Banana and Squash Soup

As the winter keeps it’s icy cold iron grip on us here in the great white north, our diet seems to include more and more soups. A new favorite for us is this unusual combination of flavors. An absolute winner – so much so we just couldn’t wait to post it! so please … do yourself, your family and kids a favor … make this for lunch or dinner ASAP! And get back to us with your verdict.

Each spoonful of this sumptuous soup will warm your bones … you can add a pinch of cayenne if you like it hot.

Ingredients (makes 4 servings):

1 ripe banana, unpeeled
1 butternut squash, peeled, cut in cubes (about 4-5 cups or 1 to 1.25 L)
¼ cup (60 ml) butter (yes BUTTER)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) each of brown sugar and honey (… brown sugar isn‘t evil in this small quantity)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped (those of you that don’t know this if you want to avoid garlic breath remove the green “stalk” inside the garlic)
1 tsp (5 mL) curry powder
½ tsp (2mL) cinnamon
¼ tsp (1mL) nutmeg
1 cup (250 mL) coconut milk
3 cups (750mL) vegetable broth
Juice of 1 lime
¼ tsp (1mL) each of salt and pepper (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 350F (180 C).

Line baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place unpeeled banana on one end of baking sheet and place squash on the rest of the sheet. Cut 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of butter into tiny bits and sprinkle on squash, along with brown sugar and honey. Cook for 20 minutes (no more!!!); remove banana and set aside. Stir squash and roast 10 more minutes.

Melt remaining butter in large pan on medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic, curry powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Peel banana and add it and any juices to pan. Add squash, coconut milk, and 2 cups (500 mL) of stock. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Puree in batches in blender until smooth (don’t overdo it) Stir everything together and add lime juice, salt and pepper.

Serve! (remainder can be stored in spill-proof insulated containers frozen or to heat up in the next 2-3 days)

And ENJOY!

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Ah- saw- ee to you!

The amazing purple berry from Brazil is one of the planet’s most interesting and unique foods not to mention one of the healthiest. Packed with antioxidants, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, this tiny berry delivers a nutritional profile rarely seen in the natural world, and many consider it to be the world’s most complete food. In other words – it’s the super food of super foods.

Why?

Perfect acid profile = crucial for brain and behavioral health and serves as a precursor to numerous neurotransmitters in the human body.

Proline = one of the main components of collagen, the connective tissue structure that binds and supports other tissues. (i.e. helps you look younger)

Glycine = utilized in liver detoxification and is essential for the biosynthesis of nucleic acids and bile acids.

Antioxidants = Found in the acai berry in a remarkable concentration, with three and a half times the anthocyanins of red wine per volume. Anthocyanins offer protective benefits to the cardiovascular system, digestive organs, brain, blood, cells, and tissues, as well as exhibiting strong anti-inflammatory and antiaging properties. This little unassuming berry has the highest antioxidant effects of any fruit measured using oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) values. Acai berries contain many antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, gallic acid, epicatechin, anthocyanins, procyanidins, protocatechuic acid, and other tannins. Check out ORAC values at oracvalues.com.

Oleic acid and Omega 9 Monounsaturated fatty acid = During flue season this little power house is your best friend! Acai is very similar to olive oil in fatty acid content. The berry contains 60 percent oleic acid, an omega-9 monounsaturated essential fatty acid; and 12 percent linoleic acid, an omega-6 polyunsaturated essential fatty acid. Essential fatty acids are crucial for human life and are responsible for hundreds of physiological processes in the human body including reproduction, fertility, immunity, and communication between cells. Because it is plant based versus animal based these elements are much easier for your system to ingest and use.

Plant sterols = Also enhance immune response by increasing T-cell division, enhancing secretion of lymphokines involved in cellular immunity, and boosting the activity of cytotoxic cells (a key to fighting pathogens).

