I admit to being too lazy - I mean too busy - to cook from scratch for large groups of people. Okay, even for the small group of my lucky coworkers who got to come to work on the Fourth of July.
But I like to hide that fact – so I cheated. I bought some muffin mix and then dressed it up. I learned how to “tart up” box food from a very wise friend who once saved my life after I volunteered to hold the wedding rehearsal dinner for the daughter of a friend.
At that point, I didn’t even have a working oven. But I do now and so for the office picnic on the Fourth, I brought corn bread muffins that were pronounced delicious.
I had indeed made them: I opened the box into a bowl, added eggs and milk, stirred it all up and used an ice cream scoop to half-fill the papered muffin tin. I had already opened and drained the can of chopped corn, jalapenos and red peppers. I dropped a teaspoon of the veggies into each muffin. After cooking them according to the box instructions, I dusted the golden muffins with Hungarian paprika and topped them with a bit of shredded cheese.
I chose corn muffins because I am allergic to corn. If I had offered to bring brownies, I knew my coworkers would only get half the pan of brownies because my taste testing would have been endless.
The muffin recipe is just one I borrowed from the renowned wisdom of the “Cookie Lady” of CNN’s DC bureau – Carol Buckland.
Another of her recipes starts with boxes of brownie mix. To give them a stronger flavor, I could add some strong coffee instead of water. Or I can toss in some extra chocolate or some candy like Reeses Pieces or crushed hard peppermints. Or on some pans, I covered the top of the hot brownies with chocolate covered mints.
And presentation is important. So after cutting the brownies into squares I placed each one on a bright silver paper muffin liner.
For the Fourth, I also cooked up some baked beans for the party I was headed to after work. You would not believe how big the cans are that you can buy from the big membership stores. I also picked up some smoked barbecue sauce, some onions and bacon. It all went into a slow cooker on low and was perfect in time for the next party.
I could have brought some hummus that I picked up from the deli. The trick to that is finding the right colorful bowl to put it in, adding a few garbanzo beans around the edge, then a spritz of olive oil in the center and sprinkle on some chopped parsley or chopped red pepper for color.
And who has time for that?
Except for the one or two "downer" posts (you know who you are), these comments are fun and interesting. Kind of like online people watching, you know? And that's always an entertaining pasttime. I'm 50/50 on cookies – half the time homemade, half the time bought from a bakery. Someday when I don't work 50+ hours a week, I'll spend more time in the kitchen because I do love to bake. LOVE homemade bread the old fashioned way (no machine) and make it from time to time in the winter, but it's not practical to do it every week. Always homemade cornbread, but frozen chicken cordon bleu, because really – there's no way I have time to make it from scratch for a weeknight meal. All pies from scratch without exception, but boxed pudding mix doctored with layering things to make quick "parfaits." But cooked pudding, not the grainy instant kind. I have my standards. Hee hee!!
I love homemade bread as well. The problem is that when I make it, I have to make twice the amount– one for hot out of the oven and one to use for the rest of the week. My waistline cannot handle my baking.
LOL!! Same here, Mike2!!
That's my line!
People, please make you own sh it paper!
Eating box is not cheating.
This is a lame article. Cornbread is not an advanced baked good and it doesn't take much longer to measure out the flour, cornmeal, sugar milk, baking powder, and salt, and mix it with a couple of eggs than it does to open a box mix. I'm not impressed.
I live in Europe and cooking from scratch is the norm. I'm grateful to know how to cook and bake because when I moved here from the US, there was very little culture shock foodwise, because I can make pretty much everything I ate back home. I'm so glad I never got hooked on fast food, pop tarts, frozen food and the rest of that crap.
I think box mix has its place, I've made boxed cakes from time to time, but to act so smug about it is really pathetic. You're not that smart, you just took a shortcut.
Your smugness is pretty pathetic as well, guess that's how you can tell. I got more smugness from your comment than from the author. I'm pretty sure she was just trying to put a little humor into the article, something, based on your comment, you probably don't know all that much about. Try not to be so judgmental mkay?
