marinated bell peppers with herbs and goats cheese

peppersBy now, you’ve probably already read my epic Spanish Table post that was generated after last weekend’s festivities with Inspired Food and Feed Your Soul, Perth. Here’s the final recipe for bell peppers marinated in fragrant herbs, lemon zest, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Pile onto some fresh bread for a wonderful entree, lunch or tapas dish.

Marinated Peppers with Herbs and Goats Cheese

Serves 6 as part of a tapas meal, 2 as an entree

  • 200g mixed baby peppers
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs (I used dill, mint, parsley and coriander)
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 60g soft mild goats cheese or Persian feta
  • fresh bread, to serve

Preheat a char grill pan over medium-high heat. Add the whole baby peppers to the pan and cook, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened.

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Whilst still hot, place into a plastic bag or bowl covered in plastic wrap and allow to steam (this allows the skins to loosen from the flesh). Set aside.

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Place the chopped herbs, lemon zest, crushed garlic and olive oil into a medium bowl. Mix well and season to taste. Set aside.

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When the peppers are cool, peel off the blackened skins and scrape out the seeds and membranes. Cut or tear into thick slices, then add to the bowl of herb oil. Mix well and allow to marinate for one hour.

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To serve, gently add in the crumbled goats cheese and turn into a serving bowl. Garnish with a bit of extra herbage if desired. Serve the peppers piled onto fresh bread or as a tasty addition to a wrap or sandwich. Make sure you drizzle over a bit of the delicious oil, too.

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char-grilled vegetable and quinoa salad

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Yesterday morning, Aaron and I woke early to have breakfast with my beautiful mother at Perth City Farm. The day was cool and fresh, slightly overcast; a welcome change from the blistering temperatures of summer.

We chatted and laughed, feasting on free-range eggs, organic sourdough, grilled tomatoes and lemony smashed avocado in the dappled shade. Between sips of coffee, we sampled spinach from the farm’s own garden before discussing family foibles, travel plans and (mostly) the 2014 Western Australian Senate (re)election.

Before leaving the farm, Aaron and my mother perused the Farm’s art exhibition while I chatted to some friendly Armenian growers at the Organic Market. I left with an armload of fresh produce including Armenian cucumbers, fresh zucchini, homegrown kale and tri-colour capsicums from their bio-dynamic garden.

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That afternoon, I snacked on torn bread and babaghanouj (made with their organic aubergines and home-pressed olive oil) whilst making the grilled vegetable salad below. My mother stayed for some quality mother-daughter time; we drank tea, laughed, took photographs and reminisced about old times.

That evening, the sky grew dark and cold. Aaron and I had a picnic in the park with our best friends, sharing stories over paper plates, grilled chicken and homemade empanadas. Whilst chewing a forkful of homegrown zucchini, I felt truly blessed and grateful; for farmers, fresh vegetables, weekends, warm jumpers and quality time with those I love the most.

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Thanks to all who travel through this life with me. In particular, my family, who embrace me despite weaknesses and always love unconditionally.

I’m grateful. I always will be.

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Char-grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad

Adapted from this recipe by the Australian Women’s Weekly

Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a light meal

  • 190g (1 cup) royal quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 3 small capsicums (bell peppers), preferably mixed colours
  • 200g sweet potatoes
  • 1 zucchini, thickly sliced
  • 1/2 Spanish (red onion) sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 cup washed, picked herbs (I used parsley and mint), coarsely chopped
  • 100g goats feta, crumbled
  • finely grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, roasted and crushed
  • olive oil, to cook

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper

Place the rinsed quinoa into a medium pot with 500ml (2 cups) of water. Bring to the boil, then replace the lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is translucent. Place into a large bowl, drizzle over a little olive oil and add in the lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

Cut the sweet potatoes into a medium (2x2cm) dice. Steam or boil until just tender. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then set aside.

Preheat a char-grill pan over medium-high heat. Cut the capsicums in half and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Brush the skins with oil, then char-grill them skin side down until the skins blacken and blister. Turn and cook for an extra minute to allow the inside to steam.

