theroad2fabulous

Our lives are fabulous because we make it that way!

Why Do People Puke Platitudes?

I reacted badly to a friend. I was stressing about some things going on in my life, and the response I got was, “I’m sorry. I know things will get better for you. You just have to keep the faith and stay positive.”

My first reaction was not positive. The “I’m sorry” shows sympathy. The intention of the entire statement was to be supportive.

But–

It fell flat. Felt banal.

So I examined my frustrated reaction, and quickly realized that the next three phrases are platitudes—those little phrases people use when reacting to someone else’s problems. And because I tend to sometimes take a deep dive into my irritations (or some would say I am simply a geek), I did a little research on platitudes and their use. My favorite non-dictionary definition is from a blog called Award Winning Blather*

“A platitude is a statement that’s used so often, it sounds dull or trite instead of interesting, thoughtful or helpful. When someone is coping with a life problem, a platitude is the typical reaction of another person who has nothing genuinely heartfelt or sympathetic to say. It helps fill the silence in an uncomfortable conversation, and can be an indirect way of letting people know they should look elsewhere for meaningful dialog.”

The reaction I got was devoid of complex thought, and therefore I felt that my friend, who really does mean well, didn’t care enough about whatever challenge I was discussing with him to give a thoughtful reply. Even though I know that is not the case, it irritated me.

When we share our challenges, we are willingly exposing our vulnerabilities. I don’t often do that, and when I do, I don’t want them glossed over. Exposing our vulnerabilities is part of intimacy, whether in a friendship or a love relationship. Platitudes feel inauthentic, and are therefore an affront to intimacy.

So, why do we use platitudes at all? Is it really because we don’t care? Maybe in some situations that theory applies. But in most cases, I think it’s really one of the following reasons:

  1. We don’t know what to say. Sometimes we simply don’t know how to react appropriately to other people’s pain or problems. When I lost my two babies, there was probably nothing in this world that could have comforted me. When someone said “Everything happens for a reason,” I wanted to punch the well-meaning person in the face. What reason could there possibly be for the death of a child? No matter what your philosophy of life, uttering those words to a grieving mother will not comfort her. Ever.
  2. We fear the other person’s pain. If we can react quickly and move on, we can distance ourselves emotionally from the situation and avoid having to face the same fear within ourselves. Classic deflection to avoid pain.
  3. We don’t know what to do that would truly be helpful. I always say that I don’t know what I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t know how to help when I have not had a parallel experience. Sometimes you don’t have to DO anything; you just need to listen.
  4. We don’t know how to communicate our sympathy. Not everyone is verbally expressive. Not everyone can put their heartfelt sympathy into words that are original, or at least not clichés. That’s ok too.

This reminds me that I really need to be present when I am having a conversation, really listen to what I am hearing, and respond in meaningful ways. It’s ok to stop at “I’m sorry” if I have nothing thoughtful or helpful to say. It’s ok to say, “I’m so sorry. I really don’t know what to say.” That’s at least honest. It lacks shellac.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Am I being too sensitive or thinking too much again? 😉

Oh, and for the record, I did apologize to said friend. And if you’re reading this, you know who you are. I hope we’re still cool.

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Bacon Risotto…mmm. Bacon Risotto made in the microwave…fabulous!

Microwave Bacon Risotto

Microwave Bacon Risotto. You can make this! Trust me!

Hi all, it’s your favorite shrink/kitchen wench Christine (though for Anne I will always be her “number one kitchen bitch”). Today I’m going to show you how to make Bacon Risotto…creamy, delicious, satisfying, full of bacony goodness. What’s not to love about that? What’s that you say? Risotto is awesome but a pain in the butt to make? Well, up until a few weeks ago I would have agreed with you.

If you’ve ever made risotto the traditional way, you know what I mean: add liquid, stir interminably, add more liquid, continue mind-numbing stirring, etc. You’re essentially chained to the stove, stirring continuously for a minimum of 20 minutes, maybe longer. Drag! Even if you have wine to drink and music to sing along to or your BFF there to entertain you, it’s still 20 minutes (minimum) of boring stirring. 20 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.