LOL! Thanks for clearing up the author's intent.
I have to admit that I learned how to cook more of the down home foods when I live in Europe as well. Why? Because I had to in order to eat what I could not get– American, regional food. If I had wanted to eat the local cuisine (which I did by the way), their were plenty of mixes available– sponge cake mixes, custard mixes, soup mixes, pizza dough mixes, etc.– all of which could be made from scratch. Europeans, like Americans, are a varied people. Some cook from scratch and some don't.
Also, some are judgmental....
And Europe is a varied continent. Food additives are very regulated in this country, so there is little processed food, they just cracked down on Marmite of all things! If I drive over the border to shop, there's a far bigger selection.
Oh ... and people .... MAKE YOUR OWN CARAMEL AT HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Homemade is MUCH richer, tastier .... and is EASY to do (if not a bit tedious).
That barely caramelized, tasteless junk you buy at the supermarket isn't worth a penny.
You bought puff pastry?- NOT cheating. No one has the time and few have the space to do puff pastry properly.
Now cake, brownie, bread, etc? Cheating. Totally, 100% cheating.
Those rice/noodle sides at dinner? Cheating. Know how cheap rice is? Know how easy it is to jazz it up? Know how much salt you just saved yourself from ingesting?
Make the time. Do it right. Dinner is a family experience. Don't shortchange it.
And I STILL haven't mastered pie crust by the way .... another I don't consider cheating if you just can't do it properly. I still am bull-headed and keep trying though!
I am not against homemade, and do it when I can, but I work for a living. My mother was always in the kitchen and we very seldom saw her. She is incredibly proud that she always made homemade for her family. You know what? I don't care. It was more about her vanity and sense of worth than what it did for the family.
Make homemade when you can, but if making bread from scratch can't be a family activity, buy it and spend time with your kids doing other things.
I make truly killer brownies from Duncan Hines. i add some instant espresso powder, a pinch of cinnamon and dry cocoa powder. It really jazzes up the flavor and the cinnamon adds a "rounded" mysterious touch. Jar pasta sauce is easily repaired with oregano and garlic powder. Bottled salad dressings benefit from garlic powder and herbs such as dill, basil. Think of it this way...manufacturers aim to please everyone including little kids. The seasonings are usually bland. There is no prepared product that cannot benefit from herbs or extra seasonings.
Brownies? Espresso powder is awesome. Cinnamon provies some depth. Don't be afraid to use cayenne either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There's a time and place for "cheating." I'm a from-scratch baker almost every time, but I'll use jar spaghetti sauce for a quick meal. Tried a frozen pie shell once but it was inedible – I can make it from scratch just as quickly. But I'll buy frozen phyllo dough. I always keep a box of brownie mix on hand, even though scratch ones go together in a jiffy. Same with a boxed cake mix – there are so many things you can do to doctor it up. Add unsweetened jello to it, fruit juice/nectar instead of water, and glaze the top instead of heavy frosting, and you've got a wonderful moist sheet cake in practically no time. Bisquick for biscuits and pancakes, but homemade frosting always. Mashed potatoes always from scratch. BBQ sauce from scratch usually, yet I make a wonderful baked bbq chicken with jar bbq sauce and, get this, canned biscuits. And it's wonderful and ready in an hour. Sometimes ya just gotta cheat!
My mom once bought a pan of uncooked Thanksgiving dressing from a local restaurant, spooned it into her baking dish, took the 'evidence' to the neighbors' trash, and passed it off as her own to quiet an ever-complaining in-law. Everyone knew except my grandfather, and it was the only year he ever complimented someone else's cooking. Blatant cheating, but we all thought it was pretty funny!
I like the texture and flavor of boxed cake mixes better than from scratch and you can't beat the consistency. BTW, this is from someone who will never buy a pie crust because I'm spoiled by homemade. I guess its all in the tastebuds of the beholder/eater.
I just made a set of lime sponge-cupcake-thingies from scratch .... tasted similar to a twinkie. WAY easy to do.
Topped it with grilled pineapple, homemade caramel, and homemade whipped cream ..... Recipes? RECIPES? We don't need no stinkin' recipes!
