Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Useful Desert Broom

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People complain that they want more green in their landscape. Desert broom is one option for bright green foliage.

Desert broom is called escoba amarga in Spanish, and also called a weed by many.  But I advocate you take a moment to consider this shrub more fully.

Desert broom (Baccharis sarothroides) is a vigorous plant – often the first plant to grow on a cleared stretch of desert (or over the septic tank).  It can be useful to have such a tough plant in your landscape palatte.  Along with landscaping it is useful in a number of other ways.

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Sad to say – some people think the only good desert broom is a dead one.

Uses.

Desert broom has a history of use as a medicinal plant.  A decoction made by cooking the twigs of desert broom is used to treat colds, sinus headache, and in general “sore aching” ailments. The Seri use this when other medicinal plants are not available. The same tea is also used as a rub for sore muscles.  (Perchance Father Kino used some after one of his epic rides.)

Studies done on plant extracts show that desert broom is rich in leutolin, a flavonoid that has demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cholesterol-lowering capabilities. Desert broom also has quercetin, a proven antioxidant, and apigenin, a chemical which binds to the same brain receptor sites that Valium does. However, many members of the Sunflower family also contain compounds that cause negative side effects, thus caution is advised.

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Desert broom seedlings are often among the first plants to appear in a cleared area. The rabbits do not eat them.

As it’s name indicates, branches of desert broom do make a passable broom for sweeping the dirt floors of an adobe home.

Desert broom is so plentiful, and many of it’s seep willow cousins are used as dye, so I had to do the experiment. The result – yes! It does dye wool. Various mordants result in differing shades as seen below.  Other members of the Baccharis genus have excellent colorfastness.

baccharis dye on wool crop

Baccharis on wool with different mordants. I use the chemical symbols to mark my mordants. Al = alum, Cu = copper, FE = iron.

Desert broom can be used as filler in fresh and dried floral arrangements, with long lasting color and minimum mess since it has few leaves to lose.

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This plant gets chopped often for filler in my flower arrangements. Regular clipping helps keep it a dense and bushy.

Desert broom comes in separate male and female plants. The females release their tiny fluffy seeds at the same time a number of other plants release their pollen, thus the seeds of desert broom often get erroneously called an allergen. The pollen of the male plants is released in fall and can be allergenic.

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No, desert broom does not have yellow flowers. In this case a desert broom grew up through a Cassia.

Planting and Care.
Plants may be purchased at nurseries or can be grown from seed. Avoid over-watering in heavy soils as desert broom will drown.

Desert broom will accept shearing and can be trained into a decent, short-lived privacy hedge. Such a short lived hedge is helpful while the longer-lived, taller, non-allergenic, but slower growing Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica) reaches hedge size. Desert broom can also be useful in the landscape since it grows in heavy clay or saline soils where few other plants thrive.

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These plants get sheared once a month by landscapers with power tools. Note that the native desert broom is growing more vigorously than the non-native cassia from Australia.

JAS avatar If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

All photos and all text are copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: Dye, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blue Moon Month

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Full Moon over the Santa Catalina Mountains. Photo by J.A. Soule

In this month of five Fridays, Jacqueline missed her traditional Fourth Friday by mistake.

Categories: Sonoran Native | 2 Comments

Fig Jam Ready for Farm to Table Picnic

Picking figs at the Mission Garden.

Picking figs at the Mission Garden operated by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace.

The hottest weather of summer brings Tucson one of its sweetest treats, figs. The figs at the Mission Garden operated by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, are ripening  now. Some of the trees have already produced and are beginning to  grow their second crop. This is Carolyn today, and that is me picking figs from one of the trees in the lush recreated historic garden near the Santa Cruz River.  The plan was to preserve the figs as jam to be used as an ingredient in cookies  for the Farm to Table Picnic being organized by the  Mission Garden and Native Seeds/ SEARCH.  On the late afternoon of October 18, dinners will be able to picnic on Southern Arizona’s agricultural  bounty at tables  spread through the Garden. (Ticket detals next month).

The brown figs at Mission Garden are living relics of trees brought to Southern Arizona by Father Kino. They were grown from twigs cut from plants behind the Sosa-Carrillo House. Historic records show that those trees came from cuttings of trees at San Xavier Mission. The green figs were grown from cuttings taken from trees at the  settlements near the Ruby and Oro Blanco mines.

Plump figs from Mission Garden. The green ones are called "white" and some people think they are sweeter.

Plump figs from Mission Garden. The green ones are called “white” and some people think they are sweeter.