The initial recipe that I used to make this was one from Allrecipes.com, one of our favorite websites. I made it the traditional way, and it was delicious! But I wanted to make it to go with our Pork-o Bucco to serve to a friend who had decided to give up potatoes for lent (gotta tell you, I chuckled at that one, seeing as how you can substitute onion rings for fries…some deprivation, that…). The final stage of the Pork-o Bucco is not something you can easily do while stirring risotto, unless you have extra hands or can talk your dinner guest into taking over the stirring.

I figured that if this was an issue for me, it had to be an issue for somebody else, and there must be a solution out there. So I did what I always do, I googled it. I typed in “microwave risotto”. Lo and behold, thousands of hits. I found one that looked relatively simple and came up with a recipe that is sort of a combination of the original Bacon Risotto recipe I used and the recipe for microwave risotto. And you know what? It was just as delicious made in the microwave. Just as creamy and satisfying. And bacony. And the ability to make it in the microwave without all the stirring makes it FABULOUS!

Even if you’ve never made risotto, you can make this. Even if you have virtually no cooking experience, if you follow the instructions you can make this. It will still take about the same amount of time to cook as making it the traditional way, the difference is that for most of the time you can do absolutely nothing. Or whatever you feel like doing as there is minimal stirring required. Bonus!

Microwave Bacon Risotto ingredients

What you need to make microwave bacon risotto

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound of bacon, diced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • shredded parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup (I know the picture shows “shaved” parmesan; I actually used freshly shredded Parmesan cheese. Use whatever parmesan floats your boat. Except for the grated stuff in the green cardboard can, as that’s just nasty)
  • Arborio rice, 1 cup
  • chicken stock, 3 cups
  • white wine, 1/3 cup
  • water, 1/2 cup
  • salt and pepper, to taste (if desired)

Equipment:

  • a microwave (duh! If you don’t have a microwave, I have to wonder why the heck you’re bothering to read this, unless it’s for sheer entertainment value, which I understand perfectly). Mine is 1200 watts, and all times given in instructions are on “full power”. If your microwave is less powerful you will likely have to adjust the times accordingly.
  • basic kitchen tools: knife, something to stir with, measuring cups, garlic press (if you don’t have one, use your knife to mince the garlic instead of crushing it), oven mitts or a towel
  • microwave-safe bowl or casserole; I use a casserole dish I’ve owned for 23 years which looks like this:
microwave-safe dish for microwave bacon risotto

Microwave-safe casserole dish

Instructions:  I would suggest that you prep all of your ingredients first, which makes the entire process easier. Dice your bacon, chop your onion, crush you garlic, measure the stuff that needs measuring. You only need a small amount of wine for the recipe. If you don’t want to add wine (huh?) just add extra water to make up the difference. If you have extra wine after you measure what you need for the recipe, get yourself a glass for it. You’ll have time to relax while your risotto cooks as you won’t be stirring (woo hoo!).

Put the diced bacon into your dish. Appreciate the beauty of the bacon. Isn’t it lovely?

Diced bacon for Microwave Bacon Risotto

Diced bacon. Enough said.

Microwave it on high until it’s thoroughly cooked but not too crispy. This takes about 8 minutes in my microwave, but might take longer in yours. Just keep an eye on it. Remember that the dish will be HOT when you take it out. You will need to use oven mitts or a kitchen towel to take it out. Otherwise your burned hands will reflexively drop the hot dish onto your potentially bare feet. This is delicious food, but not worth skins grafts and/or broken foot bones. When it’s ready it should smell heavenly and look like this:

cooked bacon for Microwave Bacon Risotto

Cooked bacon. Mmmmmm.

Scoop the bacon out and set it aside, leaving the bacon grease in the dish. If the idea of using all of the grease left in the dish offends you, by all means, dump most of it out. You need to leave enough in there to cook the onion and garlic about 2 tbsp. Depending on the bacon you use, you may have a little more than that in the dish. I did, but I like the extra flavor and don’t have to add butter later (as many risotto recipes specify) if I just leave it in the dish.