Vitamins = Last but not least, this amazing berry contains a full array of natural vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and significant amounts of dietary fibre. Most noteworthy, acai contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, C, and E; as well as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.

To ensure you gain all these amazing benefits from acai, be sure to choose a 100 percent pure acai juice, which should contain at least 30,000 mg of pure acai per 1 ounce serving.

The Challenge: The real problem is that most people are consuming it in powder form – where it has lost all of its benefits. To get it fresh, a lot will order it from a juice bar, where many use sorbet as a sweetener. It’s not available as a frozen berry in stores because on it’s own – the berry has little flavor and the belief is people will not buy.

What to do? We developed a friendship with our local juice bar and they can order Acai frozen “pure juice with pulp” at an affordable price. They must in order to make a profit right? We have bought the juice in a large tub from them. As such, we do not buy the product with the added sugar – just the 100% pure, no sugar added, acai juice. 

This does mean a little work on your part. First you need to convince them to order a tub for you (we got lucky – no extra charge).  Second you have to thaw the tub long enough to transfer the precious liquid into “one person” size portions. We use either a large quantity of ice cube trays or – if we must – some small zip lock bags that we wash and re-use for the next round! Other than that – it’s easy – grab a bag frozen to toss in a smoothie, or thaw it out over night in the fridge and add to your juice in the morning.  

We will vouch for this little berry; the trouble is well worth the health benefits!

Note:  It is far easier to get the public to believe an exotic berry out of the rain forests of Brazil offers the magic cure for obesity than it would be to convince consumers they will magically lose weight eating blueberries, grapes, apple or banana. While the acai berry offers many other health benefits, it will be no more effective in helping you lose weight than any other fruit. The Acai weight loss scam please read this and this.

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Trout and Artichoke Sandwich!

The sorry truth is that most people don’t eat enough fish – and when they do there is an unfortunate tendency to overcook.

This must be one of our all time favorite recipes and this crowd pleaser comes form an all time favorite Chef Jamie Oliver.

Its shockinlgy easy and old and young will dig in and ask for seconds. Whatever left over’s you have are easily frozen and warmed up for lunch another day.

What you’ll need:

•extra virgin olive oil

• 8 x 200g/7oz trout fillets (There is only 2 of us so we only get two fillets)

• 1 good handful of almonds, blanched

• 1 bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked

• 1 ciabatta, preferably stale (If you can’t find ciabatta find a good French country bread)

• zest and juice of 2 lemons

• 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

• 16 marinated artichoke hearts, drained and sliced

• 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon (any bacon really – Canadian or other)

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (we skip the pepper, there’s a delicate stomach involved)

• 1 small handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked

Preheat your oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7 and rub a roasting tray with a little olive oil.

Lay 4 of the trout fillets, skin side down, on the tray, with two bits of string under each fillet. Make sure they are not too high or too close to the center.

Lightly toast the almonds in the oven for a couple of minutes – watch them carefully as they don’t take long – then bash them up using a pestle and mortar (or a metal bowl and a rolling pin). Try to get some powdery and some chunks. Put the almonds into a bowl and rip in the mint. (You can use pine nuts as well – or both!)

Take the crusts off the ciabatta and set it aside (you don’t need it – we tend to eat it dipping it in humus to keep us patient) . Take the “soft” inside and break/chop it up. Add the lemon zest, chopped garlic, artichoke hearts, and 5 tablespoons of olive oil to the bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Mix it up well (use your hands it’s fun!) and sprinkle a good handful of the mix over each trout fillet.

Place the other 4 fillets on top, skin side up, laying a bacon rasher along the top of each one, and secure with the string. Sprinkle the thyme over the top and any excess filling (bread mix) around the tray.

Place in the middle of the preheated oven and cook for about 15 minutes, until the trout is golden and crisp. When the fish is ready, cut the string and serve the fillets with a nice green salad. We remove the skin for guests, although we don’t mind it many people do. It’s easy enough although you may need to put it all “back together” for presentation. Give everyone a lemon half on their plate so they can squeeze the juice over their fish.

