Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spicy Asian Slaw Salad

Spicy Asian Slaw Salad

I think the colour of this Spicy Asian Slaw says it all.  To think you can buy most of this lusciousness already diced, in one bag........ it's genius.  It sounds a little low brow, but who cares, this salad presents as easy, pretty and with a fabbo spicy Asian dressing, packs a punch in terms of flavour. That's all my boxes ticked, so it's definitely share worthy.

This salad was the other half of my contribution, to our big Easter family BBQ.  We are 19 people at full throttle and whenever we get together, it's always a feast.  However, with most of the cousins now adults with big appetites, my attempts at a second helping were thwarted. Probably just as well. As it turned out, even on one helping, I didn't need dinner that night, but if good quality food is on offer, I never seem to have trouble fitting it in, no matter how far up to pussy's bow I am. 

  At lunch, Mr Beach House, who always seems prouder of me in company, than behind closed doors, remarked positively on the "slaw".  He reminded us that his mum used to "slap a coleslaw in the middle of the table" for most evening meals, in his childhood home.  Feeding four kids three meals a day, with little opportunity for takeaway dinners, will do that to you, I guess. 

  It appears Mr Beach House has fond memories of this daily occasion.  Trouble is, I (or my hips anyway) are not partial to eating too much mayo on anything. So how to bring this tradition into the 21st century?

I give you my Spicy Asian Slaw

His eyes always light up when I slap a slaw down on our dinner table and he seems to be OK with the fact, it has Asian overtones. 

Spicy Asian Slaw Salad
1 bag of coleslaw mix
1/2 cup of coriander (cilantro) leaves picked
1/2 cup chopped mint
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely julienned (optional, but they give it a lovely kick)

1/4 cup (60)ml rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1.5 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 clove of garlic crushed.

Decant contents of salad bag into a salad bowl
add other salad ingredients and combine well by hand.
For the dressing whisk all ingredients vigorously in a jug.
Pour over the salad half an hour prior to serving, to allow the flavours to meld.

If you are in Australia, I hope you are enjoying having the kids back at school this week.  I certainly enjoyed my freedom yesterday.

If you would like Desire Empire posts to come straight to your inbox every ten days or so, you can sign up here for my Newsletter.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Vaucluse House Sydney

Vaucluse House Sydney 

During the school holidays, we love participating in the Sydney Living Museums school holiday program for children, conducted in the historic homes of Sydney and surrounds. This time at Vaucluse House, in honour of the Wentworth's butler who stole the family silver, with intentions of sailing to China, as his get away plan.  As the butler sailed into Port Stevens, he thought he had made it to China, only to be caught and convicted.

A fascinating story which began at one of the most important historic homes in the country.

Vaucluse House displays shades of the trend  in construction at the time, of the grand homes of Britain and repeated in Australia.  The trend emerged, as a result of young gentlemen embarking on the Grand Tour of Europe.  These travels fostered a return to antiquity in architectural styles.  The construction used motives such as those in Greek, Roman and medieval architecture.  Hence the castle battlements on the facade of the home.

Vaucluse House showcases beautiful wide verandas, lined with flag stones
and immaculate gardens, including this stunning water feature.

The children participated in a treasure hunt, across the extensive grounds (for this built up area anyway).

Finding treasure at the waterfall

The water culvert, capturing water from the waterfall and channelling it to the house and the animal pens.

The Kitchen Gardens

The now much diminished view through the trees to the Sydney Harbour foreshore.  Once this was a clear view down to the harbour and Vaucluse House was the first one a sailor would see, as they sailed into Sydney Harbour.

This shot also depicts the entrance under the arch, to the recently restored garden maze.

When Governor Darling, a very unpopular head of state, left the colony for England for the last time, William Wentworth, owner of Vaucluse House threw a BBQ on the foreshore of the Harbour, for the entire colony of 4000 people, including the local indigenous people, providing all the food and alcohol.

As Darling sailed by, there were shouts of "Go home and don't come back".  There was general rejoicing by the colonists, at his departure.

