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My 30th Birthday Party

My 30th Birthday PartyLast weekend, I had a birthday party.  And, since my favorite thing in the world is vegan brunch, the party was a big, huge vegan brunch.  It was so fun!

Me on My 30th Birthday

When oh when will I learn that I have got to take pictures when I throw a party?  Thank God Amanda thought to take some, or I wouldn’t have any!  So here are some of the highlights of the party.

My 30th Birthday

Jason did all of the decorating, and he did an amazing job.  I told him that I would love it if the color theme was teal and red (my favorite) and he went all out!  He even spent a week making hand-sewn bunting!

My 30th Birthday PartyIsn’t it so cute?  So since he did all of the decorating, I decided to do most of the cooking.

My 30th Birthday PartyThe menu was:

Mini Muffins (mocha chip and blueberry)
Roasted Potatoes
Scrambled Tofu
Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs (I told you I always make them)
Coconut Chocolate Chip Pancakes (My sister loves these!)

My 30th Birthday Party
In the center of this picture is an Apple Tatin made by my sister, Alison.  In the left corner are biscotti (cranberry chocolate chip and gingerbread) made by Jason’s sister, Janell.  We are so fortunate to have such talented siblings!

My 30th Birthday PartyThese were glazed Mixed Nuts brought by my friend Julie.  I can’t tell you guys how good they were.  Lucky for us, she posted the recipe on her blog.  So go check it out!

My 30th Birthday

As you guys may or may not know, Jason and I just adopted a dog, Louis, last week.  So this was his first experience with entertaining, and other than some skittishness, he did great!

My 30th Birthday

And while we’re talking about new additions, here’s my niece, Cadence, at my party.  She seemed to have a very good time, and was all smiles most of the day.

My 30th Birthday

In addition to getting the whole yard decorated for the party, Jason spent weeks getting the garden in shape.  It has never looked better!

My 30th Birthday

I had such a nice day, and I was so fortunate to have spent my birthday with old and new friends, as well as the people I love the most.  I especially appreciate all of the work Jason did to throw this party for me!  I sure love that guy!

My 30th Birthday

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Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache

So for the shop this week, I more of a variety of cupcakes than I ever have before.  I thought I had so many tricks up my sleeve, but I totally exhausted my repertoire after about four days.  Not that I can’t have duplicates, but I’m really challenging myself to see how many different varieties I can come up with.

So this recipe is actually one that I made once before with OK results.  I decided to tackle it again, and see if I could get it right this time.  So if you want to make these Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache, you’re gonna need:

1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

So you want to:
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line your muffin tin with silver foil liners.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Sift in the cocoa.  Seriously, you guys, sift it.  I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t important.  Now whisk this mixture together for about thirty seconds, to make sure it’s evenly mixed.
3. Pour the almond milk into a glass measuring cup and add the vinegar to it. Let this mixture sit a few minutes, until the almond milk looks slightly curdled.
4. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar until very well combined. Add the extracts. Now beat in the curdled almond milk.
5. Slowly pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and beat with a whisk until the batter looks very smooth. Don’t worry about over-mixing; it’s better to beat it until there are no lumps left.
6. Fill your baking cups two-thirds of the way full with batter (usually about a scant quarter cup of batter per cupcake).
7. Bake at 350ºF for twenty minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the biggest cupcake comes out mostly clean. A few moist crumbs on the toothpick are absolutely fine.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache

OK, so the Raspberry Buttercream Recipe we used is based on one from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Here goes:

1/4 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
1/4 cup margarine
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon soy milk
3 tablespoons raspberry syrup, divided (the kind they use in coffee shops)
Drop of red food coloring (optional)

So now you:
1. Beat together the shortening and margarine with a stand mixer or hand mixer until it is all fluffy.
2. Sift in your confectioner’s sugar (and yes, you have to sift it. I know, it sucks, but you don’t want lumpy frosting, do you? No, you do not).
3. Beat the sugar and fats until, miraculously, the combine to form small, pebble-sized crumbs. This takes a few minutes — maybe five on the outside. Don’t be afraid to run your mixer that long, it loves it.
4. Once combined, drizzle in the soy milk, along with two tablespoons of syrup and, and beat for several minutes. If, in about three minutes, your frosting looks really stiff, add the third tablespoon of syrup. Beat for another minute or two, until it’s all nice and fluffy.
5. Taste your frosting. It should be smooth and creamy, with a fairly strong raspberry flavor. If it is not like that, add more raspberry syrup, about half a teaspoon at a time until it is awesome.  Now add a tiny, tiny bit of food coloring, if you want.  Totally up to you.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache

Then, with the handle of a wooden spoon, poke a hole into the top of each cooled cupcake.  Now you’re ready to fill them.  The easiest way to do this is with a piping bag fitted with a small round pastry tip.  Pipe frosting in until it is even with the top of your cake.  Smooth the top, if necessary, with a spatula.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache

So let’s make our Chocolate Ganache!  You need:

8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons nonhydrogenated shortening

So you’re going to:
1.  In a medium-sized saucepan, bring about a cup of water to a simmer.
2.  Place a heat-proof bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure it doesn’t touch the water.
3.  Add the chocolate and shortening to the bowl, and stir occasionally until it’s totally melted.
4.  Dip your cupcakes one at a time in the melted chocolate mixture, shaking off the excess.
5.  Place your dipped cupcakes in the freezer until the chocolate is set.
6.  Repeat this process, dipping each cupcake a second time.
7.  If desired, melt white chocolate chips using the same technique as above.  Add the melted white chocolate to a piping bag, and drizzle over the tops of all the cupcakes.  Place the cupcakes back in the freezer until the chocolate is totally set.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache

These are super-delicious, and the people who bought them were really pleased.  I have also learned that the frosting recipes that I usually make are pretty heat-sensitive.  So, while I was perfecting a frosting recipe that could sit in a lighted display case all day without melting, these were a life-saver.  Because the melty frosting is inside the cake, and the ganache on top stays really firm, these are a great cupcake to bring to, say, a picnic where they will be in the heat all day.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Chocolate Ganache

So go make these and be happy!

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Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream

Strawberry Cupcakes

So last week was Jason’s sister Janell’s birthday.  And what she wanted from us was cupcakes.  Specifically, she wanted chocolate and strawberry cupcakes.  No problem, right?  So I was like, hey, why don’t we make chocolate cupcakes and fill them with a fresh strawberry mousse (from scratch, with no recipe)?  What could possibly go wrong, right?

Ha ha ha.

So after several very unsuccessful attempts at making mousse, we gave up.  We decided, instead to give them a strawberry jam filling, and top them with strawberry buttercream.  And after all my failed attempts at mousse, we had run out of fresh strawberries.  So we used straight up artificial flavoring in the icing.  I know we try to be all natural whenever we can, but this frosting was good!

Strawberry Cupcakes

Oh, and a few weeks ago, when our friend Flapjack was in town, he brought us cupcakes with strawberry jam baked into the middle of them.  It turns out that, if you put a teaspoon or so of jam on the top of your cupcakes before you bake them, it will magically end up in the middle of the cupcakes when they are done.  So we tried that with these cupcakes, and it worked like a charm.

Strawberry Cupcakes

I’m happy to report that Janell loved them, and she had a great birthday!  I would be happy to post the recipe for these if you guys are interested, so let me know!

Strawberry CupcakesLove,

Ian

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Bunny Lollipops for Spring

Spring is in the air in a big way here in the North Carolina mountains.  The days are getting longer, there are now more warm days than cold ones, and everyone just seems to be in a good mood.  It’s awesome.

So, to celebrate Spring, Jason has been wanting to make something cute and bunny-shaped.  So he decided that he wanted to try his hand at hard candy.  We found some adorable little bunny lolly pop molds, and this is what he came up with:

Bunny Lollipops with Real Fruit Juice

Now, since we try to use as many natural ingredients as we can, and since all the candy recipes we found called for a lot of artificial colors and flavors, we weren’t sure what to do.  But Amanda, my boss, suggested trying fruit juice in a hard candy recipe to replace the water, flavoring, and color.  So we tweaked some old-school recipes , and we were really pleased with the results.

If you want to make these Bunny Lollipops with Real Fruit Juice at home,  you’re going to need:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup (organic, if you can find it)
1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons pure fruit juice (we used a blend of cranberry and blackberry)
1/8 teaspoon citric acid (we used Tart and Sour Flavor Enhancer, from LorAnn)

Bunny Lollipops with Real Fruit Juice

So what you do is:

1.  Wipe two lollipop molds with a clean soft dishcloth to remove any dust.  Lightly coat the insides of the molds with nonstick cooking spray and insert sticks.