Enjoy!!

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Do(t) This!

As Canada gets criticism in Copenhagen on it’s environment slovenliness, this campaign caught our eye as one of many signs that Canadians as a nation are in fact far more aware and active than our Politicians decisions portray on the international platform.

The Canadian flyer industry contributes more than 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Paper-based advertising uses up a lot of water, electricity, fossil fuels, and trees. Our mailboxes are literally stuffed with junk mail that, at best, receives a quick glimpse before being trashed or hopefully recycled. Yet the standard industry response rate is only 2 percent. That’s a 98 percent failure rate! You do the math, the insanity is terrifying and we shudder to think what our neighbours to the South are inundated with! So it’s a good thing that a Canadian federal program and a bunch of red dots are helping to reduce this environmentally unfriendly form of advertising. For the past 11 years, Canada Post has offered Canadians the opportunity to opt out of receiving junk mail.

Who knew?

Some business owners are starting to understand that people don’t need or want flyers. In the world’s most “internet connected” country, grocery store giants like Loblaw’s, Metro and Food Basics, as well as the likes of Best Buy/Future Shop , Canadian Tire and so many more already offer e-flyers online.

The Internet, is also where you will find the Red Dot Campaign—named for the red dot that Canada Post uses in their files to indicate households that have vetoed unaddressed admail. Since January 2008, reddotcampaign.ca has taken off, proving that Candians don’t have to be victims of literary litter. Five percent of households have already opted out using Canada Post’s “Consumer Choice” option, according to the Red Dot website. Advertisers use Canada Post numbers to plan their print runs, so the more people who say no, the more waste is reduced over the long term. It couldn’t be easier to take a few simple steps that can save a lot of trees.

Step one
Put a “No Ad Mail or “No Junk Mail” sign on your mailbox, which carriers are supposed to (but sometimes don’t) heed. Rules vary in different regions, so check reddotcampaign.ca for specifics. For those of you in a condo, loft or community living situation, talk to your condo board and see if a consensus against junk mail can be reached.

Step two
Write a letter to Canada Post indicating you don’t want any unaddressed mail delivered to your home. Reddotcampaign.ca website offers a sample.

Step three
Register on the Canadian Marketing Association’s “Do Not Contact” service at the-cma.org, which will reduce mail-out advertising from its members and/or you can also write to: Do Not Mail Service, c/o Canadian Marketing Association, 1 Concorde Gate, Suite 607, Don Mills, Ontario M3C 3N6.

If you do(t) nothing else for the environment in the new year … do(t) this.

(If you are a US citizen)

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Winter Solstice

We were watching Bones last night off the pvr, and we couldn’t help clap our hands at the reference to the origins of Christmas. The line “You should celebrate Christmas in March” was a particular favourite. Why you ask? Here is a compilation of information to answer the question.

People are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically Pagans celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season. Even though they prefer to use the word ‘Yule’, and the celebrations may peak a few days before the 25th, they nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.

If truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with it’s associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why some leaders of the Reformation abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made illegal in Boston! The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes. And many of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters complicated, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior. Bill Maher refers to this in his wonderful documentary Religulous.

Ultimately, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God — by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. It makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World.

That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians. Perhaps even more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than once to reject it. There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically accurate. Shepherds just don’t ‘tend their flocks by night’ in the high pastures in the dead of winter! But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this reference may point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus’s birth. This is because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds are likely to ‘watch their flocks by night’ — to make sure the lambing goes well. Knowing this, the Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a ‘movable date’ fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.

Despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529, it was a civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian. In 563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a single day, but rather a period of twelve days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than Christianity itself, which means that ‘Christmas’ wasn’t celebrated in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year’s log. Riddles were posed and answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if they do) their origins.

