that honestly, I, on an infrequent occasion, wished something bad would happen to them.

Bad?” She asked, “Define ‘bad.’”

“Well I don’t know,” I responded, “ I guess, like, impalement comes to mind. I think if they were impaled I would feel great. I would have a great day after that.” I felt strangely satisfied with this answer, but she just cleared her throat, took off her glasses, and rubbed her eyes.

I don’t think therapy is my thing, but the person I want to be wouldn’t write something off so quickly.

It’s hard, you know, to constantly live up to some arbitrary ideal of your future self. Unfortunately for me, mine is such a bitch. She always knows the answers and does the right thing.

I haven’t been running lately, largely because I’ve been upset and usually exercise is the first thing to go for me when I’m under emotional duress. Last night I thought about it really, really hard. I mean I wanted to go. That’s always the way it is. But I just can’t make myself. I looked in the mirror and talked myself out of it. It was the usual. You deserve a night in, watching movies. You’ll feel better if you relax here, not get all sweaty outside. But then there’s that bitch I can see just out of the corner of my eye. The person I want to be. She was wearing a great workout outfit and looked fit and glowy and fantastic.

“I feel great!” She said to me. She couldn’t contain her glee. “I just had the best run EVER!”

“Fuck you.” I said to her, and poured myself a glass of wine.

She’s not all bad though. Once in a while, she gets me off my ass and doing things that will make me feel better. I had plans with my girlfriends last week that I really felt like breaking. I felt unattractive, and sad, and generally wanted to spend the evening listening to depressing music while applying an emo amount of black eyeliner. I thought about calling to cancel, but the person I wanted to be talked me out of it.

“You’ll feel great if you go.” She said, making sense. “What, are you going to sit here all night? And then see the pictures of them tomorrow having a wonderful time without you? Is that how you want your life to be?” She looked at me like I was pathetic.

“FINE.” I said to her as I pulled a dress over my head. “I’ll go, okay? I’ll GO. You can stop fucking gloating now.” I had a great time, but I didn’t tell her that.

Oh yeah. This is supposed to be a food related blog.

Here are some apples I picked recently.

I ate some. I made apple crisp out of some more. And there were 10 or so that I left in the barrel to go bad for no particular reason at all.

Pretty, no?

Next week will be better.

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I’m leavinnnnn on a jet planneee

Well, my time is up. I’m heading out of Belize in the very near future for a couple months in Toronto and then setting my sails towards Buenos Aires. I wanted this post to be about the one main lesson I’ve learned and taken away from living here: there are two sides to every coin.

I know, I know…hardly revolutionary.  Bear with me here.

The only other time I’ve been able to concretely recognize this lesson has been in my relationships. I’ve always known that I need a deep, passionate, connection with my significant other. I recognize that I crave someone who is opinionated and fierce and doesn’t back down from me. I want the kind of connection where you can’t take your eyes or mind or hands off of the other person. Unfortunately, with that comes a price, and (in my experience) this includes equally passionate fights over, occasionally, trivial things. It includes hard-headedness when sometimes a softer touch is required, and stubbornness for no particular reason at all.  It means that when I could opt for someone who will be consistent, routine, and perhaps a tad boring, I instead will end up pacing around my condo, just short of breathing fire, because goddamn it he is just so aggravating.

And Belize is the same. Sort of.

It still amazes me that I can be excited to leave a place so utterly beautiful. I know I’ll miss it. I’ll miss walking down the beach and having the breeze play with my hair. That sea breeze; there’s nothing quite like it, is there? I love taking off my sandals as I’m walking home from dinner in a dress just to feel the sand, still hot from the day, on my toes.  I love the hoards of extremely friendly, goofy stray dogs that often decide to run along side me while I’m jogging, tongues flapping in the wind.  I love how I’ve adjusted to the relaxed local attitude, where everything can simply be dealt with, “Manana, manana,” (tomorrow, tomorrow) instead of today.