Generally in making jam the old-fashioned way without added commercial pectin, you measure an equal quantity of fruit and sugar and simmer until it is thick. Because these figs were incredibly sweet and because I plan to spread the jam over a base crust, I didn’t care if the jam set up like I would, say a plum or strawberry jam. So I thought it would be safe to use less sugar. Ultimately I used about 4 cups of sugar to 8 cups of chopped figs, about half the usual amount. Since I wanted a smooth product, I put the chopped figs through the blender.  I could have also used my food processor.

Blending the chopped figs for a smooth product.

Blending the chopped figs for a smooth product.

Next came the long slow cooking.  In the picture below, you can see the large pot on the left where I was boiling the storage  jars to sterilize them.

Cooking the jam.

Cooking the jam.

In any jam making, you need to simmer the fruit and sugar until it reaches about 220 degrees F. This takes both time and careful watching to get the jam to a point where it is not too runny and not too stiff.  In Tucson, because of our altitude, 218 degrees F usually gives a better product. Use too high a heat and the jam will burn on the bottom of the pot before it reaches the proper temperature.

To check the temperture,  I used to use a traditional candy thermometer that looks like this and works with a column of mercury:

Traditional candy thermometer.

Traditional candy thermometer.

A couple of Christmases ago, however Santa brought me a digital thermometer that is good for roasting a turkey, cooking a thick steak and making jam. It has a probe that sticks in whatever you are cooking and gives you a readout.   See the photo below. You can see this one has reached 212 degrees F. and the jam is almost done.:

Battery-operated digital cooking thermometer.

Battery-operated digital cooking thermometer. The thin silver wire on the right is a probe that rested in the jam.

Once finished, the jam just needed to be ladled into the prepared jars, capped and processed for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  That’s a lot of jam, but I’ll be baking cookies for 200 ticket holders and a whole bunch of volunteers.

Five quarts of fig jam will wait until October to be made into fig bars for the Farm to Table Dinner.

Five quarts of fig jam will wait until October to be made into fig bars for the Farm to Table Dinner.

I can’t show you a picture of the fig bars, because I haven’t made them yet. But I have used this recipe previously and it is great. It is a modification of a recipe in Fruits of the Desert by the late food writer Sandal English.  If you have fresh figs and are looking for a way to showcase them, try this:

Layered Fig Bars

1 cup sifted flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup oatmeal, quick or old-fashioned

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, melted

1-1/2 to 2 cups fig jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line an 8-inch square pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving some extending over two sides as flaps.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the oatmeal and sugar. Stir in the melted butter and mix until crumbly. Firmly press 2/3 of the mixture in the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread fig jam evenly over the base layer. Top with remaining crumb mixture. Gently pat the top layer down. Bake in preheated overn for about 30 minutes. Cool, lift from the pan using the paper flaps, and cut into 24 bars.

Note: If you are making this for your family and don’t care that the bars come out perfectly shaped, you can skip the step of lining the pan.

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Looking for ideas for how to use desert fruits and vegetables?  The Prickly Pear Cookbook has delicious recipes for both the fruit and pads and complete instructions for gathering and processing. Cooking the Wild Southwest gives directions for harvesting and cooking 23 easily gathered desert plants. Find both at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store on Campbell or at on-line sellers.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Begin with the End in Sight–Monsoon Planting time for a fall harvest

"Begin with the end in sight"--As we put seeds in the ground, we anticipate a delicious future harvest

“Begin with the end in sight”–As we put seeds in the ground, we anticipate a delicious future harvest

I’m salivating already…contemplating the harvest.  Nothing can motivate us more to get out in the heat and put seeds in the ground than the idea of eating that luscious melon or stringbeans bursting with flavor, straight from the garden!   Ah, anticipation!  Thinking about what taste treats and nutritional benefits we might harvest a few months later can inspire us now to prep soil, browse seed racks, and get busy planting with the monsoon!

Connecting with the soil, prepping for planting a seed, can be a communion and a meditation, good for the soul and beyond….

Connecting with the soil, prepping for planting a seed, can be a communion and a meditation, good for the soul and beyond….

Tia Marta here to share garden-to-table thoughts and ideas.  Necessary ingredients and skills to bring:  some stooped labor, lots of time, rain, patience, and perhaps songs will be needed for assisting plants into their food-giving maturity.  I like to think of “companion planting” as the partnership we commit ourselves to when we garden– just me and the plant, a dynamic duo.  We so need each other.  In this era of instant gratification (like fast money in exchange for something to stuff in the belly), we lose sight of the plant “companions” who are really growing our food.  What “companions” can we trust as well as ourselves?