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Place into a sealed bag, covered bowl or airtight container and leave at room temperature until cool (the steam will help the skins to loosen, making them easier to peel).

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Brush the zucchini and onion with a little olive oil, then add them to the grill pan with the sweet potatoes. Cook until soft and lightly grill-marked. Add the grilled vegetables to the same bowl as the quinoa.

Peel the capsicum halves and slice them into long, thin strips. Add them to the salad bowl with the chopped fresh herbs, walnuts and feta.

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To make the dressing, place the oil, mustard, sugar, garlic and vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk until well emulsified. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

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To serve, pour over the dressing and mix gently with a spoon or salad tongs. Place onto a platter and garnish with more herbs if desired.

This salad is wonderful as an accompaniment to grilled meats or fish. It’s also a nutritious light meal, embellished with some plump black olives and served with some fresh bread and butter.

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freekeh salad with hot-smoked salmon, pomegranate and feta

saladThere’s been a lot of talk about ancient grains recently. A LOT of talk. And by talk, I’m referring to virtual obsession… on the internet, in restaurant menus, in burgers, breads, cakes and breakfast cereals.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. In fact, I’d happily state the opposite. Ancient grains are ridiculously good for you, they’re less refined and generally more nutritious than modern, over-processed grain products. They’re also frequently grown in an organic and sustainable manner, which is much better for the soil and the environment in general.

Yep, it’s all good.

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But rather than spending the rest of this post harping on about ancient grains (I’ll let those more qualified do that) I’m going to narrow down to one particular type of grain that I’ve recently fallen in love with: freekeh.

Technically, freekeh (“free-kah”) is a term given to any grain that is harvested, sun-dried, roasted and threshed whilst still green. In Australia, most available freekeh is currently made from durum wheat, however companies such as Greenwheat Freekeh in South Australia are currently working to produce green triticale and barley for commercial sale.

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Due to its early harvest, green freekeh contains more protein, vitamins and minerals than mature wheat and other grains. It is also higher in fibre whilst having a lower glycaemic index (GI), which means it’s great for management of diabetes.

Freekeh has been a staple part of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine for centuries, most commonly used in side dishes (like pilafs), stews and soups. It’s a wonderful, natural alternative to pasta or rice, with a slightly nutty flavour and crunchy texture.

My favourite way to consume freekeh is in a fresh, textural salad full of green herbs, nuts and seeds, great olive oil and sweet pops of fresh or dried berries. I’ve tried many over the past two years and I’ve loved most of them, the stand-outs being those that incorporate soft labne or goats curd, pomegranate arils and toasted nuts.

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The recipe that I’ve included below was a rather impromptu creation; the result of extreme hunger and some after-work fridge foraging (hence why some of the photographs were taken after dark; darn that yellowish tinge). Luckily, I had a beautiful Tasmanian hot-smoked salmon fillet on hand, alongside half a zucchini, broad beans, some organic freekeh and my favourite goats feta.

It all came together in a matter of minutes, discounting the ‘inactive cooking time’ required for wholegrain freekeh (about 45 minutes, which I spent drinking a Hendricks gin and tonic).

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When seasoning this salad, keep in mind that the salmon retains a lot of saltiness from the curing and smoking process. You’ll only need a little bit of salt to balance the rest of the dish.

However, if you generally avoid smoked fish, feel free to omit the salmon completely or substitute chunks of fresh seared salmon as desired. Whichever way, it’ll be delicious.

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Freekeh and Herb Salad with Hot-Smoked Salmon, Pomegranate and Feta

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main meal

  • 180g hot-smoked salmon fillets (preferably plain or peppered, not flavoured) roughly torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup wholegrain freekeh, rinsed
  • 1 cup broad beans (fresh or frozen are fine), double-podded
  • 1/2 medium zucchini, washed and diced
  • 1 cup washed and coarsely chopped mint, coriander and parsley leaves
  • a big handful of washed baby spinach leaves
  • About 60g marinated feta, chopped or broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup toasted, crushed nuts (I used almonds but pistachios or pine nuts would be wonderful)
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (arils) – about 1/2 large pomegranate
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • juice from 1/2 lemon + 1-2 tsp finely grated rind
  • 3-4 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses, or to taste

Place freekeh into a pot over high heat with 2 1/2 cups boiled water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 40 minutes or until the grains are softened but intact (they should still have a bit of ‘bite’ to them). Transfer to a large bowl, then set aside to cool slightly.

