Dan learns Chinese

img_9897Let’s talk about this boy. Two weeks shy of 3YO, he’s a bubbly, opinionated young boy. Learnt language more from the sister and he really could talk. It’s been a joy listening to him in a conversation and the things he speak could surprise you.

We speak to him mostly in English, even though I started out with the One Parent, One Language policy with Faith. The policy didn’t quite work well with Dan because I find myself speaking to her more in English as she grows older. A lot of my instruction is in English and Mandarin has taken a backseat.

Before he entered preschool, Dan’s knowledge of Chinese was probably little. Thankfully, he learnt Chinese through 儿歌 in school and came back singing those songs which could be hilarious. His pronunciation is funny, heavily accented in an English manner, if you understand what I mean.

I always wondered if the boy was ready to learn some Chinese characters but held back teaching him because I think he wasn’t ready. Don’t waste the effort and time. What if he resists it? It wasn’t until I received the Chinese strokes sensory play kit and started to get the kids to work on it that I realised that the boy was curious and all ready to learn.

The boy was working on the play dough and repeating the strokes after me as I taught him. So maybe it’s time to bring out the Sage Chinese books! He seemed very receptive to learning Chinese.

I started the older girl on this series of Chinese books for our home Chinese curriculum. It is easy to teach and builds confidence in the kids when they find that they could read the characters and sentences. Naturally, because of the success with Faith, I tried it out on Daniel, with little to no expectation.

Surprisingly, he took well to it. We started on the second week of August and the journey has been rather delightful. There were, of course, times when he didn’t want to learn but that’s all right. We would skip that day of Chinese learning if he wasn’t up to it. We read and review the characters every day, twice each day, and such a routine was set up very quickly.

I am a bit contemplative about sending him for Chinese enrichment class. The sister went for one since N2 (the year she was 4YO) and I must say the classes have done her much good. With Dan, I am a bit reluctant simply because logistically, it can be rather complicated … and tiring for this mom. However, we really do need the environment for language learning. Hmmm…

I guess, for now,  I would work with him using the Sage books and start reading Chinese books to him, on top of speaking more to him in Mandarin.

Above is the book that I’m referring to in this post. It can be bought from the local Popular bookstore. There are a total of 5 levels but I’m uncertain if level 1 is still available. The flash cards were given by friends and relatives but the last box of cards (yellow packaging) can be bought Popular too! 😀

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Mushroom Pumpkin Mixed Rice

If you know me, I’m a huge fan of one-pot-dish meal. Call me lazy but there are really too many things to handle and I just need to fix a quick and healthy meal for the family. I can certainly eat out, like what the hubs always tells me to do but I don’t really fancy that idea because I want the little one to be interested with what’s going on in the kitchen, just like how my mom got us all to be so hands-on with food preparation and cooking from young. Yea, even my brother cooks well. It’s certainly a skill that I want to impart to Faith.

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I love this Mushroom Pumpkin Mixed Rice because it is absolutely tasty and doesn’t involve too much work. Credit goes to Naturel Living who inserted a recipe in the goodie bag that I received during the recent Eeva Chang’s Language Power talk show. I thought it would be worthwhile to try out the recipe since Faith loves pumpkin and mushroom. Win-win situation for me!

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Ok, I must also confess that the pressed rice on the first page attracted me so much that I kept the leftlet. I had wanted to make Bento sets and this picture really captures my attention. Oh! The many things that I want to do!

Anyway, here’s the recipe, just in case the words in the picture are too small. By the way, I used their organic mixed brown and red rice and I must say it is good! The recipe serves 4.

Ingredients: 
2 cups Naturel Organic Mixed Brown and Red Rice (uncooked)
300g Pumpkin (small cubes)
200g Chicken thigh (small chunks)
100g Chinese cabbage
12 pcs Shittake mushroom
20g Dried shrimp
1 stalk spring onion
10g Raw ginger (sliced)
20g Garlic (2 cloves)
500ml Chicken Stock or Woh Hup Concentrated Chicken Stock

Seasoning (Pre-mix in a bowl)
2tsp salt
1tbsp Light soy sauce
1tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1tbsp Naturel Pure Olive oil
1/2 tsp Ground white pepper
1tsp Sesame oil
1tsp Thai Fish Sauce

Preparation:
1. Rinse the rice and drain.