Gardening provides new interactive games, new pets, beings to care for, a lively antidote to self-centered life.

Goodworks Volunteers Barney and Oscar planting chapalote corn seedlings at Mission Garden

Goodworks Volunteers Barney and Oscar planting chapalote corn seedlings at Mission Garden

When your hands are covered with good clean dirt, you can anticipate a fruitful future!

When your hands are covered with good clean dirt, you can anticipate a fruitful future!

We at NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden are planting –and planning– right now for a harvest feast in October:  the right Native American teparies, the most delicious heirloom squash, the best free-range local beef, the sweetest Southwestern heirloom GMO-free corn, the most pungent local chiles, the most flavorful melons, combined with the rich white Sonora wheat harvested from the winter garden.  Put the NSS/Mission Garden local foods feast on your calendar for October 18, and plan to join fellow locavores and food aficionados for a special down-home Farm-to-Table Picnic— very little distance between the farm where the food was grown and the table where we will break bread together and sip local sangria.

First burst of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth--a glorious ornamental and tasty "green" when eaten in the young stages (MABurgess photo)

First burst of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth–a glorious ornamental and tasty “green” when eaten in the young stages (MABurgess photo)

 

Marjorie Grubb's summer-fresh Verdulaga salad

Marjorie Grubb’s summer-fresh Verdulaga saladEven before growing your monsoon garden, weeds will greet you–and they aren’t all bad.  Even as your seedlings grow you can harvest some delectable weeds like verdulagas (summer purslane) or young amaranth greens.

If you are looking for ideas for planting, there are wonderful helpers at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store at 3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, ready to share their monsoon gardening experiences and tested tricks.  Every Thursday 2-4pm expert gardener Chad Borseth will be there to give a timely demo and to answer questions.  Bring your queries to him–doubtless your questions and the answers will be of help to other fellow gardeners as well.  ALSO for those new to the gardening game, and for veteran gardeners who want a head-start, try planting starts for a leg-up.  They can be so much more dependable than planting seeds.  You can find a diversity of summer plant starts at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH MONSOON PLANT SALE coming up soon–next Friday thru Sunday, July 17-19, at the Campbell Avenue store.  There will be many varieties of chile pepper including our native chiltepin, tomatoes, okra, heirloom squashes and pumpkins, melons, corn, beans, even summer wildflowers…. Come early, as they get snapped up fast.

Seedlings of the ancient Chapalote corn (seed available from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

Seedlings of the ancient Chapalote corn (seed available from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

Young Tohono O'odham yellow-meated watermelon--come get seedlings at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Monsoon Plant Sale July17-19

Young Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon–come get seedlings at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Monsoon Plant Sale July17-19

Speckled Tepary Bean seedling seen thru chicken wire protection at Mission Garden

Speckled Tepary Bean seedling seen thru chicken wire protection at Mission Garden

Vulnerable and a little fragile at first, these Southwest heirlooms actually hold in their genes the ability to produce quantities of good food, abiding the unpredictable ups and downs of rainfall and temperature in the desert monsoon season.  With tending, they can be little powerhouses.  Their genes, selected by desert farmers over many centuries, are truly to be respected and preserved–and the way to save them ultimately is not necessarily in a seed bank nor by engineering.  To save them we must GROW them!  Then enjoy positive reinforcement at the harvest.

White flowers of Tohono O'odham Black-eye pea quickly producing long pods in the humid heat of monsoon season at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

White flowers of Tohono O’odham Black-eye pea quickly producing long pods in the humid heat of monsoon season at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

Rich harvest of Tohono O'odham U'Us Mun (black and white spotted black-eye pea) from last summer's harvest at Mission Garden

Rich harvest of Tohono O’odham U’Us Mun (black and white spotted black-eye pea) from last summer’s harvest at Mission Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These summer-active black-eyes, introduced by early missionaries and adopted by the Tohono O’odham, are well-adapted to hot weather and will provide a prolific feast in the fall. (U’us mu:n, pronounced “moo0nya”, means spotted or patched.)  Some of their pods will reach a foot long.  If you can “catch” them in the fat, mature and still green-pod-phase in your garden, you might get close to Nirvana eating fresh black-eyes–a treat very few have ever experienced.

When you see silks emerge on your maturing corn plants, you can help Nature and Genetic Diversity along by touching a tassel  from another plant onto the silks.