Sanda Lee has made millions with her Semi-homeade brand. And, yes, I too use box mixes. I like to use coffee instead of water when I'm making a box of brownies.
I first saw my mother do this when I was about ten years old. She had promised a pot of beans for a church supper, but the family business had a rush on. I was dispatched to the local store with a dollar to procure a large can of Friends Beans. (Substantial change was expected.) A little of this, and that, heated through the oven (conventional) and I was then dispatched to take the beans to the church. No one was the wiser... except me. After my initial shock, it made sense, and I have been well served by creative use of such methods. Use of a mix is no worse than making your children measure things out for you, to my mind.
I floored a picnic's worth of Nebraskans at my grandpa's 90th birthday over the weekend with devil's food cake mix cookies. I lead a busy city life in Denver, most that end of my family are farm folk, I have an excuse for not quite scratch cooking. But who cares, everybody liked them anyway.
Once in grad school I made cupcakes using boxed mix of devil's food chocolate cake and Pillsbury cream cheese icing. They were gone in minutes and I had 2 offers of marriage. They didn't care when I told them it was all from a box. I didn't even add anything fancy to them. Still one of the most favorable reactions I've had to anything I've made (not counting the pumpkin cobbler I make at Thanksgiving. Even then I still use pre-mixed yellow cake for the topping and people love it).
I don't really bake cakes, but every once in a while I'll get the "Suddenly Pasta Salad" boxes instead of making the pasta salad from scratch.
It depends on how much time I have and if I'm in the mood. Measuring everything out from scratch in some cases is quick and in other cases not. I make my own taco seasoning mix by measuring out the different seasonings. It doesn't take very long and I like mine better.
But carefully levelly measuring and sifting flour etc to make a cake isn't always something I feel like doing. Likewise sometimes I will soak beans over night. But if I forgot to soak them or just don't feel like messing with it, I'll use canned.
I've made egg rolls from scratch and they taste awesome but it does take way longer than one out of a box. I've also made chicken chow mein from scratch. Again, it takes longer.
I have made marinara sauce from scratch but it took forever. I generally will open a can and then spice it up a bit and add onion and browned ground beef. Then take that and use it to make lasagna by layering cooked noodle, mozarella, ricotta, sprinkled with a little salt, pepper, and parsley. Yes I could make the noodle from scratch but that is a lot of work to see it eaten in 1.1 seconds.
I always always however make white breakfast gravy from scratch though as any other kind is basically inedible to me. I fluctuate between making biscuits from scratch and using a Shawnee Mills mix. I prefer to make them from scratch using White Lily flour but it isn't sold in this area.
Substitute blended canned tomatoes for the water in the chocolate cake mix, add cocoa powder and somekind of paprika/pepper; shredded carrots and blueberries all disappear along with the tomato into the mix; reduce the oil to some degree with all that fruit; finely chopped walnuts. You have a nutritious chocolate cake that tastes and seems just a regular chocolate cake.
That sounds absolutely horrifying.
It's probably not as bad as it seems, chocolate can hide a multitude of other flavours.
It's just my wife and I 90% of the time so it's a lot of boxed/bagged mixes. Some entrees some as sides
with the entree cooked on the grille. Don't see anything wrong with it unless you don't mind waiting till
midnight to eat dinner.
I make dinner from "scratch" just about every night. I use fresh, farmer's market veggies (I don't bother with organic from the natural food store - too expensive). I try to do everything I can to minimize chemicals, preservatives, and overprocessed ingredients.
But that being said, I'm not a snob about it. We grew up poor, and my parents had farm animals and gardens, and my mom canned and we rarely ate "store bought" food. I swear, I thought TV dinners and Hamburger Helper were for rich kids.
Unprocessed, natural food is easier on my stomach and better for my kids, and I am willing to forego other things (like extracurricular activities) to spend my time making meals from scratch. It helps that my mom taught me to be of those "little bit of this, little bit of that" cooks. It also helps that cooking is probably my top hobby!