Put the onion and garlic in the dish and stir to coat it with however much bacon grease you left in the dish. Put it in the microwave and cook for 2 minutes. Take it out (remember, it’s still HOT), add the rice, and stir it to coat it thoroughly. It will look like this:

Microwave bacon risotto

rice, onion, and garlic in bacon grease

Microwave it for 1 minute. Take it out (still HOT) and add 2 cups of chicken stock, the water, and the wine. Stir it once. Put it back in the microwave and cook it for 12 minutes. Sit and drink your wine and look at a magazine while it cooks. If you get distracted and leave the kitchen and aren’t there to take it out when it dings, no worries. Letting it sit for a few minutes won’t ruin it. Take it out (HOT) and look at it. Most of the liquid should be absorbed. If it’s still really soupy, put it back in for a few more minutes. It should look like this:

microwave bacon risotto

Most of liquid is absorbed by the rice

Add the remaining 1 cup of chicken stock, stir once. Put it back in the microwave and cook it until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. This will probably take 10 -12 minutes depending on your microwave. It should look creamy, like this:

microwave bacon risotto

Creamy risotto

If you’re not sure that it’s done, taste it to see if you like the texture/consistency. Careful or you’ll burn your mouth, as it is HOT. If it seems too firm to you, cook it for a few more minutes. Once you’re satisfied that it’s cooked sufficiently, add the parmesan and bacon and stir to mix thoroughly. The heat of the risotto will melt the cheese. That’s it. Done. Simple. If you want to, you can add salt and pepper, totally up to you. Grab a plate, fork, and beverage of your choice. Let it cool long enough to avoid burning your mouth. Enjoy.

This risotto is great leftover, just pop it back in the microwave to reheat it. If you’ve got a bunch of it leftover and aren’t sure what to do with it, or feel like getting creative, check back in. I’ll show you how to make fried risotto cakes soon. Mmmmm…

“The Periodic Table of Meat”, for our fellow carnivorous geeks

This was posted on FB earlier by Anne’s fabulous assistant, and it was too awesome not to share. I especially like the number one “Key fact of Meat”: Bacon is the “meat of life”. Without bacon, life on earth as we know it could not exist. We concur. WordPress appears to be unable to upload a high resolution image which would allow you to read the fine print, which you really ought to do. If you’re so inclined, here is a link for you: http://pleatedjeans.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/periodic-table-of-meat.pngPeriodic Table of Meat

Periodic Table of Meat, featuring Bacon as the “meat of life”

Lolcat Poetreez: Stormy strikes again!

Magnetic Poetry Lolcat Poetreez

Magnetic Poetry Lolcat Poetreez

As if palmiers weren’t enough, presenting more puff pastry magic: prosciutto pinwheels

So, you’ve got some puff pastry sitting in the freezer and you’re not sure what to do with it. Well, you should make palmiers, obviously, because they’re fabulous! But let’s say that you’re in the mood for something savory instead of sweet. Or maybe you’re supposed to bring some hors d’oeuvres to your best friend’s party but you got really busy and forgot to make anything and if you show up empty handed it will not be pretty. If you’re actually on the way to the party when you realize you forgot to make food, stop and get a few bottles of wine, decent stuff, not crap. You will probably be forgiven for your oversight. If, however, you have a little time and a few key ingredients, you can whip these babies up in no time! They are ridiculously easy to make and you can use whatever toppings you like best. Or, if you’re desperate, whatever is in your refrigerator that isn’t growing mold. So pour yourself a glass of wine and let’s get baking!

Puff pastry prosciutto pinwheels

Puff pastry prosciutto pinwheels. And wine. Obviously.

Ingredients: thawed puff pastry sheets (Pepperidge Farm, in the freezer section of your grocery store): prosciutto, pesto, cheese. Yes, that’s it. I made two different varieties: traditional basil pesto with feta cheese and sun dried tomato and garlic pesto with parmesan. And prosciutto. Otherwise they would be non-prosciutto pinwheels.