Heat 1 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil in a heavy-based pan over medium heat. Add zucchini and cook until slightly translucent. Add broad beans to the pan and continue cooking until the vegetables are light golden.

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Transfer to the same bowl as the freekeh (add any cooking juices that have collected in the pan).

Mix the lemon juice and rind, the rest of the Brookfarm oil, pomegranate molasses and sherry vinegar in a small bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl (reserve a bit of feta and some pomegranate arils to garnish, if desired), drizzle over the dressing and mix well.

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Serve on a platter, garnished with the reserved feta and arils. Drizzle with a little more Brookfarm oil or pomegranate molasses if desired.

This salad is beautiful on its own, as a barbecue accompaniment or just wrapped in warm, fresh flatbreads with a smear of homemade hummus (perfect for lunch).

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Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated and as always, all opinions are my own.

lemon quinoa salad with cherry tomatoes and persian feta

bowl2It’s just passed 02:00am. Instead of sleeping, I’m listening to the sound of rain beating on the bedroom window; steady, soft, dull and rhythmic. A lone bus drifts down the highway, groaning under the weight of tired passengers and reinforced steel. I feel equally heavy. Strained under the weight of contemplation, emotion and unreasonable alertness.

I fidget, shifting my weight from right to left. Cold fingers tap incessantly on black keys, futilely aiming to translate muddled thoughts.

Type. Erase. Type…. rephrase. Begin again.

Progress. Fail. Darn it.

tommontBy now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing such a bleak introduction to a vibrant, colourful recipe post. I’m not really sure; my brain has many things to say, but my heart and hands aren’t adequate translators. Let me start with a small recollection of recent events.

Earlier this evening, Aaron and I visited two beautiful friends of ours, Brett and Kendall Stanford. I’m being completely honest in saying that Brett and Kendall are some of the best people you could ever meet: warm, gentle, kind, strong, ridiculously funny, faithful and wise. They’re both generous and loving in every sense of the word.

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By day, Brett works as a physiotherapist in a private clinic. He donates his weekends and extra time to Perth-based basketball trick shot group How Ridiculous, which you may have heard of in relation to their Guinness World Record for highest basketball shot (66.89m / 219 ft 5 in). Since 2009, these four Perth guys have been making basketball trick shot videos as a source of both entertainment and sponsorship for the not-for-profit organization Compassion. They’ve been featured by media worldwide and have over 72K subscribers on YouTube. Everything they do radiates genuine passion for the alleviation of poverty, worldwide.

On the other hand, Kendall is one of the sweetest, kindest nurses that you could ever wish to meet. She has a generous heart for people and has been a loyal friend to Aaron and I for many years now. She sung at our wedding at short notice, standing in the boiling sun for sound checks with a bad sound system and persistent flies (nevertheless, she was wonderful, as was Chris, who sung and played with her). Aaron and I attended the Stanford wedding around one month later, hand-in-hand as husband and wife, with smiles from ear to ear. It was beautiful, memorable… uniquely Brett and Kendall.

avoLast Sunday, Aaron and I read a message from Brett that has since permanently burned into the back of our minds. Around four weeks ago, Kendall began experiencing increased fatigue, headaches and facial swelling. After many investigations, she was diagnosed with Primary Mediastinal B-Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Yes, cancer. It’s scary. I’m angry, sad and frustrated all at the same time. Kendall’s diagnosis brings back memories of my beautiful mother suffering through breast cancer surgery, then months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy a few years ago. It’s a fate that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, particularly not a woman of 24 years.

