Epicurean Update

I woke this Saturday morning to find that Epicurious.com had left a delicious morsel in my news feed:  a short article by Sam Worley,

Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

What?  Is this possible?  You know I have a thing for stretchy Turkish ice cream– if you were paying attention, I sang its praises last fall in a blog post called “How We Eat . . .”.  You can imagine Mr. Sam Worley’s article quickened my pulse more than a little. It has arrived on my shores!  Turkish Dondurma!  I squealed, I celebrated!

But then I wondered.   Can I eat Turkish dondurma from the local grocery aisle, or would it be wrong, and certainly disappointing, to pull it from my upright freezer in my air conditioned Floridian home and eat it with a spoon and dish in my breakfast nook?  Would it betray every memory I have of sassy dondurma sellers in Istanbul or on the Turkish Mediterranean, paddling out the stretchy treat, only to whip it out of your grasp at the last moment. . . only to finally relent and offer up the treat,  which I would greedily gobble before it (or I) melted into the hot walkway of a Turkish summer day.

Would my favorite sweet Turkish treat suffer if it wasn’t fresh, and if everything about its presentation and circumstances was decidedly un-Turkish?  Decidedly mundane.  Bought at the local grocer.

Yes.  I think the answer has to be “yes.”

Still, you know I’ll look for it in the stores.  Maybe I’ll purchase some.  I hope it will be delicious.   It’ll certainly be a treat and a novelty . . . but scooped from a store carton  it will be an anemic facsimile.

I’d rather enjoy it by the Sea of Marmara or the Mediterranean– who wouldn’t?

I’ll leave you with the blurb from Epicurious (which includes a fantastic video of an impish Turkish ice cream man at work), as well as my original post on Turkish ice cream.

Happy Monday and bon appetit– or, as they say in Turkey, “Afiyet Olsun!”


Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

Behold the pictures, all over the internet, of street vendors stretching Turkish ice cream just like it’s boardwalk taffy. That’s maraş dondurma, a confection made not just with milk and sugar but with mastic, a tree resin, and salep, the roots of wild mountain orchids, which imparts elasticity. The best and frankly only way to describe this is as stretchy, chewy ice cream. Word on the street is that people have been photographed jumping rope with it; others have cut it with knives and chainsaws. On the street, too—or in the markets, rather, where you get this ice cream in Istanbul—its unique stretchiness enables vendors to play all manner of practical jokes with would-be ice cream eaters, as in the video below.

The metal rod you see there is part of the traditional production process: the ice cream is beaten—kneaded, more or less—so that it sticks to itself. What results is a frozen confectionyou can do some tricks with; it’s also quite a bit slower to melt than non-elastic ice cream, a boon in the Turkish summers.

Something like dondurma is now available in the U.S., but in grocery aisles rather than bazaars. Lezzetli Mediterranean Ice Cream, which has been selling in the New York area for a while, announced today that it’s expanding its distribution throughout the northeastern United States, with four flagship flavors: Chios vanilla, made with a Greek tree sap; chocolate–orange blossom; spiced date, and tart cherry. Lezzetli bills its ice creams as inspired by similar desserts of Turkey and the Levant—versions of dondurma also exist in places like Syria and Greece—and they aren’t thickened with orchids, which are endangered, but with other natural gums. (In Turkey, for this same reason, salep has given way to other thickeners, like guar gum.) Not in your local place yet? Request it! Your grocer might be pliable.


How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream

PicMonkey banana pud shoofly

The title is a mouthful:  a delicious, caloric mouthful.  Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house.  An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily.  Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right?  Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say.  Anyhoo, on with the post. . .

When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.’”  Silly.  I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem.  Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure.  Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right.  Which brings me to stretchy ice cream.  What, you’ll ask, is that?  A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid?  An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream?  No and no.  I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).

Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors.  My favorite was banana.

Image from website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Image from wikicommons and website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/

   I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy.  That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick.  Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment.  The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?

I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately.  August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me.  But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children.  A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip.  Ugh.  A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.