I think a lot of the problem is that people believer (because of gourmet food shows and magazines) that scratch doesn't have to be complicated. A simple grilled pork steak, boiled fresh (or frozen) veggies, and rice or potatoes is a good, nutritious weeknight meal. Takes about 15 minutes and costs a little over a dollar per person. Seriously, you don't need to make a gourmet meal every night. Just because it doesn't have six different fresh herbs doesn't mean it is not good.
Okay, that first sentence came out all wrong– What I meant to say was that people are mislead by cooking shows and articles into believing every meal must me gourmet.
Does it count if you're in different zip codes?
I don't think it's cheating. For as much as I bake (which isn't often), boxed cakes are perfect. I love to bake, but I just don't get around to it very often.
My daughter wanted a 'fancy' cake like she sees on the food network challenge shows for her birthday. I can decorate a cake nicely but I wouldn't even try that level. I told her I could do different shaped layers and different colors. Oh no – she wanted fancy, so I took her to a specialty bakery to see the cakes, what she thought would be about $15 I knew would be over $100. She was shocked! She also didn't understand what they meant by 'small feeds 40'. She's 15, a piece of cake fills half her plate and is 2-3 inches high, their pieces were 1/2 inch wide and a couple inches tall – not something to serve a room full of 15 year old athletic girls. She decided moms idea was fine – it wasn't as artistic but it was fun – ended up looking a lot like a blue and pink frog because at the last minute I told her I could include basketballs on top made from my pumpkin muffin pans. Didn't last long but definitely served the purpose – anyway it was all boxed cake mix with the artistry in the icing.
there's also a lot less clean-up involved with boxed dinners. Gotta love that!
I love eating b0xes.
LOL! Make sure those b0xes are clean before you eat them!
My ass you're allergic to corn. If you were, you wouldn't cook with it (or else you just have a death wish). So you're a liar *and* a cheat. Thanks for spreading misinformation about allergies. Now when someone truly allergic needs accommodation, some idgit is going to remember your idiocy and assume they're exaggerating.
Wow. That is really judgemental. Allergies are different for everyone and with "most" food allergies, you have to eat it for it to actually harm you. Try being less rude and more understanding next time.
Yeah. Well said, Really.
None of want to be near your ass but you do a really good job of making yourself sound like one. Idgit.
Carolyn – you don't know what your talking about – my son is allergic to peanuts and can actually shell them for us – he just can't eat them. Don't be so ignorant!!
WTF?!?!?! Why can't she use corn even if she's allergic to it? I do. I'm allergic to corn, yet I grow it in my garden, and I process it for canning or freezing... WHY? Because my husband isn't allergic to it, and he likes it.
There are degrees of allergies. Get educated on the subject before posting next time.
How do you know the nature of her allergy? Maybe she can touch corn and just can't eat it. Wow, you're a piece of work.
I'm allergic to peanut butter, but my peanut butter cookies are my husband's favorite. I make them for him once in a while. My allergy is severe enough to cause a reaction when taken internally, but fortunately not severe enough to be immediately life threatening or cause a reaction externally. Just sayin'.
Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.
I will use mixes and jazz them up. I'll use frozen pie crusts and puff pastry dough (like Anon_e_mouse I just haven't gotten the hang of doing them from scratch).
Also, I make things from scratch as well. Just depends on the timing.
I can make very little that doesn't come from a box, bag, packet, etc. If I tried to make it from scratch it would take a zillion hours and taste grosser, so I don't bother. God Bless Stauffers Lasagna!
MW, I am decent in the kitchen, but I have botched homemade lasagna. A lot of work that ended up with a still-hungry family = Stauffer's for us, too. Sometimes you just have to outsource!
Find the No Boil, ready to bake noodles...makes it sooo much easier.
This cracks me up! I think if you take the time to "dress up" the box, you are fine. I wouldn't pass it off as 100% homemade, but in my circle of friends (20-30 somethings) and family, in which everybody works fulltime, nobody is really rude enough to ask "real or not".