Ingredients for puff pastry prosciutto pinwheels

This is what you will need

Equipment: oven, baking sheet, rolling pin (a wine bottle works nicely if you don’t own a rolling pin), sharp knife, pot holder, spatula, cooling rack, something to roll your pastry on (I used my large cutting board)

Pour yourself some wine to sip while you work. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap your thawed pastry sheets and open one up on your rolling surface. If you’re worried that it might stick, sprinkle it first with a little flour. Roll your pastry out to make a 12″ square. Spread the pesto of your choice on the dough.

puff pastry and basil pesto

puff pastry and basil pesto

Put the prosciutto on top of the pesto, followed by whatever cheese you are using.

puff pastry with  basil pesto, prosciutto, and feta cheese

puff pastry with basil pesto, prosciutto, and feta cheese

puff pastry with  basil pesto, prosciutto, and feta cheese

puff pastry with sun dried tomato & garlic pesto, prosciutto, and parmesan

Starting at one end (it doesn’t matter which), roll the dough into a spiral tube. Pinch the free edge of the dough to the layer of dough underneath it to seal it. This will keep it from coming unrolled as it expands when baking.

pinch the edge of the dough to seal it

Using a sharp knife (I prefer my deadly sharp bread knife), slice the dough into 1/2″ thick “rounds”. If your square was 12″ like it was supposed to be, you should have 24 slices. Alternatively, you can do what I do: cut the dough in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each quarter in half; this gives you 8 sections of equal length, which you cut into thirds for a total of 24 slices of more-or-less-equal width.

Put the slices onto your baking sheet. I put my silicone baking mat on top of the baking sheet first. No silicone baking mat?  you could spray it with non-stick spray or used parchment paper if you are afraid they’ll stick to the pan.

pinwheels ready for the oven

It doesn’t matter if they aren’t perfectly round, as they will become round when baking. If you’re a little OCD and can’t stand looking at them unless they are round, you can flatten them slightly with your fingers and coax them into roundness. Whether you flatten them or not, they look the same when they’re done.

flattened, round pinwheels ready for the oven

Put the baking sheet into the oven, assuming that you remembered to preheat it to 375 before you poured your first glass of wine. If you forgot, preheat it now. You can sip and admire your handiwork while you wait. Bake the pinwheels until they are a lovely golden brown color, which should take somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes. Do watch them carefully, as there is a narrow window of time between “just right” and “burned to a crisp”. Don’t walk away when they are starting to turn a little gold, thinking that you’ll be right back, because you know you’re just going to get distracted until you smell smoke (the exception to this rule is that you may quickly go get another bottle of wine if yours is empty and immediately come back).

Blackened fish may be a treat, but blackened puff pastry is not! You might as well eat charcoal. And it doesn’t matter how much wine you’ve had, it’s still gonna taste nasty if you burn it. They will probably be darker on the bottoms than on top, so if you’re not sure if they’re done, lift one with your spatula and peek at the underside. If it’s dark brown, take them out now! Once they’re done, transfer them to your cooling rack while you bake the rest.

Let them cool at least enough not to burn your mouth when you eat them. Marvel at how lovely and tasty they are, especially considering how easy they were to make. They can be eaten warm or at room temperature and reheat quickly in a 275 degree oven. If you like something a little spicier, try using hot capocollo instead of prosciutto. I am personally a huge fan of capocollo, especially when paired with a strong cheese like feta. But then they would technically be puff pastry capocollo pinwheels, just as tasty, but without the fun alliteration. Enjoy!

Kony 2012

There is a youtube video that is spreading like wildfire, which was posted by one of my friends on FaceBook. It’s a powerful demonstration of the ability of people, through social media, to change the world for the better. People like you and me. Ordinary people who don’t feel like their opinions make a difference. Joseph Kony is beyond evil. He has been committing atrocities in Uganda for years, unchecked. He abducts children and turns them into an army bent on death and destruction. If you have ever wanted to make a difference, now is the time. Please, watch this video. Then do something:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc&feature=player_embedded

Follow up to “Dear KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice™ System, where have you been all my life?”