2. Rinse pumpkin and cabbage.

3. Soak dried shrimp.

4. Cut ginger into slices, crush and peel garlic and dice spring onion.

5. Pre-mix all seasoning in a bowl.

Method:

1. Heat the olive oil in a wok. Add chicken, ginger, garlic and dried shrimp. Stir-fry until chicken is cooked on the outside and fragrant.

2. Add in shittake mushroom, cabbage, pumpkin and mixed brown and red rice (uncooked). Stir-fry evenly.

3. Add in the chicken stock, seasoning and continue to stir-fry for another minute.

4. Transfer all ingredients to an electric rice cooker to cook fully.

5. Garnish with spring onion (and seaweed) and serve hot.

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Maybe I will attempt Bento next… for Faith!

[Review] Home-cooked goodness at Gu Ma Jia (姑妈家)

Question: If you have a friend visiting Singapore for the first time and would like to try some local home-cooked food, where would you bring him?

Well, for me, I could certainly whip up a few dishes or get my mom to do that but that would mean too much of a trouble. Just think of the preparation and washing up! In any case, perhaps, our culinary standard may not be up to the mark and eating out is the better option. So, we can try the hawker centres or some fancy restaurants but allow me to introduce a casual Chinese restaurant that serves delicious home-cooked food that would bring smiles to your guests.

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Located at Sennett Estate and within walking distance from Potong Pasir MRT station, Gu Ma Jia (姑妈家)aims to provide her customers with a variety of delectable home-cooked food made from the freshest ingredients hand-picked by Gu Ma, the owner, and her IMG_9009culinary team. Gu Ma herself has more than a decade of cooking experience selling her signature chicken rice and wanton noodles before setting up Gu Ma Jia and there is nothing more joyous than sharing delicious home-cooked food with her customers and getting them to enjoy family bonds over meals together. Any home-cook will definitely agree to that.

The restaurant isn’t big on interior design if you are concerned about the ambience. I can see why. The main focus is the food and the company you are dining with. We had the privilege to be invited for a dinner at Gu Ma Jia and were treated to her signature dishes.

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The Assam Fish Head ($28) is one dish that I would certainly order, not just for a visitor, but for my family since it is not something that we would consume on any other day. The spicy and sour Assam blend gravy is surprisingly light on the tongues and I can certainly attest that the fish is fresh. I think my mom would love this. 😉

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Kyoto Pork Ribs ($20) and Yuan Yang Kai Lan ($10/$15/$20) are two of my personal favourite. The pork ribs are flavourful and tender the way I like it. This is a MUST-ORDER. For the Kai Lan, I like how the leaves are deep fried to perfection and that the stems are cooked just right, with the crunchiness effect. Even the hubs who is not a vegetable-lover, likes it.

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Another one on my favourite list is the Clay Pot Chicken with Ginger and Sesame Oil ($15/$22/$28). This appeals to me because the combination of ginger and sesame oil will definitely not go wrong and also it reminds me of home – Mom uses this combination to cook her chicken too. Did I mention that the chicken is really, really tender?

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The other two vegetable dishes are 8 Treasures Vegetables ($12/$18/$24) and Crispy Bean-Jal ($12/$18). The 8 vegetables that make up the former dish are lotus, black fugus, carrot, celery, vegetarian abalone, lingzhi mushroom, cashew nuts and snap peas. Sounds very healthy eh? The Crispy Bean-Jal is made up of fried brinjal and French beans and it’s my first time having brinjal prepared in this way. Quite a clever twist to the usual way of making this dish, at least to me. 😉

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The Hot Plate BBQ Sotong ($18) made an initial good impression on me because of the tangy sauce which can be a good complement to the rice. It is spicy at the right notch and not overly sourish.  The squid was cooked just well but I feel it lacks the bbq-effect which is my preference. If you don’t mind that, this is a rather tasteful dish!

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You will have to order crabs if your friend is visiting, no? I will and that evening, we were treated to White Pepper Crab and Buttered Salted Egg Yolk Crab (@ seasonal price). I’ve had my share of pepper crabs and I’m thankful that the ones served at Gu Ma Jia are meaty and succulent. It is also not too pepper-ish which is great for those who are not into spicy food. However, I’m more attracted to the Butter Salted Egg Yolk Crab, a version that I don’t really get to eat often. Even the hubs who is not a crab-lover went for a few rounds! IMHO, this is another dish I will definitely order.