Wenthworth, who was one of the leaders of the expedition to cross the Blue Mountains in 1813, also owned the Australian Newspaper and had used it to accuse Governor Darling of torturing prisoners. Darling had also banned the establishment of theatre and drama performances in the colony, which Wentworth riled against.

Wentworth's parents never married and his mother had been a convict.  For these reasons, he was shunned by Sydney society of the day.  A large player of which, was grazier John MacArthur.  You can see one of his homes here.

John Macarthur and Wentworth became personal enemies, when MacArther broke off the relationship between his daughter Elizabeth and Wentworth's son, as he would not allow his daughter to marry someone with a convict parent (Wentworth's wife, Sarah).

As a result of his family's social exclusion,  Wentworth became the head of the emancipist movement, which sought equal rights in the colony, for ex convicts and their descendants. 

Wentworth was also instrumental in the beginnings of representative government in New South Wales, the end to transportation of convicts and trial by jury.

Interestingly, as the government of the colony of NSW was established and the transportation of convicts ceased in the 1830s, Wentworth became rather more conservative and sided with the landowners (squatters) when the democrats made moves to break up the big land holdings in favour of smaller plots of land, for a greater number of settlers.

The Stables

William Wentworth rode his father's horse as a young man, at the first horse races in Australia at a race track in Hyde Park Sydney.  These grandiose stables, suggest a keen interest in horses was held by the Wentworth family.

The Kitchen (the dresser is original)

Inside and outside views of where the front door should have been constructed, at the end of the hall.  Financial constraints meant it was never established and access to the house was gained via the French doors to the front of the house, or through the back courtyard.

It seems the rich have their money problems as well.

The courtyard joining the working parts of the house to the formal rooms.  Decorated with shades of the 'Grand Tour' in the tiles.

The beautiful staircase

The dining room has some original furniture and copies of the Grand Masters, the originals of which, were purchased on numerous trips back to Europe by the Wentworths.  Vaucluse House was purchased by the state, from the family over 100 years ago and so happily, much of the original furniture remains.

And below right, the internal water closet, which was a big deal.  There are actually two toilets side by side, which is a bit weird. Not sure if two people were meant to use it together.  Apparently, the flushing mechanism takes about 20 minutes to process and the lid was left up, to display the decorative porcelain of the bowl.  The WC was installed after a trip back to England, by the Wentworths.

The formal rooms are absolutely superb and definitely worth the visit to Vaucluse House, just to view them.

And of course the hoop pines (right).  An established part of all the gardens of historic colonial homes in Sydney, as they grew much taller  than the native vegetation and were used as navigational markers to find the homesteads in colonial times.

So here's what you'll need to know:

Location: Vaucluse House, Wentworth Road Vaucluse, NSW 2030 Ph (02)9388 7922 or Tearooms (02)9388 8188

Distance from Sydney CBD: 10km east of Sydney city.

The vibe: A stunning historic home on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, set over 10 hectares with beautifully maintained gardens and park lands.  Head up to the waterfall at the end of the southern paddock to see remnants of sub topical rainforest.

Restaurants: Tearooms built in the 1920s, offering a good range of luncheon and breakfast (on weekends) style cuisine and also serving high teas.  Open Wednesday to Friday 10am -4.30pm and Saturday and Sunday 8am -4.30pm.

Opening times for the house: Friday to Sunday 11am-4pm.  Gardens are open 24 hours daily.  Admission to the gardens is free.

Cost of entry to the house: $8 per adult,  $4 for children or concession.  Family of 2 adults and 2 kids, $17. Members free.

Guided Tours: Depart from the shop at the back of the house at 11am,12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm. Or you can explore the house unguided.  Photographs without flash are allowed. Larger group bookings of over 10 and school bookings can be arranged by appointment.

Venue Hire: Is available.

Toilets: Yes in the tearooms and near the back of the stables, where a baby change table is located.

Parking:  Good amount of free off street parking open from 7am to 5pm.

Public Transport: 325 bus from Circular Quay stops outside the Vaucluse House gates.  You can also pick up the 325 from Edgecliff station.