When you see silks emerge on your maturing corn plants, you can help Nature and Genetic Diversity along by touching a tassel from another plant onto the silks.

Red Sweet Corn, from the Guarijio People of southern Sonora--note the wrinkly kernels indicating sweetness.  (Available through NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

Red Sweet Corn, from the Guarijio People of southern Sonora–note the wrinkly kernels indicating sweetness. (Available through NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

 

Slow knowledge–a term coined by philosopher/farmer Wendell Berry–is what we can gain as we patiently watch the transformation of life in the garden.  They say it even builds new neurological pathways.  At the very least it can help young people learn what the word patience means!

 

 

 

 

 

Planting  heirloom Flor de Mayo Beans, string beans, and corn now with the monsoon will mean great marinated bean salads in September!

Planting heirloom Flor de Mayo Beans, string beans, and corn now with the monsoon will mean great marinated bean salads in September!

The most nutritious and rich-tasting of all beans--our native Tepary Bean!  --domesticated by early Desert People of the Southwest

The most nutritious and rich-tasting of all beans–our native Tepary Bean! –domesticated by early Desert People of the Southwest

 

 

 

Get the heat out of the kitchen!  Summer is ideal time for cooking your garden or market produce with the SUN! Come see a demo at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market (on sale there).

Get the heat out of the kitchen! Summer is ideal time for cooking your garden or market produce with the SUN! Come see a demo at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market (on sale there).

Happy monsoon gardening!  See you at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Monsoon Plant Sale next weekend at the NSS Store.  Or come visit our Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Phillips Farmers Market under the mesquites and sycamores, for gardening tips and a variety of beans to eat and plant.

A NativeSeeds/SEARCH heirloom sunflower--colorful protection for a garden margin

A NativeSeeds/SEARCH heirloom sunflower–colorful protection for a garden margin

Categories: Sonoran Native | Leave a comment

Feed Sack Wisdom. Rendering Lard 101 DIY Photo-Essay Spicy-Chiltepin Lard

IMG_6750 Aunt Linda here on a glorious cloudy day here in the Old Pueblo. And,  Whoops (!)  there goes Life again, changing just when we were feeling comfortable again! Just when we think we have a handle on it, the game changes. Most of you know by now that fats are not “bad”. Fats are now heralded for the importance they play in our health.  If we are wise enough, we allow Beginners Mind to open, and explore what may be there for us. Of course, we can just Resist.

Remember when eating red meat was “all bad” ?  It turns out if it is grass pasture raised it is may be healthy for us.

Remember when soy was considered “all good”;  it was almost a cure-all?  Well … it turns out that is Not Always So.

And Remember: the game will change again.

But one “truth” that seems to stand firm, is that What Goes Into the animal you eat, or that lays the egg your feed your kids, or the bee that harvests your honey/pollen, or the seed/soil that you plant is important.   For the sake of the lard we are about to render,  “You are What your Animals Eat” (see feed bag below) makes a significant difference in the health of the fat you are rendering.

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Well, trans-fats are “off the shelves” and in three years, as mandated by the FDA. They must be overwhelmingly “not good” for us if a government agency is willing to move that swiftly!  And, among the fats and oils reshuffling themselves, and reconsidered (based on science) as healthy, heat tolerant, and delicious: Lard is “back”.

Inspiration for exploring this new/old fat and how to use it is:  100% Natural LARD:  The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient (From the Editors of GRIT Magazine) As soon as I read about book (2012) which I ordered from our independent book store,  Antigone Books, here in Tucson. The book is mesmerizing. It’s recipes are divine, earthy,  and delicious all at once. And it turns out, we can render our own lard right in our own kitchens. Seemed like a fun thing to do for Independence Day.

To get “off the page” and to learn more, I interviewed Cheralyn Schmidt, my dear friend and Culinary Crusader, who has been rendering her own lard for years (and is famous for her Tamale Parties where invitees create their own tamales from different types of masa, the tastiest being made from home-rendered-lard). She is a Chef, has experience in Ag-Extension, teaches food, cooking, and nutrition —  and is the Make It Happen Woman behind Tucson’s Thriving THE GARDEN KITCHEN (google it).  I could gush on and on about her many talents and her bright spirit, but it is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