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Dining at Gu Ma Jia feels like an intimate family affair. The warm and hospitable Gu Ma and her daughter welcomed us and made us feel at home. When the former realised that there were young kids among us, she quickly made the kiddos delicious fish porridge. I’m not sure if the porridge is in the menu but I would order it for myself because it is wholesomely good! Faith wasn’t feeling well that evening but she definitely enjoyed her meal!

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Nakayla and Faith, with Gu Ma and her daughter.

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We had an awfully good time just catching up with one another and everyone felt so at ease. You almost feel you are at home. I guess that is how Gu Ma wants for her customers to feel when they dine at this restaurant.

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So, this is the group (Cherie & hubby, Mabel & family and Estella & hubby)  that went down that day. We had a good time, didn’t we?

Do pop by this humble restaurant if you miss and crave some authentic home-cooked food. Perhaps, for the coming Chinese New Year, you might want to consider Gu Ma Jia as they are holding some promotions.

GU MA JIA FOOD POT ( 姑妈家 )
Sennett Estate
45 Tai Thong Crescent
Singapore 347866
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sg.gumajia
Website: http://www.gumajia.com.sg

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Disclaimer: My family was invited to Gu Ma Jia (姑妈家) for a food tasting session. No other compensations were given. Opinions stated are mine. Do note that taste buds differ from persons to persons. 😉

A lazy meal

Believe me when I tell you that I really want to have more time at home so that I could go back to the happy times I spent in Boston, learning to cook and experiment with different cuisines and cooking techniques.

I looked back with fond memories of my baking classes with CSCA – the nights spent baking croissant, pastries and the making of chocolates. Not forgetting the many ‘Yes, Chef!’, ‘Oui’ and ‘Non’ (my French is limited to these) in response to the talented Chef Delphin. And of course, the dear hubs waiting patiently outside the building in the cold wintry nights to go home with me.

I don’t have much time in busy Singapore and all I could afford to cook today was my ‘everything goes’ soup which is made up minced meat, vegetables (loads of them) and egg flower. It’s still good for the soul and healthy too.

May I have more time please?

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Chicken Wings with Oyster Sauce

This recipe is good! The dish reminds me of mom’s cooking.

Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum!

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Beef and orange stir-fry

Serves 4

3 oranges
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 pounds trimmed boneless sirloin or rib-eye steak, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 to 2 tbsp canola oil
6 scallions, green parts only, cut into 1-inch lengths
White rice, for serving

1. Into a small bowl, finely grate the zest and squeeze  the juice from 1 orange. Add the garlic and soy sauce.

2. With a sharp paring knife, peel the remaining 2 oranges. Slice the oranges crosswise 1/2 inch thick, then halve the slices; push out and discard any seeds. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, toss the meat with the cornstarch until coated. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Working in batches (adding more oil if needed), brown the beef on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes; transfer to a plate.

4. Pour the juice mixture into the skillet, and boil until syrupy, about 1 minute. Return the beef to the skillet; add the orange slices and scallions. Toss until coated and heated through. Serve hot, with white rice.

Cashew Chicken

The Hoisin sauce flavour is rather strong which overwhelms that of the chicken. And I realised that chicken breast can be tender too! Expect more chicken breast recipes!

Serves 2, adapted from Food Everyday

3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, white and green parts separated, each cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce
3/8 cup raw cashews (2 ounces), toasted
White rice, for serving (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with the cornstarch until the chicken is coated; season with 3/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken, tossing often, until browned. Add the garlic and the white parts of the scallions and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the vinegar; cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds.

3. Add the hoisin sauce and 1/4 cup water; cook, tossing, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the heat. Stir in the scallion greens and cashews. Serve immediately over white rice, if desired.

Steamed chicken with coriander & Ginger dressing

I need a bigger kitchen and cool weather too! These days, Mr Sun has been shining so brightly and fiercely that one could easily be sapped of energy. We felt lethargic and even running for a mere 2km was a feat. It was too hot!

We did a 5km in the morning and upon returning home, I was hungry. It was 11am, just the right time to prepare lunch. I had wanted to prepare the steamed chicken with coriander and ginger dressing, a recipe I had kept in the blog for months. It was pretty easy to execute but it’s not just this dish that I’m preparing…I’m also stir-frying my favourite kang kong. So, my small stove-top can only accommodate small pans. Once the wok is in use, the other pots have to ‘squeeze’ in. My countertop is small too and while attempting mise en place, frustration set in.