For modern Pagan Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Yula’, meaning ‘wheel’ of the year) is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21st. It is a Lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one. Pagan customs are still enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash. Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on it. In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, such a tree would be cut down rather than purchased, and would be disposed of by burning, the proper way to dispatch any sacred object. Of course now, many own a “fake” tree, not wanting to kill a tree and knowing that it is after all a symbol fake or real. The eco debate on fake or real trees is one for another day.

Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically — not medicinally! It’s highly toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good food. And drink! The most popular of which was the ‘wassail cup’ deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘waes hael’ (be whole or hale).

Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs, it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions. In doing so, they can share many common customs with Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different interpretation. The real message is however, that this time of year belongs to everyone. No matter where traditions came from we can all feel it’s importance in our blood. Atheists, Pagans, Christians and anyone else … we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons.  The moment hope is born. Happy Yuletide to all!

 

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The Romance of Snowshoes

Liking it or not (as we return from a scuba diving trip in the Cayman islands it’s more “not” at this time) winter has arrived. In our usual desire to find something inexpensive, fun and easy to do together … something that builds intimacy (i.e. not a group sport) and can lead to wonderful romantic moments… we tried snowshoeing.

The first time we tried snowshoeing as a couple, there were big fat snowflakes the size of moth balls falling from the sky. We grinned from ear to ear as we swished, swashed and sloshed through the new fluffy powder. Sticking tongues out like a small kids to taste the snow. We quickly learned to never walk briskly with snowshoes while trying to catch falling snowflakes in your mouth. Why you ask? One moment you’ll be gazing at a perfect winter sky, the next you’ll be a face-plant casualty.

The experience was wonderful and reminiscent of cheesy “Kodak” moments. We enjoyed everything from nature “showing off” as squirrels, deer, snow owls and other northern climate survivors displayed the true meaning of winter beauty. We stopped in awe at an icicle formation between two trees that rivalled the tallest chimney and gleamed like a diamond in the winter sun. The crisp blue sky and large clouds made the entire moment feel like a fairy tale as we sat in the snow and tried to point out shapes and images from the white fluff above our heads. We kissed under a snow laden pine, tossed snowballs in mock war and sipped hot chocolate from a thermos making every kiss and hug a delectable one.

If you are thinking of those big wooden snowshoes, think again. Snowshoeing has come a long way baby! Modern snowshoes are made of lightweight aluminum (or plastic alloys) and some recent models even have spring-loaded systems that snaps the snowshoes back to your feet after each step. It’s great if a little unnerving at first. While modern versions are skinnier than classic models and are less awkward to use, it is important to remember that the larger the base the more flotation you’ll have in the snow.

Most modern brands also come with prongs beneath the balls of the feet and heels, or along the edges making it easier to descend hills, while teeth along the edges are essential for moving sideways up an incline.

One great aspect of snowshoeing is that it’s easy to learn. In fact everyone can do it and it’s relatively cheap. There’s no travel cost – you can do it at the park near your home! You don’t need to take lessons either although – turning around and getting up after a fall are basic skills you’ll need. The easiest way to get up is to roll on your front and push yourself into a kneeling position. From your knees you can then use your arms to push yourself back up to your feet. Ski or hiking poles can be useful in this situation but we don’t use them preferring to have a “hands free” approach for winter photography, snowball tossing, pointing, helping the other up if needed and of course … holding hands.

To turn around, lift one foot and place it at a 90-degree angle in front of the other (forming a T with your feet). Then shift your weight and bring the other snowshoe alongside. Do it again to make the full turn. On moderate hills keep your feet pointing straight ahead, and as you step up, transfer your weight on the front of your uphill snowshoe to create traction. When descending, weight the heel of your foot as you step down. On steeper inclines you may need to kick more aggressively into the slope and then stamp your feet a few times to create a solid platform before finishing the step. Or … slide down the hill on your ass – our personal favourite.