Shade: Yes there are plenty of mature trees in the extensive grounds

Views: Of the garden and cameos of the harbour foreshore from the second floor of the house and front of the garden

Other attractions: A small gift shop offering all the usual attractions and the Tearooms.

In general:  Vaucluse House is one of the most elegant colonial homes in Sydney.  It is quite intact in terms of original furniture, owing to the fact it passed directly from the close heirs of William Wenworth to the state in 1911, by way of purchase.  Strolling around the house and it's gardens, is a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Sydney Museum program for kids:  This program is advertised as suitable for kids 5-12 years.  Although both kids enjoyed the treasure hunt, my 11 year old was disappointed there was not more history of the actual story of the butler and his escapades.  We really enjoyed the other programs at Elizabeth Farm and Rouse Hill Farm, but felt this one only catered for kids at the younger end of the age range advertised and was not suitable for kids over about 8 or 9.  With more development of the history of the house and the butler's story, this program could be much improved.

I have recently gathered more travel stories and day trip ideas in one spot,  read them here.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easy Fruit Tart Without Pastry

Easy Fruit Tart Without Pastry

Well who doesn't love a four day weekend? It's a good excuse to be with family and eat too much.  Thank goodness Easter comes but once a year then.

Part of my contribution to our very enjoyable family BBQ, was this Easy Fruit Tart Without Pastry.
It was not too sweet and beautifully moist and buttery.  Even if you are not a baker, this one is very simple because there is no fussing with pastry.  All that is required is some mixing, spooning into a flan tin and poking in some fruit. What could be easier?

Also on the menu was chilled cucumber and avocado soup with coconut chill crab.  It was simply divine and I think I garnered enough info from my sister in law, to try this in my own kitchen, some time soon.

My brother in law was instrumental in the opening and closing ceremony at the Athens games in 2004 and accordingly, resided in Greece for many months prior to that.  Suffice to say he loves to cook a bit of Greek cuisine and it is always fabulous. On our Easter menu this year, were these deep fried green olives and we also had Greek BBQ lamb and potatoes to go with the salads.  Of course by then, I was too far into the party to bother photographing it.

In between the cooking extravaganza, he took the younger cousins on joy rides throughout the neighbourhood.  Everyone needs an uncle Kev, don't they?  This kid loved it..........Me, not so much.

Another highlight for me was having the opportunity to roll, out my vintage plastic cake caddy, picked up for a song at the Red Cross shop.  Very handy for transporting cakes and now worth the fact it has been shunted around my bench top for 6 months, waiting to find a spot all of its own in the cupboard.

The other themes of our Easter weekend appeared to be bush walking and bike riding.  We have tried holidaying and even dining out in our own region at Easter and have always found it to be a complete bun fight. So we tend to do things that don't involve crowds during the Easter weekend.

Oh the serenity of walking along the valley floor.  This is the Lane Cove River Valley and is part of the Great North Walk, located at the end of the street, where I grew up.  It's all just 35 minutes from the Sydney CBD.  It is quite surreal and we are very lucky to have access to such beauty and peace, so close to the city. No doubt the developers will try and get their greedy hands on it, as they have recently done with the other end of my mum's street.  You can't fight city hall, but isn't it interesting that you are not allowed to cut down anything without council permission, but when they want to raze several hectares of bush land to create 25 million dollar plus blocks of land for sale, the developers seem to be able to do so with ease. 

Once was bushland......Tragic

We also picnicked on Scotland Island and ate way too much chocolate.

Someone has been desperate to get her hands on a onesy and thankfully the Easter Bunny put that one to bed this season.  Phew.

So without further ado, I give you the easiest and yummiest tart in my repertoire right now.

Easy Fruit Tart Without Pastry
150g or 2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
200g or 4/5 cup almond meal
1/3 cup self raising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 plums, figs or apricots halved and deseeded
2 tablespoons almond flakes
olive oil spray
1 tablespoon red jam such as plum or raspberry

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
Grease with olive oil spray and line the base of a 23 cm / 9 in flan tin, with a removable base, with baking paper 
Beat butter, sugar,eggs, almond meal, flour, vanilla extract in a bowl, until combined.
Spoon mixture evenly into greased tin.
Poke fruit evenly into the tart mixture.
Sprinkle with almond flakes.
Bake for 30-40 minutes.
Melt jam in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water, over a moderate heat.
Brush mixture over the warm tart to glaze.
Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes.
Gently remove tart from the tin by pushing up through the centre of the flan.
Leave base in place if it is too difficult to remove before serving.