I fully know I should be contented with this space since it’s considered relatively comfortable in apartments of this region. But it’s a far cry from the one back home. The real kitchen space is about 1/3 of the one at home and countertop space is soooooo limited! I know I shouldn’t complain but today I just wanted to rant! The hot weather didn’t help, nor did the very empty stomach. =p A hungry man is an angry man. Indeed!

But the dish is marvelicious! I…LOVE it! You would have extra sauce with the recipe and I think I would do a liang mian with it. Just nice for a summer day!

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Chicken chow mein

I probably will be cooking more of Chinese food this month and cooking through a cookbook will definitely solve my problem of having to think of meals to prepare (and I really think hard). So it’s Ching-He’s Chinese Food Made Easy again because I love the dishes listed in the book and they are all easy to prepare and the portions are small ((2 -4). Having just come back from a baking course and hungry like a big bad wolf, I just want to make an easy meal. So it’s chicken chow mein to the rescue.

I will be attempting most of the dishes and tweaking a little to give my own twist to it.

The flavour from this dish comes mostly from the five-spice powder which is the seasoning for the chicken. In the original recipe, red pepper is called for but since the hubs and I are not fans of it, I didn’t add the slices. I know it adds colour to the dish so in future to achieve the more colourful look, I would add slices of carrots instead. Also, I found the noodle a little dry and bland and added one tablespoon of dark soy sauce to it. Perhaps, I could also add some tablespoons of chicken stock if I have it on hand.

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Braised Pork Ribs with Coca-cola

This dish came rather by chance when Dom sent me an email about the 3rd season of Masterchef in Aussie Land and a recipe that she found interesting. It was fried lamp ribs marinated in coca-cola. I like the idea minus the deep-frying part and sourced for pork ribs instead and found the following recipe from Christine’s recipes ( I love her recipes. Go visit!)

Okay. Now you know I heart cola but that doesn’t mean I consume frequently! All right, that’s besides the point. The dish does not taste of cola though but it was heavenly. The meat fell off the bones and its tenderness melted my heart. This is a must-keep. I won’t follow the recipe religiously though it serves as a guide. Use your tongue/taste-buds instead. It will do just fine, if not better.

Ingredients:
600 gm pork ribs
2 stalks of spring onion, sectioned
4 slices of ginger
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 cup Coca-cola
1 cup water

Seasoning:
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine or Shaoxing cooking wine
Pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. Blanch the ribs  in boiling water for 2 minutes to get rib of any blood and fat. Drain well.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok, sauté ginger and spring onion until aromatic.
  3. Add pork ribs, sauté and continue to cook until lightly brown. Pour in the seasonings, mix well.
  4. Transfer all ingredients to a clay pot or a medium pot. Add coca-cola and water. Cover and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 1 hour until the sauce thickens. To me, it is done when the meat falls off the bone easily when I use a fork to remove it and the sauce is right for my taste-buds.

You can add carrots or potatoes or mushrooms too!

Asparagus tips in clear broth with wantons

It’s getting colder with the temperature in the negatives every day now. We couldn’t be clear whether it is still Autumn or we are approaching winter but it is definite that harsher weather condition is here to stay. Right now, being out in the cold night for more than 5 minutes is like having your face slapped a thousand times. Okay! I’m exaggerating but it’s really quite painful! Oh my poor face…

In response to this, more recipes for soups are expected to appear at this platform. After days of eating potato chips and heaty stuff, it’s time that I cook more soup. I like this particular one because I can get to eat my greens and it’s really a one pot dish – so convenient and healthy. I don’t think I have added any amount of cooking oil apart from a small drop of sesame oil when marinating the minced pork mixture to be wrapped into wontons, or should I say, the Chinese version of Ravioli.

 

Serves 2
For the broth:

500g asparagus
1 whole tomato
1 celery stalk, cut into 4 pieces
salt and ground black pepper

Main ingredients:
14 x 2 wonton skins (Ken and I can eat 7 each)
1 egg white, lightly beaten, to seal
Corainder leaves, to garnish
light soy sauce, to serve

For the filling:
minced pork
shrimps, deveined and cut into small portions
water chestnut, chopped into small pieces
finely chopped fresh gingerroot
light soy sauce
Shaoxing cooking wine
Sesame oil
salt & pepper

1. To make the broth, trim the asparagus tips off about 2.5 inches from the top and set aside. Put the rest of the stalks, tomato and celery into a pot with 1.5 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, then break up the tomato and continue to simmer for 5 minutes longer. Strain this stock into another pot.