But, then there’s the less shiny side of the coin. On this side, virtually everything you purchase here has a lifetime of, oh, about 2 days, before it cracks/breaks/snaps/chips/expires/dies. When you need something urgently repaired or dealt with, your concern is met with a very unconcerned local. “Manana! Manana.”

Here, the friendships, while fun, generally operate in a you-scratch-my-back-and-maybe-if-I-get-around-to-it-I’ll-scratch-yours? kind of way. The expats are all, without exception, running from something. You name it: legal, financial, matrimonial. For whatever reason, Belize seems to be a magnet for men and women who don’t want anything to ever be asked of them again.

The general lack of ambition and level of intoxication of the population here makes me walk around in a dreamy, sleepy state. I feel like the days just meld one into another, and if you’re not careful, time seems to slip you by at an alarming pace. But you know what? I am so relieved that I discovered this about myself at my young age.  I find that universally, when I tell people about where I’m living and what I do with my time, they all moan with jealously, “Oh God that sounds amazing. I wish I could find the time to do that.” And they’re right; it does sound amazing. Ultimately, though, I need a bit more. While I don’t want to partake in the rat-race any longer, I do crave a level of passion and ambition that simply will never exist here.

That, and: I miss sushi. God do I ever miss sushi.

So it’s time to leave. I have no regrets. I’ve learned so much about myself and had so many experiences. I went on a spear fishing trip that ended in roasting our catch over a hand-made fire to end my stay in Belize properly. It was amazing, exhausting, and delicious. Much like everything else here.

Our Catch:

The fruits of our labor:

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Time and Happiness

It’s taken me some time, and plenty of shameless mental masturbation, to tentatively work out what the currency of life is.

Let me backtrack. I’ve known for quite a while that while money is pretty awesome, it doesn’t completely fulfill me. Winning the lottery would not make my life problem-free, and marrying rich wouldn’t satisfy me in and of itself. Working at a soul-crushing job merely to watch the numbers of my bank account slowly increase from the air-conditioned comfort of my office? Not my cup of tea. No – money, while a powerful and helpful currency, is not my currency of choice.

So what, then, makes you rich in life if not money? Two things, actually. Time, and Happiness.

Let’s begin with the less complicated and more-or-less self-explanatory one, Time.

Time is the reason why I refuse to work as an office slave. It’s the reason why, whenever I catch myself negatively assessing my (insert body part here) I force myself to get up and go for a run so at least I’m doing something about it. It’s the reason why I’ve slowly but surely been cutting out the people who are negative in my life, or who generally don’t add anything inspiring or special.

I’m not pretending to have mastered either of these currencies. Far from it. In fact, my biggest challenge at the moment is working on simply being where I am. To some, I suspect this is easy. Some people seem to have an innate ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of where they are, when they are there. I happen to live in my head far too much for my own good, and as a result I miss things happening around me. I’ve caught myself desperately taking pictures when I travel so sometime, at some later date, I can reflect upon my trip and experience the memories fondly. As opposed to enjoying myself when I’m actually there. I’ve ruined dates with great potential because my mind is working a mile a minute on some problem currently out of my control. I’ve bounced around in relationships, looking for the next best thing, instead of slowly savoring what I already have.

Now, whenever I catch myself mentally far, far away from my surroundings, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and focus on what I feel around me. If I take a refreshing sip of pinot grigio, I focus on how citrus-y and crisp it feels in my mouth. If I’m going for a walk, I put my hair down and let the breeze play with it as it streams behind me. If I’m lying in bed, I bury myself in my covers and inhale the fresh smell of laundry and perfume lingering on the sheets.

It’s a work in progress.

Now for Happiness.

Of course, there are hundreds of ways you could personally define happiness. I have a thousand experiences that fit the bill. “Happiness is waking up next to someone you love, and catching them smile contentedly in their sleep.” “Happiness is wrapping both hands around a steaming mug of tea while reading a fantastic book on a rainy day.” But those are fleeting moments of happiness. What does happiness actually mean? What is long-term happiness defined as?