Tip: Try this tart with any fruit similar to plums or pears

 For all my other easy sweet treats go here.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sleeping Luxe

This post is brought to you by Sealy Posturepedic Exquisite

Living a healthy lifestyle begins here in the bedroom, with just the right amount of sleep.  Yes that elusive joy, which one totally takes for granted, when they are riding high on the beautiful sleep wave of youth. If only I knew then, it would not always be that way.

It's not until the sleeping skill eludes us, we realise a good nights sleep underpins the health and success of pretty well everything we do.  A skill I seemed to have had in abundance, in my single days, pre kids.  In those days, although there was the odd heart break, or work disaster, which meant I tossed and turned all night,  a good nights sleep generally came easily to me and I assumed it would always be so.  

Since my lovely little bundles of joy arrived, not only do I find it harder to sleep, but I have also lost the art of sleeping in.  These days, whilst they slumber well past 7am, I am wide eyed and ready to start the day at 5.30am, but not always feeling refreshed.

Considering a good nights sleep is vital to both our physical and emotional health, I take a few simple measures to assist me to relax, drift off and stay asleep.  Believe me, I take my sleep very seriously these days. I seem to grow horns, when I don't get enough.

I always find I am able to sleep better with a bit of luxury.  Clean fluffy sheets, a snugly comfortable bed  and a partner who does not snore, are all prerequisites for a good night sleep for me.

One of Mr Beach House's saving graces in the bedroom is, he rarely snores.  Unbelievable I know, but he really doesn't.  Sadly, I have to report that apparently, I do.  How do I know this?  Because he keeps telling me off course.  If only it wasn't by way of  a gentle elbow in the ribs from him, in the wee small hours, to inform me of the fact.  Alas, I know he is right, because I have also woken myself up on occasion, with a loud snort.  I like to think it was him, but he says not.  

So annoying when I am dreaming of something fabulous, but that is for another post.

Further to those essential elements nurturing sleep, I cannot discount the importance of a good quality mattress, as part of the mix. It's without doubt, an essential detail in helping to foster a rejuvenating night of quality zeds. If you've ever slept on an uncomfortable mattress, hello university share house, then you will know precisely what I mean.

I like my mattress soft and snugly, others like it firm.  Happily, Mr Beach House and I are on the same page, in this respect at least. One in five, is something to be celebrated, don't you think?.

The Sealy Posturepedic Exquisite is specially designed to bring a little luxury to your life, allowing you to relax and recover with its Rest coil system.  Rest Coil is a truly responsive support technology, helping to cradle each part of your body, whilst you sleep.  Sounds lovely doesn't it?

  I am not saying that you will never have to count sheep again with Sealy Posturepedic Exquisite.  God knows, we mothers can never be guaranteed of that, but if you are in the market for a luxurious mattress, to restore and relax a tired body, the exclusively designed and made in Australia Sealy Posturepedic Exquisite  is something to consider.  It is not just the default position in a mattress, but may just be, a priceless investment in achieving a restful slumber.  Something we all seek, with such devotion.

Sleep well Beach Dwellers.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Make an Easy Lemonade Stand and A Paint Giveaway

This post is sponsored by White Knight Paint
How to Make an Easy Lemonade Stand : Part Two

This has been such a great project to complete.  A beaten up old drinks trolley had been in my possession for over a year, waiting to be transformed from ugly duckling to beautiful swan.  The reason it took so long, was that the thought of the work involved, daunted me.  I am not a lover of painting furniture, so it was not something I was chomping at the bit to accomplish.

The drinks trolley had rusty wheels into the bargain, so it sat in the too hard basket for a long time.

Enter a spray can, in the form of White Knight Squirts.  Had I known about this ingenious product a year ago, you may have seen this cute little transformation well before now.