My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too.  I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post.  It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).

Photo from myrecipes.com--sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!
Photo from myrecipes.com–sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!

Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding.  Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens.  Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one.  (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream.  I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)

Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table.  Why is it Southern?  I have no idea.  It goes well with bourbon?  (There are worse theories.)   If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read.  If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.

But not before you consider Banoffee Pie.  It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits.  A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org
photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“Banoffee” you say?  Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee.  BAN. OFFEE.

Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie).  No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times.  Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe.  There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries.  If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.

I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe.  If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!

* * *

moveable feastI’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food.  On how we eat.  I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family.  But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go.   Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.

This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast.  The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.


  • For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
  • Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens.  Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
  • For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish).  Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
  • Enjoy!


Eating Local: Breaking Bread in Turkey

antik road family
On the “Antik Road” in Cappadocia. (1998) A local family cooking flatbread over an outdoor oven in Guzelyurt, Turkey. They shared the bread with us–it was delicious!

via Photo Challenge: Local

It was a crisp day in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, and my husband and I were out walking through the town of Guzelyurt– a small town set outside of the larger and more tourist-populated areas of Cappadocia.  (“Guzelyurt” means beautiful valley.)

We would often visit and stay in Otel Karballa there: a lovely structure that

had once been a Greek monastery, but was now converted to a small hotel with a fantastic chef and the ability to give its guests an authentic taste of life and history in this enchanting region.


goremeThis area of Turkey is fascinating– so well known for its natural beauty and unusual landscape, as well as its long and illustrious history.   In fact, the two things go hand in hand.  The famous “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia housed the cave dwellers of the Bronze Age, and later housed early Christian refugees and gave rise to the thousands of cave churches that dot the region.

A fuzzy photo from one trip to Cappadocia: at the mouth of a cave church, with dwelling areas above it.

alanya-turkeye-193Once inside these churches, you are often  met with once-beautiful frescoes that (while still beautiful) are severely weathered by both age and ordeal.  Age, because most of the churches here date to between the 6th and 11th centuries; ordeal, as they were intentionally defaced because of religious aniconic sentiments.

If the cave dwellings and the colorful history weren’t enough to make Cappadocia a fantastic destination, it has this going for it:  it’s no artifact, it’s still living.  The potteries of the region are thriving, the people are hospitable, and many locals still live in the hollowed out cave dwellings (and have wired them for electricity!).

Walking down one ancient road in Guzelyurt, you might look up to see this:


only to believe that you are passing by empty, ancient buildings (but note the electrical wires that run the length of the road).  Then the next thing you stumble upon, two doors down, is the family from the lead photo on this post, huddled in the doorway of another ancient structure and adjoining cave and making their daily flatbread over a simple fire and dome of hot metal.


The ancient meets the everyday in the streets and valleys of Cappadocia,  the modern meets the miraculous.  For my husband and me, who grew up in the tidy convenience of suburban America and were more likely to take dinner  from a casserole dish hot out of a Kenmore oven, or even from a drive-through  fast food window,  this family, hard at work to make their daily bread, kneaded and rolled on a board on the ground and cooked over an open fire on a humble metal dome, this moment was extraordinary.  And so very ordinary too.

We stopped and spoke to the family.  We shared what little language we knew, and they shared some of their bread , warm and crisp from the fire. I don’t think anything has ever been more delicious than those few bites shared on an ancient road.  What an incredible way to eat local.


Jolly Old St. Nicholas

I’ve been thinking a lot about our friend St. Nick lately.

DSC_0116 - Copy

About his many incarnations; about his naughty and nice list; about the fact that some of his incarnations belong on naughty lists themselves; and about the actual man that inspired this mythical being with modern day rock star status. Really . . . just what kind of mortal could inspire so many, and such enduring, legends?