Kendall has now commenced chemotherapy, and the rest of us have commenced a routine of prayer, more prayer and practical help as required. A few days ago, Kendall sent me a message to ask if I could bring them a bite of dinner on Thursday night. I jumped at the chance, ecstatic to be able to do something tangibly ‘helpful’. I brought over this salad (below) with warm bread, dips and slow-cooked lamb. I hoped that the food would be palatable, nourishing and satisfying, but I still felt a little bit… well, ineffective. Kendall jokingly remarked in a text, ‘…we may want to be on your blog too’. So, after some thought, that’s exactly what I did.

fetacloseAs Kendall tells her story much better than I can, I’d encourage you to read her beautifully honest words over at Kendall Stanford: As I Battle Lymphoma. She’s planning to write updates as she progresses through the next few months, both as a personal means of catharsis and for information sharing. As for me, I’ve signed up for the ‘food roster’ (actually, I requested that she create a food roster!) so you may see a few more Kendall updates on here as time passes, if it feels right to do so.

One last request: if you’re a Christian as we are, I’d like to humbly ask you to please pray alongside us, specifically for Kendall, Brett, their families and friends, the treating doctors involved in her care… and otherwise as you feel led. We’re praying for victory, healing and renewed strength. Thanks beautiful friends. I appreciate every one of you.

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This salad is simple, nourishing and comforting, speckled with lemon zest and fresh garden herbs. If you don’t have quinoa, you can easily substitute it for brown rice, bulgur (burghul) or cous cous.

Lemon Quinoa Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Goats Cheese

Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side dish

  • 1 cup dry organic white Royal Quinoa
  • 200g punnet mixed cherry tomatoes, washed
  • 1/2 red capsicum, stem and seeds removed
  • 1 avocado, seed and peel removed
  • 1 small Lebanese cucumber (substitute half a telegraph cucumber)
  • 1/2 small Spanish onion, outer peel removed
  • 1 handful washed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 handful washed coriander leaves (retain stalk)
  • 1 large unwaxed lemon, zest and juice
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup organic Persian marinated feta
  • extra virgin olive oil

Place the quinoa into a fine mesh strainer, then rinse it thoroughly under fresh cold water. Swish the quinoa around with your hands, rubbing slightly to remove the bitter outer coating (called saponin, which can contribute a slightly bitter or soapy flavour).

Drain well, then place into a medium saucepan with two cups of fresh cold water. Replace the lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil; immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer, then cook with the lid on for 10-15 minutes.

lemonycookedWhen your quinoa is cooked, the liquid should be fully absorbed and the germ should slightly curl away from the quinoa seeds. Allow to stand for five minutes (covered) then add in a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, some salt and the fresh lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

caponionChop your cherry tomatoes, capsicum, Spanish onion, cucumber and avocado into small (0.5 x 0.5cm) dice. Place into a medium bowl, then squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Finely chop the herbs and add them to the rest of the raw ingredients with the lemony quinoa, crumbled Persian feta, a good drizzle of olive oil and the rest of the lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

finmontServe this salad on its own or topped with warm chickpeas, freshly grilled chicken, fish or a handful of toasted pepitas. It’s also great as part of a Summer barbecue spread with a selection of salads, meat and some cold beer.

quinoasaladNotes:

  • Quinoa (‘keen wah’) is one of the most nutrient rich grains around. It’s an excellent source of iron (needed to transport oxygen around the body), B vitamins for energy, calcium and magnesium (for healthy nervous system function) and vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant).
  • For more information on quinoa (including basic cooking ratios) see my previous post, Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate and Mint.
  • The Australian website taste.com.au has a nice little collection of quinoa recipes here. Beautiful, versatile nutrition. Love it.
  • This salad can be easily veganised by omitting the Persian feta. I’d recommend additions of toasted pepitas, chickpeas or other nuts for added substance, texture and flavour.

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herbed chickpea salad with feta and lemon

peajarThere’s a lot to love about chickpeas. Otherwise known as ‘garbanzo’ or ‘ceci’ beans, these naturally creamy, adaptable legumes have been a staple food in India, the Middle East and some parts of the Mediterranean for centuries. Fortunately for us in other countries, processes of migration and settlement have slowly seen chickpeas filtrate into local cuisines worldwide. For instance, in my home country of Australia, you can find chickpeas in more traditional dishes such as hummus and Chana Masala whilst also sampling them in Westernized baked goods such as chocolate chip cookie pie and chickpea burgers or patties. Interesting.