Bunny Lollipop Molds

2.  Stir together sugar, corn syrup, and juice in a medium-size saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling the pan once or twice.  Cook to 300ºF (hard-crack stage) and immediately remove from heat.

3.  Allow the bubbling to subside, then check the temperature and cool to 260ºF.  Now add the citric acid and swirl the pot to incorporate.

4.  Spoon mixture into molds, filling all the way to the top.

Bunny Lollipops with Real Fruit Juice

5.  Allow lollipops to harden at room temperature for about 30 minutes before unmolding.  Transfer to wax paper and cool completely.   Yield: 8-12 suckers, depending on your mold.

Bunny Lollipops with Real Fruit Juice

It’s as easy as that!  We definitely expected this to be a project we regretted starting at 9:00 pm, but by 10:15 we had awesome, adorable, fruit-flavored lollipops!

Oh, and this recipe is really customizable.  If you want a different flavor, you can make them with any kind of clear juice you want.  And if you want a sour lollipop, just up the citric acid to 1/4 teaspoon per batch.

Doesn’t someone in your life deserve these?  Make them and sit back basking in the adoration of your loved ones today!

Love,

Ian

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Mojito Cupcake Recipe

First of all, I’m not going to apologize over the quality of our pictures today.  Because, even if most of the pictures of our recent Champagne and Cupcakes party were a bust, the party itself was still awesome.  It occurs to me that I didn’t tell you the impetus behind the party.  This Saturday, we are competing in a contest called Cupcakes For Cures, which is a fundraiser for cancer research.  My work is one of the sponsors of the event, so we get two free entries.  Which is awesome, actually, since the entries are, like, $50.00 each.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally worth fifty bucks to support cancer research, we just don’t have the money laying around.  But Amanda, my boss, awesomely gave me two of our entries for free.

Jason, Alison, and Courtney

So, the contest is separated into different categories, and they are: Gluten-Free, Special Occasion, Cocktail or Beer, Local Food, and Wedding.  Almost right away I decided that we should try to make a Mojito Cupcake.  I’m not sure why, exactly.  Just the combination of rum, mint, and lime sounded awesome to me.  We were unsure about the other entry, though.  After some serious thought, we came up with a couple.  First was a gluten-free version of Mickey’s Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Cupcake with Fresh Thyme for the Gluten-Free category.  The second, in the local foods category, was a Local Moonshine Cupcake with Local Raspberry Mousse Filling, and Meyer Lemon and Raspberry Buttercream. (We intentionally made them pretty similar, so that it would be easier to decide which was better.)

So we made all three cupcakes (along with a chocolate peanut butter, which is Jason’s favorite) and had a party to see which ones people liked best.

Champagne and Cupcakes Party

We were almost positive that we were going with the mojito cake, so we were glad when people seemed to unanimously agree that it was competition-worthy.  People were much more torn about the other entry, though.  There were certainly camps for both the Gluten-Free and the Moonshine.  I’ll post more about those cakes in the next day or two.  But today I wanted to give you the recipe for the Mojito Cupcakes.  Oh, and for the contest, we’re calling these “I Got My Mojo Workin’.”  Anyway, here’s the recipe:

Mojito Cupcakes

I Got My Mojo Workin’ – Spiced Rum Cupcake with Fresh Mint and Lime Buttercream

You’re gonna need:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons spiced rum [we used Sailor Jerry's]

So you’re going to:
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line your muffin tin with liners that somehow evoke mojitos.  Maybe something tropical, or something lime green, or, well, you can figure it out.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, arrowroot, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk this mixture together for about thirty seconds, to make sure it’s evenly mixed.
3. Pour the almond milk into a glass measuring cup and add the vinegar to it. Let this mixture sit a few minutes, until the almond milk looks slightly curdled.
4. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar until very well combined. Add the rum. Now beat in the curdled almond milk.
5. Slowly pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and beat with a whisk until the batter looks very smooth. Don’t worry about over-mixing; it’s better to beat it until there are no lumps left.
6. Fill your baking cups two-thirds of the way full with batter (usually about a scant quarter cup of batter per cupcake).
7. Bake at 350ºF for twenty minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the biggest cupcake comes out mostly clean. A few moist crumbs on the toothpick are absolutely fine.

Mojito Cupcakes

Now, set your cupcakes aside and start making your rum glaze.  The recipe I used for the rum glaze is from the cupcake villains blog.