Who was Saint Nick?  Nikolaus* of Myra (present day Turkey) was a Greek bishop during the 4th century.  Many miracles are attributed to him, but his most enduring legacy is probably his generosity.  As legend has it, he sought to relieve poverty through the giving of secret gifts.  Most notably, there is a story that he sought to ease the plight of three young girls.  Their father could not afford to pay a dowry, so they were doomed to a life of poverty and, quite probably, prostitution in order to survive.  Nikolaus secretly tossed three purses of gold coins through the window of their home (this, obviously, before his chimney shenanigans in later centuries).  One version even posits extra detail–some of the gold fell into a stocking that was hanging up to dry in the house.

It is a long and winding road from the life of the actual man to the variety of legends that we find today–and it is a great variety–but they all contain the kernel of his truth. turkish st nick kilim There’s not much I can add to that truth–I’m no scholar on saints or on Nikolaus.   I can, however, tell you that he is still remembered in Turkey as a great man.  He is also embraced, to some small extent, in his modern Western guise–albeit largely for profit and the selling of kilims.  There is a town in the eastern Mediterranean region of Turkey (I wish I could remember the name, but it’s been 16 years since I was there!) where we watched women weaving Santa Kilims.   We bought a number of them, for ourselves and for our family.  We still hang turk st nick kilim at loomours proudly each Christmas season. . . but we spray it with Lysol each year. (Sorry Santa, but I think you were woven with some raw wool, and you do carry a distinct old world smell that requires a little airing out. I don’t really mind–the way I see it, you bring a little of the Bethlehem stable into my house with you, and that keeps me focused for the season.)

About that variety of legends–I don’t think that we feel it much in the States.  Our Santa is a homogenous and modern being–jolly and round, always in the same red and white costume,  and, yes, generous to a fault (is there such a thing?).  The menace of his judgment (his naughty and nice list) seems hardly menace at all–unless you’ve been outrageously naughty.  It happens.  Still, with late season penance, it all turns out well.   Seems straight forward.

Victorian St Nick and Krampus
Victorian St Nick and Krampus

But it seems less simple in Middle Europe.  Here, the judgment is real and the  punishers are frightening.  Easy salvation?  That’s for American weenies.  Here, you’d best practice good German diligence and industriousness, and even then the day will come when you have to stare down a devil for your Nikolaustag (St. Nikolaus Day) chocolate.  Yes, a devil.  Where goes Nikolaus, so goes his dark counterpart (with many faces and names, depending on the region of Europe).  Good and evil, naughty and nice–they take it seriously in Germany.

I won’t go into great detail here about St. Nick’s draconian counterparts, as I’ve written a lot about them in the post Saints and Devils, Fire and Snow .  However, I will add a few insights from a conversation I had recently with a Bavarian woman.  I met her on December 5th– Nikolaustag Eve (“boot night” in Germany, when children put out   boots for Nikolaus to leave candy in . . . but sometimes get visits from the grim sidekick instead or get ashes and coal if they have been bad).   She told me

Friend or foe, funny or frightening?
Friend or foe, funny or frightening?

that the children around Rothenburg ob der Tauber have traditionally not celebrated on December 6th, but rather on November 11th.  When she was young, that was when Belsnickel (or Pelsnickel) would visit.  Belsnickel was a fur-cloaked character, rather scruffy, who seemed to combine both the surly (Krampus, Ruprecht, etc) and the kind (Nikolaus) into one being. He carried a sack with both treats and switches.   Belsnickel might judge the children and either punish or reward them; he might toss candy around the floor for them, and then paddle their backs with twigs as they scrambled for the candy; or he might be more elfin and be more mischief prone than malice prone.   He might be a lot of things, said my new friend; however, when November 11th came around the children were really quite scared of what would come for them.

I asked this woman, once more, “And he came on November 11th?” “Yes,” came the answer.  That seemed so  early in the season to me.  I looked the date up later and found that November 11th is not only Belsnickel, it’s also Martinstag– that’s Reformation Day, a celebration of Martin Luther and the Reformation.  Ah, yes, this was beginning to make more sense to me.  If you are celebrating the Reformation, why not scare the pants off of the children, and then reward them with goodies?  Spare the rods, spoil the souls of the children.  So very German, this Christmas cocktail: hell fire and brimstone, followed by a chaser of sweets and gingerbread.