The day after I posted my fabulous dough-creation experience with my new KitchenAid food processor,  my mom came to visit. I told you that I have been seriously baking for 20+ years. My mom got me started baking. Not only is she a fabulous woman in every possible respect, she also used to work in a bakery. As a baker. As in “professional baker”. Naturally, I had to whip out my new kitchen toy and replicate the process for her. This time I made pizza dough. My mom watched as I put the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl and “pulsed” it for a few seconds. Then she held her breath as I turned the machine on and drizzled the warm water and olive oil into the bowl with the dry ingredients. In less than 30 seconds we had dough. It was just a tad sticky, so I added a few more tablespoons of flour. A few more seconds on low speed…ahhhhhhh. Perfect dough. Smooth, silky, elastic…which soon became perfect pizza. Even my mom was impressed with my new KitchenAid food processor. Which ought to tell you something…maybe I need to post video for you to witness the magic…

Dear KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice™ System, where have you been all my life?

I recently decided to replace my old KitchenAid food processor with a newer model and opted for the KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice™ System. Anne’s mom saw it on QVC and is getting her the red one for her birthday. Unfortunately, QVC didn’t have the black one, so I had to order mine elsewhere. It arrived Saturday but I didn’t have time to open it until yesterday. It’s absolutely beautiful. This is what it looks like:

KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice™ System

KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice™ System

I have been a serious baker for almost 20 years. I can bake pretty much anything and have spent countless hours devoted to perfecting various bread recipes. I have made many different kinds of dough in a variety of ways: stand mixers, bread machines, and, of course, by hand. I have always wanted to try making dough in a food processor but never got around to it until yesterday. I have to tell you that I was skeptical. I recently got “The New Food Processor Bible” as I wanted to make the most out of my beautiful new appliance, and I followed the recipe for Crusty French Bread exactly. No deviations. I have to tell you that I was truly shocked by what happened. In less than two minutes I had perfect dough. Not just adequate dough. Perfect: silky, smooth, elastic, fragrant. (In fact, I was so amazed that I might just repeat the process and post a video of it.) I followed my usual procedure for rising, shaping, and baking. I ended up with some of the nicest French bread I have ever made, with almost no effort. Seriously. I’m thinking that my toaster oven is going to have to move so that my food processor can have a permanent home on the counter. I can’t wait to see what else this baby can do…

We now bring you “Bird on a Wire… With a Twist” aka “How to Make Your Own Fabulous Origami Crane Earrings for Next-to-Nothing””

Origami crane earrings

Origami crane earrings

Why origami crane earrings, you ask? Well, that should be obvious, really, but in case it’s not, this is why: because you need them! Even if you weren’t aware of it, you need them. Trust me, you do. They’re fun, colorful, and a bit quirky (like me). They’re quick, easy and inexpensive to make. They’re lightweight and easy on your earlobes. And best of all, each one is unique, just like you. No two will ever be exactly the same, which is how it should be.

First things being first, in order to make these, you have to know how to make an origami crane. Duh. Or at least have a friend who knows how and is willing to do it for you, perhaps in exchange for some nice wine; collaboration is perfectly acceptable! If you don’t know how to make a crane, there are countless sources of instruction on the internet (drawings, videos, 3-D animations, etc.). There are also a number of different variations in folding techniques, all of which result in the same end product, but some of which I think are much easier to do. I thought about making my own video demonstrating how I make a crane, but reinventing the wheel seems like a silly waste of time. Especially when I could be using that time to drink wine. Instead, if you need instruction, follow this link to a good video. I like this video because it’s very easy to follow (similar to how I fold mine) and there is no unnecessary talking or irritating background music.

http://www.origami-instructions.com/origami-crane-video.html

Okay. Assuming you are now capable of making cranes, you need to be sure that you can make itty bitty cranes, which are a little trickier. When you make a big crane, if your fold is off by a millimeter or two it’s not a huge problem. When you make a tiny one, you really have to be precise or it will turn out badly! Folding a tiny bird is more difficult if you have big fingers or if (like me) you have reached the age where trying to focus on something that small makes your eyes hurt. I like my earrings to be small, so I use paper that is 1 3/4″ square. 2″ squares will also work if you want them slightly larger. I find anything smaller than 1 3/4″ to be significantly more frustrating to work with. I folded half a dozen “practice” mini cranes until I was satisfied with the result.

So here is what you will need to make origami crane earrings:

Paper – it doesn’t have to be origami paper, but should be thin and hold a crease well, and if you don’t want your cranes to be a solid color you will want paper with a small pattern so it will be visible.