According to the Cupcake Villains, for the Rum Glaze, you need:

1/4 cup dark rum
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons margarine

So then you:
1.  Simmer together the rum and sugar until the sugar is full dissolved, and let cook together for a minute longer.
2.  Pull off heat, and mix in the vanilla and margarine until the margarine is fully melted.
3.  Drizzle a tiny bit (maybe a half a teaspoon) over the top of each cooled cupcake.
4.  Place cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer to let the glaze set up a little.

Mojito Cupcakes

Now, let’s make the frosting!  For Fresh Mint and Lime Buttercream Frosting, you need:

One bunch fresh mint
1-3 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
1/4 cup margarine
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Fresh limes, sliced very thinly
Paper straws, cut into one inch segments (you can find paper straws here)

So you’re going to:

1.  In a food processor or blender, blend all the mint leaves with one tablespoon of lime juice for three to four minutes, until mint leaves are very well minced.
2.  Scrape mint and lime mixture into a fine mesh sieve over a mixing bowl.  With a rubber spatula, press the mixture firmly to release the liquid.  Continue this until there is no more liquid being released.
3.  Measure this liquid, and add more lime juice until you have two tablespoons of total liquid.
4.  With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat your margarine and shortening until thoroughly combined and fluffy.
5.  Sift in 1/3 of the total powdered sugar.  Add 1/3 of the mint/lime juice , and beat until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides as needed.
6.  Repeat this process twice more, until all of the sugar is combined.  If the frosting looks really stiff, you can add up to one tablespoon more of lime juice, but make sure it doesn’t get goopy.  You definitely want it to stay firm.
4.  Now you’re going to beat the frosting for 2-3 minutes until thoroughly combined and fluffy.  This frosting really wants to be stiff, so it can hold the garnishes upright.  If you don’t care about garnishes, and you want really fluffy frosting, go ahead and beat the frosting for 3-4 extra minutes.
5.  Add a very small amount of green gel food coloring, and beat just until thoroughly combined.  This stuff is potent, so start with too little and  allow your frosting to get darker incrementally until the desired color is reached.
6.  Pipe your frosting on the cupcakes with a jumbo closed star tip, and garnish with a slice of lime and a paper straw segment.

Mojito CupcakesNow go throw a party!  And invite us (I mean, we did invite you to ours, after all).   And stay tuned for more Champagne and Cupcake Party recipes in the coming days!

Love,

Ian

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Camera Woes

Hey guys.  So, we had the Champagne and Cupcakes party on Saturday night, and it was great.  A really diverse group of our friends showed up, which was awesome.  And the cupcakes were great.  We made four kinds, and two of our friends brought cupcakes, too.  So here would be the part where I post awesome pictures of the party.  The thing is that my camera, which has been dying for a while, is in its death throes now.  So I took lots and lots of pictures with my camera over the weekend, and here’s some of what I got:

Blurry Collage

And of course I know why this happened.  This happened because, at the party, our friend Alison asked me what camera we used for our blog pictures, and I showed her our ancient point and shoot:

Crappy Camera

And I was all, “Yeah, it’s old, but it takes great pictures.  Why switch to an SLR?  This camera is all we’ll ever need.  La la la.”  I swear, if I was a character in a book, everyone reading my lines of dialogue would instantly be like, “Uh-oh.  Nothing good can come of that.”  I really wish someone would just knock me down a peg when I say stupid stuff like that.

Actually, no I don’t.  That would be terrible.

Anyway, I got a couple of good pictures as well, and I’ll be posting those in the next few days.  I just had to keep it real with our sad, tired camera today.  I know what we’re shopping for this weekend!

Wishing I had an extra $500 for a camera,

Ian

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Cupcake Party Menu

Mojito Cupcakes

So as you may know, we are having a Champagne and Cupcakes Party this weekend, and we are super-excited about it!  Our friend Flapjack is coming to visit, and we wanted to have people over while he was here.  And since he is a vegan and loves cupcakes and champagne, we thought this would be the perfect theme for him.

So we have finalized the menu, and it looks like this:

1.  Mojito-themed Cupcakes with a Spiced Rum Cake, Fresh Mint and Lime Zest Buttercream, and Fresh Lime Slices.

2.  A Gluten-Free Version of Mickey’s Meyer Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream, Strawberry Filling, and Fresh Thyme.

3.  Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Fudgy Peanut Butter Frosting, Roasted Peanuts, and Sea Salt.