Being the slacker that I am, I was also unaware that chalk board paint could be purchased in a spray can.  The spray cans just made the whole project so much easier and timely.  They dry to the touch in 15 minutes and because the effort to wow factor ratio was low, I also did a chalk board to match the drinks trolley.

From that to this.  Pretty good I think.  I am in love with the intensity of Lemon Yellow and think it is a perfect colour for a lemonade stand.

I went for a Machinery Grey wheel, as I think It looks fab against the bright yellow.  No more rust here.  You can see how I dealt with the rust on the wheels in part one of this project.

The littlest Beach House Brat was beside herself with glee, as she helped me style the lemonade stand.  She has certainly approved it for her sleep over birthday party, later in the year.

So if you are looking to complete some small household painting projects, give White Knight Paints a try.  The suite of products all worked really well and I loved the finish I got with the Crystal Clear Acrylic.  It should help to protect the paint into the future.

I am giving away some White Knight Paints.  If you would like to enter, you can do so here in the comments on this post, or on the other post I did about the preparation for this project, here.  If you have already entered this giveaway,  you can do so again here, for a bonus entry.

This giveaway is now closed.  Congratulations to the winner is Kirsty Girl. Please contact me in 7 days from today's date 12.5.14 in order to claim your prize. Thanks to everyone else for your entry.

This is the same giveaway, as the one I began on 24 March 2014 and there will only be ONE winner.  I will consider the entries from both White Knight posts I have written and choose one winner only.

To validate your entry, you will need to:

Head over to the White Knights Paint website to check out the Squirts range of aerosol coloured paints. Click on the "show available colour range" near the top of  Squirts page. To validate your entry, leave me a comment below, letting me know which is your favourite colour from the Squirts range of paints and what household item you would paint, using the Squirts cans.

Giveaway Terms and Conditionns
This competition is open to Australian Residents only. 
This is a game of skill.  
You MUST enter the giveaway on this BLOG by leaving a comment here on this post about the lemonade stand, or on the White Knight painting preparation post here. 
You do not need to have a Blogger account.  Just sign in as anonymous and leave an email address.  

There is only one prize package and only one person will win it. The prize is as follows:

1x 500ml White Knight Rust Guard Metal Primer
1 x 300g White Knight Rust Guard All Purpose Primer
10 x 310g White Knight Squirts(Colours of your Choice, subject to availability)

This prize is not redeemable in cash.
This competition is open from 24 March 2014 until 2 May 2014 12pm Australian EST.
The winner will be announced on this blog,  Desire Empire Face Book and Desire Empire Twitter accounts and I will contact you, as long as you have left a valid means.  The winner will have 7 days to respond, otherwise the prize will be reassigned.
Good Luck. 

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Kidspot Voices of 2014 Top 100 and Some Hot Blogging Tips

I went back to school on the weekend, blogging school, that is.  You never stop learning in this game and it's always wonderful to get insights from the most successful bloggers, on how to do things better and grow.  Although they always seem to effortlessly execute wonderful content for their blogs, the key message from the A list, was that any success, is as a result of sheer hard work.  A bit like the old adage, 'the harder I work, the luckier I get'.

As part of the event launch, we gathered for a blogging masterclass at The school, in Rosebery, brainchild of creative genius, Megan Morton.  
After some light refreshments on arrival, we were treated to a beautifully styled school room in which to learn, replete with lovely vintage elements reminiscent of an old style education.  However, that was where the old fashioned elements of the lesson ended.  

With complimentary diaries at the ready, I took loads of notes.  Maybe that's old fashioned too, but it's the way I prefer to roll.

 It's incredible how there is always something to learn and how nothing stays the same for long in social media.  Another key message, is that social media is not a passing fad and the digital medium is ignored at your peril.

The blogging masterclass consisted of three informative and interesting panel sessions, which concluded in a Q &A with the audience.

First up was a great panel on Finessing Facebook.  