For those still obsessing about exercise and weight lose, here is a great tidbit of information. A recently conducted study (we can’t recall by whom or where) found that breaking trail over flat and varied terrain at about 5 km per hour burns about 600 calories an hour if you put your ass into it. You see, exercising in the cold is a great way to lose weight because our bodies burn more calories just trying to stay warm. The same study showed that participants burn twice as many calories while snowshoeing as they do walking at a similar speed and it’s a lot easier on the knees.

If you have a love for hot chocolates this may well be your way to earn one guilt free!

Do us both a favour however, and be smart. Don’t go into mountainous terrain where avalanche hazards are a problem. If you’re planning to go there you’ll need to attend an avalanche course, carry the proper rescue equipment, and know how to use it. Get a guide for something like that. Honestly, it’s worth it! And try and remember that daytime temperatures can plummet at startling speeds, so snowshoe with a buddy, and give yourself time to get back to “base” (your home or car) before dark.

Try it once and you might just get hooked. Now …. On to dog sledding!

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Bouillabaise

yumminthetumTHE DISH  know as bouillabaisse was created by Marseille fishermen. Rather than using the more expensive fish that would bring in a larger profit, they cooked any fish and shellfish that they pulled up with their catch that were too bony to serve in restaurants, cooking them in a cauldron of sea water on a wood fire and seasoning them with garlic and fennel. Tomatoes were added to the recipe in the 17th century, after their introduction from the America.

In the 19th century, as Marseille became more prosperous, restaurants and hotels began to serve bouillabaisse to upper-class patrons. The recipe of bouillabaisse became more refined, with the substitution of fish stock and the addition of saffron. Bouillabaisse spread from Marseille to Paris, and then gradually around the world, adapted to local ingredients and tastes.

Three of the best-known restaurants in Marseille for traditional bouillabaisse are Le Miramar, on the Vieux Port; Chez Fonfon, at 140, Vallon des Auffes, and the Grand Bar des Goudes, Rue Desire-Péléprat.

The name bouillabaisse comes from the method of the preparation – the ingredients are not added all at once. The broth is first boiled (bouillir) then the different kinds of fish are added one by one, and each time the broth comes to a boil, the heat is lowered (abaisser).

But we have found an amazing way to make this wonderful dish in the slow cooker!

Here are the ingredients (serves 8):

1/2 cup of olive oil

1 carrot, chopped

2 onions, chopped

2 leeks cut small

1 clove of garlic, crushed

3 filets of fish cut in 3 inch pieces (flounder, red mullet, whiting, sole, haddock, perch or whitefish)

2 large tomatoes cut in pieces or 1 cup canned tomatoes

1 bay leaf

2 cups fish stock, clam juice or water

½ cup shrimp, crab or lobster meat cooked or canned

1 small bag of frozen sea food (muscles, squid, octopus …)

1 package frozen mussels in the shell (optional)

Few grains of saffron

Juice of 1 lemon

And MOST important!! 1 cup of dry white wine!

1 tablespoon chopped parsley and/or fennel

Season to taste (salt, pepper and if you wish ½ cup pimientos cut small)

Toss the whole kit and caboodle into the slow cooker (except for the frozen muscles in the shell and parsley/fennel).

Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.  You can eat it as is – but if you want to make it really “authentic” before its done – add the frozen muscles.  The instructions on the bag will let you know how long they need to “open”.  Some are a little pre cooked others not.  Toss into the finished bouillabaisse in the slow cooker; put the lid back on until the shells open.

And Voila! Place in bowls and sprinkle the parsley/fennel on top and serve. 

This is a dish our guests fight over for the last drop.  We make the entire batch and eat it fresh out of the slow cooker for dinner (eating all the muscles in the shell – they don’t keep or store well) and the rest gets put in Tupperware (with screw lids) and frozen.  This is easily warmed up on the stove or microwave and tastes just as good. 

If you love seafood we know you’ll love this!  Enjoy!

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