4.  Some sort of Moonshine Cupcake, probably with Raspberry Mousse Filling, but that’s as far as that one’s gotten.

So that’s it.  I’m not sure if anyone else is bringing cupcakes, but hopefully we’ll have enough even if no one else brings any.  Oh, and I made a trial batch of the Mojito ones this morning.  Here’s a picture of what I came up with:

Mojito Cupcakes

And don’t worry, we’ll be posting lots of pictures of the party (as if there was any doubt about that!), but they might not be up until Monday.  So stay tuned to see what we came up with.  Or even better, why don’t you just come to our party?  We’d love to see you there!

Love,

Ian

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The Winner!

Contest Collage

Well, I’ve had my coffee, tallied and re-tallied the scores, and I am happy to announce that the winner of the Violet Candy Contest, with 102 votes, is Michael with his Lavender Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream and Violet and Lavender Sprinkles!  Congratulations, Michael!

Lavender Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream and Lavender and Violet Sprinkles

Lavender Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream and Lavender and Violet Sprinkles

And coming in a very close second, with 91 total votes, is Mickey and her Meyer Lemon Cupcake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream, Strawberry Filling, and Fresh Thyme.

Meyer Lemon Cupcake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream, Strawberry Filling, and Fresh Thyme

Meyer Lemon Cupcake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream, Strawberry Filling, and Fresh Thyme

And Gertie’s Rosewater Red Velvet Cupcakes with Orange-Vermouth Icing, Edible Glitter and King Cake Babies was really great, too.  Really.  Thank you Gertie for spicing up the contest with a lot of color and imagination!

Rosewater Red Velvet Cupcakes with Orange-Vermouth Icing, Edible Glitter, and King Cake Babies

Rosewater Red Velvet Cupcakes with Orange-Vermouth Icing, Edible Glitter, and King Cake Babies

Congratulations to all of our finalists for doing an awesome job!  When you can, please email us your addresses, so we can get your prizes in the mail.

And thanks to everyone who voted, you made this a really fun contest for everyone involved!

Looking forward to our next contest,

Ian

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Banana Cardamom Muffins with Walnuts and Pecans

Last night, they were calling for snow.  And Jason and I live in a relatively rural area, and we both have a commute of about 30 minutes every morning.  So if we get any substantial amount of snow, we can’t get to work.  So, just to be on the safe side, Jason made a bunch of muffins to fortify us through a snow day.  And I drank a bunch of wine, confident that I wouldn’t have to get up at 7:00 this morning.  So I bet you can guess what happened.  Needless to say, I am as grateful for the muffins as I am sorry for the wine.  But this blog isn’t about wine (thankfully), it’s about baking.  So let’s see those muffins!

Banana Cardamom Muffins with Walnuts and PecansThese muffins were a fabulous way to use up the end of our old mushy bananas.  Yes, the same bananas from the Best Banana Bread recipe post from over a week ago.  I am so glad to have them gone.  And I am especially glad to have muffins in their place!

Banana Cardamom Muffins with Walnuts and PecansNow, if you know me at all, you’ll know that I am killing time writing about snow storms and posting pictures because in my fragile state, I forgot to bring the recipe for these muffins with me.  Which means that Jason is going to post the recipe tomorrow (which he rightfully should, since these muffins were all his doing anyway).  So I’ll leave you with the promise of a recipe for truly excellent Banana Cardamom Muffins with Walnuts and Pecans tomorrow.

Banana Cardamom Muffins with Walnuts and Pecans

Looking forward to eating more muffins,

Ian

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Food Porn Bigtime

I only have a minute to blog this weekend, but I just wanted to share this with you guys.  As we were preparing to make all of the selections for the Violet Candy Contest Finalists, we suddenly found our kitchen full of dried lavender, fresh thyme, meyer lemons, eureka lemons, blood oranges (just because I wanted to buy them), and vanilla beans.  I wish I could bottle the smell of my kitchen and send it to you.  But, since I can’t, these pictures will have to do.

Bowl of Lavender

Bowl of Meyer Lemons

Meyer Lemons, Fresh Thyme, and Dried Lavender

God, aren’t you ready for spring?  I can just taste it!  Anyway, I’ll do a longer post tomorrow (can you say Banana Pancakes?).  So have a good rest of the weekend, and I’ll catch up with you tomorrow!

Love,

Ian

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