Never a dull moment with these old European traditions.  Is it awful that Christmas time boasts its own terrors and devils?  Is it harsh?  Absolutely. . .but, then again, it has some appeal.

Sante Claus The Children's Friend, 1821 William B. Gilley, publisher
Sante Claus
The Children’s Friend, 1821
William B. Gilley, publisher

I could do without Krampus devils giving my kids nightmares, but I do start to think that the American Santa is a bit fluffy.   I don’t mind him being “the love-meister,” if that’s really his focus, but when it’s all about giving out the stuff, and then more stuff– well, the guy needs to stand up for his principles.  Let’s get back to the core of the man: not necessarily a tale of saints and devils who come for your children, but at least the tale of the saint.

Be jolly–yes, please be jolly– but also please be Saint Nicholas.

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Frohe Weihnachten . . . 


*Nikolaus, Nicholas, Nicolas–so many traditions, so many spellings.

Fuzzy Photo Monday

The best adjective to describe any given Monday morning is fuzzy.   So, in honor of all those fuzzy Monday mornings, I’m posting fuzzy, dusty photos from a few travels in Turkey roughly 15 years ago.  They may be grainy and faded, but the beauty of the place and the people  still shines through.

Istanbul is a good place to start.  While in Istanbul, we stayed in a small hotel on the Hippodrome–the center of ancient Constantinople, where civic and sporting events were held.   The Hippodrome is a long, oval area today, flanked by obelisks at each end, and just beyond each end of the Hippodrome stands one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks: the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

The Hagia Sophia is, arguably, the jewel of Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul
The Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia began her life in the 500’s as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, and over the years has served as a church, a mosque, and a museum.  Despite the ravages of time and bickering ideologies, this beautiful monument to Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia, or, as the Turks say, Ayasofia) still impresses and humbles its visitors today.


walls of the Hagia Sophia
walls of the Hagia Sophia


Hagia Sophia inside
Hagia Sophia inside

The Blue Mosque was built in the 1600’s, so it’s no new comer either.   The interior is impressive and serene–covered in Turkish Iznik tiles and caligraphed verses from the Quran.

The Blue Mosque


The exterior courtyard of the Blue Mosque is serene and was once used as a school, but I don’t think that’s the case any longer.

Nearby, you can take a tour of the underground cistern-which is impressive too.  It was built in the 500’s, but lay abandoned and forgotten for hundreds of years.  The columns and carving, as well as the dramatic lighting, make it a beautiful and eerie place to see.

Underground cistern in Istanbul.
Underground cistern in Istanbul–built in the 6th century, still a marvel.

You’d spend a full day or more travelling from Istanbul to Cappadocia in central Turkey, but it would be worth the effort.

Goreme in winter, from Wikipedia.org
Goreme in winter, from Wikipedia.org

Cappadocia is a somewhat mountainous area, best know for its “fairy chimneys” and early cave churches.   Urgup and Goreme are probably the easiest places for tourists to get around, and they are a good homebase for viewing the fairy chimneys (rock formations that are distinct) of the area.

"Fairy chimneys" of Cappodocia and the Ilhara Valley.
“Fairy chimneys” of Cappodocia and the Ilhara Valley. You can see the dwellings carved into them.


Ilhara Valley Cave Church 2 The Ilhara Valley in Cappadocia is also famous for its very early cave churches.  They are in varying stages of preservation, but are fascinating to see.





Guzelyurt was our favorite town in Cappadocia, and was off the beaten path.

View off the back porch at Otel Karbala, Guzelyurt.

We would stay at a hotel there, Otel Karbala, which was beautiful and converted from an old Greek monestary.  The town was light on tourists, and heavy on beauty and history.

On the "Antik Road" in Cappadocia.
On the “Antik Road” in Cappadocia.