2. Marinate the filling. Mix the minced pork with the rest of the filling ingredients. Knead the mixture for a few minutes, then add salt and pepper, soy sauce and Shaoxing cooking wine to taste and mix in thoroughly. I usuallydo this step first and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

3. Divide the filling into the portions that you have for wonton skins. Put one portion in the centre of a wonton skin. Brush the edges of the skin with lightly beaten egg white and then seal the wonton skin with another, on top of it.

4. Heat a saucepan of water and add 1 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil and drop in some wontons (depending on the size of your saucepan) to cook them. Boil for 4 – 5 minutes, then transfer with a draining spoon to a strainer to drain. Cook the remaining wontons in the same way ( You may want to cover the cooked wontons with some hot water/broth so that they do not stick together).

5. Just before serving, bring the broth to a boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the asparagus tips and simmer for 4 – 5 minutes or until they are just tender.

6. Pour the broth into the bowls and divide the asparagus tips and wontons between the bowls. Serve piping hot and garnish with coriander leaves.

When I’m tired or simply lazy to try out new dishes/ recipes, all I have to do is to think of home and the many types of food I enjoyed at home and with colleagues. Today, it was cold and I suddenly thought of Mee Tai Muk (anyone knows the English name for it?) and how mom topped the dish with braised minced pork. Yummy! I kinda remember the flavour and decided to try to make the dish.

Well, I didn’t have Mee Tai Muk but I still had the Japanese Somen noodles and I thought it would blend in the taste well.

First, marinate the minced pork with ShaoXing cooking wine, soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar, salt, pepper and dark soy sauce. Can’t give the exact measurement but it’s really purely based on tasting (many of you do that too, right?). Into the refrigerator it went, at least for 30 minutes ( to me, the longer the better – a few hours).

I also used shittake mushrooms which added more flavour to the meat. Don’t throw the water away after you have soaked the mushrooms. The liquid is useful!

So, combining garlic (lots of them) and some chopped onions, stir-fry them and add the mushrooms, followed by the marinated meat. Taste to season. I added sugar too.

Cook the somen noodles (3 – 5 minutes) and place it in a bowl.

Add a ladle-scoop of chicken stock over the noodles. It’s also a terrific idea to have stock in the refrigerator.

Top the noodles and stock with a good amount of the braised minced pork. Garnish with coriander leaves and fried shallots.
Tastes just like mom’s! Watch out, mom! I’m going to go back with a vengence!

“When I walk into a market I may see a different cut of meat or an unusual vegetable and think, ‘I wonder how it would be if I took the recipe for that sauce I had in Provence and put the two together?’ So I go home and try it out. Sometimes my idea is a success and sometimes it is a flop, but that is how recipes are born. There really are not recipes, only millions of variations sparked by someone’s imagination and desire to be a little creative and different.” ~ James Beard.

* Braising is simmering foods in a small amount of liquid. In the process, the foods not only absord flavour from the surrounding liquid but also contribute to it, creating a cycle of exchange that results in profoundly complex and satisfying tastes. What complicates braising is its many submethods, or techniques and variations. (James Paterson’s Cooking)

Meal combination: Braised Chicken Wings with Oyster Sauce + Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts with Garlic & Carrots

My latest project, apart from reading up and experiment with cooking and baking various recipes, is to attempt to try out the recipes found in Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking. Her recipes are pleasantly familiar and I intend to cook through the recipes in the cookbook, but making changes to the servings such that they would be appropriate for TWO and to tweak the ingredients and the method of cooking to suit my style; I suspect it would largely resemble my mom’s cooking.

The project is called Eats for 2 and I’ll start with Chinese cuisine, although at times I would attempt other cuisine too.

Today’s meal is Steamed rice + Braised Chicken Wings with Oyster Sauce + Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts with Garlic & Carrots. You could top it up with a bowl of soup to make it more complete. =p The total time taken for them to be cooked excluding steamed rice is about 35 minutes. I used dutch oven to cook the chicken and wok to stir-fry the bean sprouts. In this way, I can cook two dishes simultaneously rather to have to wait for the first dish to be completed and then risk having them served cold. I’ve tried cooking the chicken using the wok too and I find both methods work well though I very much prefer the dutch oven since the food stays warm even after the heat has been turned off.

As with most cooking, the recipes are just a guide. Sometimes, you might not find that they suit your tastebuds and that’s why it is important to experiment with them. Oh! I forgot to mention. The portion here might be a tad little for some as both Ken and I are small eaters. As a gauge, we share a meal when we eat out.

    

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