The closest definition I’ve come across which seems appropriate is by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. He states that happiness is enjoying the journey of life as much as the destination.

Equally important, then, is what happiness is not. It is not prolonging your enjoyment to some arbitrary date and suffering in the meantime. (When you retire? When you get married? When the kids move out? When you lose 20 pounds?)  It is also not ceasing to challenge yourself or improve and instead exist in a barely sober lifestyle because it’s fun (for now).

One would think that the realization of Time and Happiness being the most important currencies in life is great news. They seem, on the surface, far more attainable than goals like “I want a Ferrari,” or “I want to be a supermodel.” However, if life has taught me one thing, it’s that simple is always best. With that said, simple does not equal easy. In fact, the simplest things are often the most difficult.

That’s quite enough thinking for one day. Time to enjoy being where I am, and go outside to dig my toes in the sand. To be continued.

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Jerk Lunch

            

When I was in grade six I had a crush on a boy. Not just a boy, the boy. He was two years older than me and anyone that recalls grade school knows just how huge of a social gap this poses. The eight graders were a whole new brand of cool. He was athletic, easy to talk to, and seemed to possess a worldly knowledge my lowly 11-year-old self had yet to amass. He was the basis of most of my conversations to giggling girlfriends at recess and sleepovers. I thought it was pretty impossible he would ever like me back, and resigned myself to playing soccer with him or listening to him talk about football instead of actually confessing my feelings.

We remained friends, although we haven’t spoken in quite some time now, and after my first year of University I came home and met up with a few old faces for beers. We were all reminiscing in a back-in-the-day fashion, and he turned to me, laughing, and said, “Man I had the biggest crush on you back then.”

You can imagine my reaction. My mouth hanging open, I sputtered, “You had a crush on me?”

“Well yeah,” he said, a bit sheepishly, “You didn’t know? Everyone knew.”

Unfortunately I didn’t learn from this lesson, and over the past few years I’ve still avoided truly talking about how I feel or asking questions when the answer terrifies me. Maybe I think it makes me weak to confess my fears. Maybe I’m just not as brave as I act. Whatever the reason, I’m sure it’s cost me quite a few opportunities, and I don’t intend on doing it anymore.

I’m tired of living in my head and wondering how people actually feel about me, or whether I’m doing a good job, or if I’m actualizing potential with opportunities. That’s it. No more. I’m going to start doing something revolutionary for me: I’m just going to ask. And I’m sure it’ll give me a few heartaches. I’m positive I’ll get answers I didn’t expect that hurt me or shock me. But, it still beats the hell out of ruminating endlessly by myself. I think, at the end of the day, it may make me a better person. Or at least a person willing to look critically at their flaws and attempt to improve them. We’ll see :)

I started today, out for lunch at a jerk restaurant. Turning to my boyfriend, I asked, “How would you rate us this week? Like on a scale of 1-10, 10 being I’m the best girlfriend in the world and you couldn’t be happier, what are we?”

He thought about it for a second and answered firmly, “8.5.” 

I asked what could change to make it a 10, and he pointed out a couple silly arguments we had had that I (and he) could have perhaps dealt with better. It was an excellent point, and I feel better knowing how to improve.

Lunch, by the way, was delicious. It came with (as always) the Belizean rice and beans side dish. 

We split a jerk platter for two; jerk chicken, pork, fish (snapper), and shrimp. Yum.

Mmmmm. Even better with a couple beers and an ocean view.

Try asking one hard question today (or opinion etc). Just one :) And if you do, let me know how it goes.

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Let’s Talk about Custard.

The frozen variety. Because it’s too damn hot to eat any other kind right now. 

In fact it’s too hot to type so I’ll just get to the goods.

Check it out. Rocky road frozen custard. My understanding is, the main difference between custard and ice cream is that custard has more eggs. Which makes it richer, creamier, and just plain awesome.

Doesn’t he look goooooooodddd?

And *this*, my friends, is what he looked like just prior to his death. This is him on death row. 

NOM

:)

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