This photo especially tugs at my heart. This family was baking bread over a fire outside of a cave on the Antik Road (old road) down a hill in the town of Guzelyurt.  They were so friendly and we stopped and ate a bite of their bread–a delicious flatbread (pide) that they were eating plain and warm from the fire.  Pide is popular in Turkey, and often cooked over an open fire on a hot, convex piece of metal, but it can also be made in a large oven (think of America’s large brick oven pizza establishments).

Pide with meat
Pide with meat

Our “hometown” in Turkey had a large bakery that served, really,as a community oven and produced hundreds or thousands of pide each day.  Pide is often embelished with meats or cheese and spices.  Plain pide is also good for scooping up mezes (appetizers).



But, back to Cappadocia.  It’s probably my favorite place in Turkey, and, besides the sightseeing and natural beauty of the area, it also offered many opportunities to shop for carpets in an environment that was less rushed than Istanbul.  Here, carpet dealers feed you, play with your children and dogs, and eagerly teach you about the various types of carpets and regional styles they have on offer.

Carpet shopping in Cappadocia.
Carpet shopping in Cappadocia.

And, if you have enough time in Cappadocia, one last recommendation: visit an underground city.  There are dozens of these sites, and we’ve been to Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.  These cities are ancient rabbit warrens underground,  complete with ventilation shafts and stones that can be rolled to block entrance into any given tunnel–they are advanced and well planned, but may date back to   the Bronze Age,  and were certainly used during the Byzantine period as hiding places during times of religious persecution.

A puppy in my arms, and a flashlight on my husband’s forehead, while we wander the underground labyrinth.


As feats of ancient engineering, these underground cities are astonishing.  As history lessons, they are sobering.  As an afternoon out. . . they are a pretty good frolick . . . but not recommended for people who are claustrophobic.

I’ve covered a lot of ground at a crazy quick clip here–but it’s a fuzzy Monday, so that’ll have to do until I’ve downed considerably more coffee.

Gule, gule!  (“Bye, bye” in Turkish)


When Worlds Collide: Turkish Kebab in Germany

Turkish Doner Kabab with Cabbage
Turkish Doner Kabab with Cabbage

For three years, we lived about as far east as you can go on the Turkish Mediterranean.  Beautiful, soulful place.  We grew to love the people, the culture, the carpets, the history,  and the food.  (Oh, that food. . .)  We were aware that Germany has the largest Turkish population outside of the country of Turkey, so we’ve never been surprised as travellers (and now residents) in Germany to find lots of carpet shops and kebab stands.

So why were we surprised to find that many kebab restaurants here have married Turkish kebabs with German tastes?  And who knew that kebab and tzatziki sauce could be so fabulous with red cabbage!!!   We first had this in Trier, but have repeated the discovery numerous times in towns all over the German map.  And why shouldn’t the idea spread–it is so very, very good!   Especially if the cabbage has been marinated (in what, I don’t know–just pure, unadulterated deliciousness!).

On the SeriousEats website, Steen Bjorn Hanssen offers the following insights into the popularity of Turkish food in Germany:

Döner Kebab, or just döner, is undoubtedly the most popular street food in Germany and has become part of the German culinary culture and vocabulary, much like Indian chicken tikka masala has in the UK. The döner was first introduced to the Berliner neighborhoods of Kreuzberg (known as Little Istanbul) and Neukölln in the early 1970s by Turkish immigrants invited to contribute to west Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). It quickly spread to other (west) German urban centers and following German reunification became so popular, you’ll find a döner stand in every single German town today, even in Bavaria.

(You can read his full article at http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/02/germany-doner-kebab-street-food-meat.html)

I love the comparison of Turkish food in Germany to Indian food in England–and it rings true to my ears.  Not only was Indian food outrageously popular in England, but the quality of Indian food we ate there was unmatchable.  And, if popular myth is true, Chicken Tikka Masala (England’s most popular Indian dish) is not so much Indian as an Indian hybrid–created by chefs in the UK.  Much like our German Berliner/Turkish Kebab.

Everybody likes to put their own spin on a story–even when that story is a culinary dish.  And I’m all for it!   Let the worlds collide–and our tummies and tongues will be the happier for it.


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