The panel consisted of Yianni Konstantopoulos: Social@ogilvy
Katrina Springer: The Organised Housewife
Jaclyn Carlson: The Blog Society

Facebook is a social media platform I really enjoy engaging in, but Facebook has recently changed the algorithm yet again, such that only up to 1% of your followers will see your business page feed, unless you pay to promote it.  

Hot Tips to increase your organic reach: 

  • Upload your photos as an album to Facebook for a greater reach.
  • Facebook prefers rectangular shots
  • Facebook prefers short links.
  • 80/20 rule. ie. 20% should be your stuff, 80% should be inspiration or sharing others' stuff.
  • Know when the engaged portion of your community is on Facebook, otherwise you are talking to no one. If you can schedule your posts to fit these times, do it.  
  • Sharing and commenting increases your reach. Get organised in a group and do this mutually with others.
  • Make it easy for readers to follow you by giving them the option to follow you on all platforms at the bottom of each post on your blog.
  • Use Facebook Apps to direct followers to your other social media platforms.  I so need to do this.

Next was the dynamic duo Mrs Woog and Baby Mac.  They are a great double act and had us all in stitches.

Hot tips:  
  • Say "yes" to everything in terms of off blog exposure, even if it scares the hell out of you, because it may be a break through moment in terms of driving traffic.
  • Always give your readers something.  Don't just make it about you.  They need to go away with something, like useful tips, a recipe, or having enjoyed your pretty images or opinion.

And their most popular posts ever: 

Mrs Woog's: How to make Tuna Mornay from the Servo.

Mrs Mac's: How to Make a Pepper Pig birthday Cake.  According to Mrs Mac, it "wasn't a great cake", but it's very popular all the same.  I just goggled the cake, as research for this post and I think any kid would be very pleased with a cake like that.

With these 2 girls, I think it's all in the delivery and it's always pretty entertaining.

Next up was a forum on Inspiration in Innovation

Luisa Brimble: Alphabet Family Journal
Lisa Tilse: The Red Thread
Sneh Roy: Cook Rebublic

This was a fabulous discussion from some true creatives.

Hot Tips:  
  • It's easier to create your own content than copy others, because it's so much easier to be yourself, than someone else.
  • Be a COP, Consistent, Original and Persistent.  Kind of like I always say. "Just keep going."  Because you don't know what's around the corner.
  • Bite off more than you can chew, because you may be able to chew more than you thought. ( from Pip Lincoln facilitator)
  • Grasp every opportunity you get, because it may never be presented to you again.
  • When Sneh was asked, "How did you know you could do it?" On the subject of triple testing recipes, cooking, styling and shooting her cookbook in 40 days.  Sneh answered, "Because I wanted to do it."

After school, it was off to the launch party, held at Studio Luxe in Darlinghust.

I was honoured to be included in the top 40 list in the Beauty and Lifestyle bloggers category.
The competition is split into 3 categories, the other two are Personal and Parenting (30) and Food and Wellbeing (30).

Now from that list of 100, a total of five bloggers will be chosen from each category, to proceed further in the competition.

Here's the judging criteria 

I am so glad it's not a popularity contest, as I have never been good at begging for votes.

At the party, I made sure I met lots of  people I had never said hello to before.  These types of events are a great way to meet newer bloggers, who are often doing things very well. It's a great to move out of your comfort zone and find out new things.

The stand out new talent for me, was Jane, I was very impressed with her blog Emerald and Ella.  Jane is doing beautiful things over in her space.  She has a beautiful foodie blog, with some stunning content and innovative recipes.

I also met Gordo for the first time.  He is the husband of the charming Cybele.  Together they produce a lovely blog called Blah Blah Magazine, with lots of great home hints and tutorials on making natural household cleaning and beauty products and also loads of home style ideas and recipes.

Another one to watch, is fellow Kidspot finalist Basmah from Lacee & Lattes.  Basmah is an 18 year old journalism student, who has only been blogging since December 2013.  After being told she "would never amount to anything",  Basmah is pursuing her dream to become a beauty journalist.  Good on her.

If you pop over to any of the lovely blogs  I have mentioned here to say hi, let them know I sent you.

Have a great week Beach Dwellers.

It's school holidays here so things will be hectic.

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