IMG_6647 1) WHY would you WANT to render lard? Well, One it is an act of independence to have the Know How. Two, it makes food taste more delicious. Three, contrary to conventional thinking, and as stated above, lard is considered HEALTHY these days. The chemistry involves in fats is complicated, but there is significant research that is changing our thinking about animal fats. Fats are very important in our diets, I encourage you to find out more; you may be surprised.  Four, fill in Your Own reasons. Five, I enjoy experimenting and learning;  the lard-rendering is one place to play with flavors. Do an experiment and see if you can Taste the Difference between pasture raised lard and corn raised lard. Also, embolden yourself with experimentation. Below you’ll see a CHILTEPIN INFUSED LARD that I played with. 2) What is lard? And where can I get it to render at home?  Lard is pig fat, that you can buy from your local butcher (even butchers at your grocery store,  Sprouts, Whole Foods),  4-H folks, your Heritage Breeders (VERY important in supporting Heritage Animals are folks who are willing to buy heritage animals), the county fair, FFA (used to be Future Famers of America, now I am not sure what it stands for).   VERY Preferably, for both your health and the health of the animal, (NOTE: not separate),  you would ask for the fat from Pastured Animals pigs. Specifically, request, the “leaf lard” of the pig, which is located around the kidney’s. It has the best quality, in terms of nutrition and taste. The book gives this as a resource for Resources as well: http://www.LardCookbook.com IMG_6668 IMG_6670 Above: fresh summer vegetables from the garden have even deeper sweeter notes when cooked in lard. 3)  What can you use this home-made lard to make?  Pie crusts, biscuits, sautéing vegetables, cooking eggs, main dishes such as crab cakes, salmon croquettes, beef wellington, cakes, pies, brownies, cookies, tortillas, tamales.  Summer fruit, berries and vegetables are abundant this time of year! Our nectarine tree is bursting – peoples gardens are brimming over!  and one way to handle the “extra” from your trees or garden is to make pie crusts or empanadas with all that summer joy. Remember to remember the Savory pies (as well as the sweet!)  – you can make a wonderful pie from your tomatoes, summer squash, herbs, your native crops …. whatever is presenting itself. If you are not a gardener, consider wooing yourself and your family/friends with the offerings of the Farmers Markets – with this much abundance comes lower prices and we can make pies galore! IMG_6763 Above: Tortilla and Quesadilla made with chiltepin infused lard! Note that the color of the tortilla is a nice yellow from the chiltepin infused lard-fat. Are your sleeves rolled up? Here we go:  Karen Keb’s section “How to Render Lard” (in the beginning of the book), says it strait. I am going to use her basic guide as well as add photos and insights from Cheralyn and my Rendering Session – that took all of an hour and a half, for 7 lbs of pig fat. The focus this post is on rendering the lard itself, so you feel both inspired and confident enough to do this at home. Later this summer, I will feature a pie crust and some amazing filling that includes tequila – so stay tuned! LARD 101 – HOW TO: 1) ” Preheat the oven to 225 F.” 2) “Fill a large roasting pan with the chopped fat.” Ask for it to be chopped or ground. Our 7 lbs that we got from a 4-H pig raised on kitchen scraps was ground for us at the Meat Lab here in Tucson. IMG_6657 IMG_6655 IMG_6658 3  “Roast Slowly for 30 minutes to one hour”  (or) until the fat has melted and you and you have protein particles  floating on top. Our seven pounds was divided over several pans and took an hour and a half. You may have noticed the red, round, chiltepin added to the pig fat in one of the roasting pans. I love this ancient, “closest living relative to the oldest known chile on the planet” “chile so much I simply HAVE to use it whenever I can. The capsicum infused taste and color added some spice to the lard. Now this can work for you and against you. So for savory pie crusts, quesadillas, or egg cooking  it is SUPERB. You may not want to  add it to your delicate pastry or your sweet berry pie. You will note that the color of the chile infused lard has a  yellow-reddish tint,  and that the lard without the chile is a beautiful white. These colors are seen in both the liquid lard and when it is firm and in the jars as well. Try infusing your lard at home with rosemary. Explore! IMG_6673 4)  “Skim off the solids and set them aside for the chickens” , (Keb really writes this – which I LOVE) Cheralyn suggests that these “Cracklin’s” are good on baked potatoes, on tortillas or in quesadilla’s, even in salads. IMG_6685 IMG_6687 IMG_6688 5) “Pour the liquid fat through a mesh colander lined with a double layer of cheesecloth.” We used flower sack material and it was perfection incarnate for such a project. Those of you who follow me, know I love to make the yogurts cheese; I plan to switch over to flower sack cloth from here-on-out. IMG_6706 IMG_6712 IMG_6710 6)  ” Store in a glass canning jar in the refrigerator or freezer. It will keep for months.” IMG_6750

Categories: Sonoran Native | 6 Comments

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