Ear wires of some sort – you can find these at any store that sells beading/jewelry making supplies. There are many styles available in a wide price range, many of them inexpensive. If you’ve never used them before you can learn how to online. I’ll show you 3 different kinds of ear wires that just happened to be in my jewelry making supplies.

Sealer – this is optional but it will make the cranes stronger and less susceptible to damage. I use clear nail polish because it’s easy to use and dries quickly.

That’s pretty much it. Once you have those things you should be ready to go. Are you excited yet? You should be. Nervous? No need for that. Just follow me on my photo journey. I chose 3 different small-patterned papers to work with:

1 3/4" squares of origami paper

I proceeded to fold each piece of paper into a crane. It went something like this:

 

 

 

It went something like that 6 times in all, so I ended up with this:

3 pairs of itty bitty cranes

I prefer my cranes to have curved wings. If you want yours to have straight wings, you can skip this next bit. I used a small wooden skewer because that’s what was handy, and just rolled the wings onto it:

First one side...

Then the other side...

And voila!

Straight vs. curved wings

A matched pair

The next step is to seal them. Again, this step is optional though highly recommended to strengthen and protect your cranes. To make it easier and less messy I thread a head pin (or you can just use plain wire if you don’t have any head pins) up through the middle of the crane and use the wire as a “handle” while I brush the clear nail polish on. I do the tops first, let them dry, then flip them over and do the bottoms. If your curved wings start to uncurl when they get damp, not to worry; while they are still tacky you can gently recurl them with your fingers and they should stay.

Bird on a wire...

Tops sealed first...

Then the bottoms

Once the sealer is dry, your cranes are ready for ear wires. I used 3 different kinds of ear wires for demonstration purposes. The first pair of ear wires are “stack a bead” ear wires. They are basically curved wires with a head at the end on which the crane rest. You simply start with the “wire” end, thread it into the hole in the bottom of the crane, and carefully push it out the top, trying to get it exactly in the middle. Keep pulling the wire through until the crane rests on the “head” of the wire.

Threading the wire into the bottom of the crane...

Pushing it through the top (it's hard to see in the photo, but the wire is actually coming out in the dead center of the top)...

Wire pulled all the way through until crane rests on "head" of wire

First pair finished

The next ear wires I used are also a version of “stack a bead” wires. The end that hangs down flattens out like a little paddle, so that you can feed beads on the wire and they “stack” where the paddle gets wide. You can use any kind of beads you like and the crane can rest on the beads. I didn’t want to use beads, so I used pliers to curl the end of the wire into a spiral for the crane to rest on. The “stack a bead” wires do cost more, but the advantage is that you can switch what you have on the wires at any time simply by pulling the beads off the open end of the wire.

Wire threaded through crane with "paddle" end at the bottom

Winding the "paddle" into a spiral...

Spiral done...

And now the crane rests on the spiral

Second pair finished

The last pair of wires I used were standard ear wires with loops. I used plain head pins with crystal beads on the ends to keep the cranes from falling off, then attached the headpins to the loops. DISCLAIMER: yes, I am well aware that my photos will show an abominable example of headpins twisted into loops; this is NOT how they should look, however, my good jewelry tools, including my half round needle nose pliers, got moved somewhere and I couldn’t find them. I had to use regular needle nose pliers and wire cutters from my tool box. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you want wonky loops. If you like wonky loops, by all means, make them however suits you.

First put a bead on the head pin...

Then thread it through the crane from the bottom...

Then put the head pin through the ear wire loop...

Then wind the headpin into a loop

Third pair finished

All three pairs of origami crane earrings

So, here we are. Kudos to you for slogging your way to the very end of this post! And thanks a bunch for joining us. We hope you’re inspired, or at the very least amused. Hopefully both! Now get busy and make yourself some fabulous earrings!

This just in…

The folks at Magnetic Poetry now have a “Lolcat Poetreez” word kit. Between this and the “Bacon Poet” words we’re going to have a lot of fun…

Lolcat Poetreez from Magnetic Poetry

Which one of you ate my bacon?

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