Okay, here’s an admission: I haven’t personally crossed the line into ‘sweet’ chickpea territory as yet. Perhaps this is unusual for a foodie, but the idea of eating legumes in a cake or brownies sounds incredibly… well, undesirable. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that using chickpea batter is a fabulous substitute for the copious amounts of butter and other saturated fats that we often put into baked goods, whilst also being a wonderful gluten-free option for those intolerant to flour. I have utmost respect for the amazing cooks who can formulate these recipes, but for me? Well… my brain just says no.

parsleyI’m digressing again. Let’s get back to savoury dishes, the chosen medium for consumption of chickpeas in my household. Over the years, thousands of these little canned or dried legumes have made it into personal versions of spicy curries, fried snacks, dips, burgers, breads and wraps. All versions have been delicious, my personal favourites being crisp-fried chickpeas with lemon oil, harissa and minted yoghurt, chilli-spiked hummus and the simple chickpea salad that you’ll find below.

This recipe has become slightly famous in my immediate circle; mostly due to its simplicity, freshness and adaptability. I first introduced it at a casual barbecue a couple of years ago (as a side to my friend Mark’s famous, Jamie-Oliver-inspired, rosemary-infused lamb and chicken kebabs) and since then, at least half of the group have been making their own versions on a regular basis. In fact, my friend Caryse (an amazing cook in her own right who also happens to own a photography business) has labelled this salad ‘…the best recipe I ever stole’. I hope that you might experience the same success in your own kitchen.

ingmont3Herbed Chickpea Salad with Feta and Lemon

  • 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained, or equivalent dried chickpeas, cooked (see ‘notes’)
  • 2  small Lebanese cucumbers
  • 250g punnet cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 small red capsicum (red pepper)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 small Spanish (red) onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 bunch coriander, washed and finely chopped,
  • 1 bunch parsley, washed and finely chopped
  • 100g (0r to taste) goat’s feta
  • 1/3 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
  • juice of 1 lemon plus 1 tbsp finely grated rind
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Chop your tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers and red capsicum into a rough dice. Place them into a medium-sized bowl with the Spanish onion, herbs and drained chickpeas.

ingredmontCrumble over the goat’s feta, then add in some olive oil, black pepper, the lemon rind and the fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat, then taste. Adjust flavourings and add salt as required.

lempepNotes:

  • If you would like to use dried chickpeas in this recipe, use the conversion ratio of 1:3 (1 cup dried chickpeas equals around 3 cups cooked chickpeas). There’s no need for exact measurements in a chickpea salad (I’ve given you quantities as a starting point, but play around with things as you like), but to rehydrate the equivalent of a 440g can of chickpeas, start with around 150g dried chickpeas and follow the cooking method below.
  • To prepare dried chickpeas: place your dried chickpeas into a large bowl and cover completely with cold water. Add in about a teaspoon of baking soda (to speed the soaking process by penetrating and softening the skins) then cover. Allow to soak overnight, or for around 12 hours. After soaking, transfer your chickpeas to a large cooking pot or saucepan. Cover with twice the amount of water, then cover and simmer slowly for 2-3 hours. Test them for softness: if ready, a chickpea should be plump and tender; you should be able to easily ‘squash’ it between two fingers. When ready, train your chickpeas and allow them to cool.
  • Cooked chickpeas can be kept in an airtight container or covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to three days. They can also be frozen for up to one month.

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  • Chickpeas are a rich source of zinc, folate and protein whilst also providing about 49-53mg phosphorus per 100g. Recent studies have also shown that they can assist in lowering of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
  • For more information on the nutritional value and difference between canned and dried chickpeas, I’d encourage you to read the thorough rundown posted on George Mateljan’s World’s Healthiest Foods site. It includes a full nutritional background in chart form.

P.S This recipe was made with liberated cucumbers from my local fresh market (I went to buy Lebanese, but… well, either they’re liberated or they conservatively vote for the Liberal Party. Just thought you should know.

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