I do have a friend who is a good cook but has never made mashed potatoes from scratch . . . she was shocked to learn that I don't use powdered mashed potatoes. I was shocked to learn that her husband would eat potatoes from a box (because that is where I draw the line on acceptable substitutions)!
Potatoes? Now there's one where I MUST use the boxed. I can never get "real" mashed potatoes smooth enough for me. Don't like chunks at all. Put enough butter and garlic in .... it won't matter anyways.
I didn't even know powdered, or the flaked, instant potatoes existed until high school. No one in my family made potatoes from anything other than scratch. And if you can't get them smooth enough you're just not using the right mixer setting because I never have a problem getting the lumps out.
For box brownies, I use the apple sauce that they recommend as a substitute for oil, only I use it in addition to the oil. Not any healthier, of course, but makes for a really dense brownie.
And for hummus, I find a squeeze of lime fixes that flat taste that store bought often has. And if I'm in a decadent mood, a splash of toasted sesame oil.
If I'm making a huge dish for people who subsist on fast food and boxed mixes, I cheat and use boxes and cans. It's not like they know the difference, and the "ranch on everything" crowd prefers crap to food anyway. In my home and for my friends & family, it is all organic, homemade, from-scratch cooking. I bake all our bread, we eat local meats and cheeses, and my kids snack on organic vegetables. I wouldn't dream of poisoning their brains and bodies with box crap. Ew. Don't have kids if you haven't the time and heart to feed them properly. As for everyone else, let them have their Hamburger Helper and Jiffy Mix. They can't kill themselves fast enough.
where do you get the yeast, flour, etc?
Have you cultered, grown, harvested it yourself?
If not, then isn't it still, at some level and/or degree, a premade mix or boxed/bagged item?
You can call it organic and made from scratch all you want – but truth is, someone else did some of the work for you so it truly isn't from scratch if you purchased any of it (other than seeds).
Bottom line, you're still a mix-box-bag user just not to the degree of some others of us.
my dad's bigger than your dad...
care to elaborate just a tad?
or do you prefer vapid and vague?
Wow, you really should open your mind up maybe thismuch.
Judgmental aren't we?
I though the same thing, Christina! I was fine at the start of her comment (as we eat a lot of local as well), but the twist at the end about not having kids? Too far. I've seen her type–shopping at the co-op, sticking their noses up because they only eat the best. Well, I can't always afford the organic veggies, and only a few things grow in my garden in my climate. But to say, "if you can't afford decent food, good thing you'll poison yourselves," is just horrendous.
Had to agree there, Christina. And the fact that she'll do what she calls poisoning to other people, but not her own. Yeah, she pretty much falls into the judgmental category. Funny, for the past three generations my family has eaten a mix of homemade and boxed, mix and mash 'em as needed, and the average age we live to be? 90. Sure has taken a while to poison us all!
Snobbish much. Yeah, we all know what is healthier. But to call it poison? Really? If I ate fast food all the time, I would be unhealthy. Just the same as if I ate the equivalent amounts of homemade butter fat or home cured bacon.
I agree that health dictates that you should try to do as much scratch and fresh as you can, but eating a cake from a box every now and then won't do lasting damage.
The trick to anything is moderation. Your 'all or nothing' snobbish attitude is not helpful.
Wow. So, you don't mind poisoning other people (if they appear to you to be inferior because they don't make your same food choices) but your family deserves only the best? I can't believe you actually admitted that you are that petty and spiteful. You may be teaching your kids good eating habits, but it is just a pity that you aren't teaching them how to be a decent human being.
Couldn't have said it better Scarlett. Thanks for being so eloquent.
1. I will NOT use a box until I've atleast attempted a full "from scratch"
2. It's not "cheating" to use a box as a base then dress it up with your own twist – that's no different than adjusting any other recipe.
3. It's not "cheating" to use a box as a suitable replacement for part of your recipe (Bisquik -vs- flour, salt, & baking powder).
4. It IS "cheating" to use a box then deny it when asked – you don't have to volunteer the info but don't tell a bald faced lie.
I agree with the earlier comments that it is more expensive to used boxed mixes...however for those who feel that baking anything is impossible for them, it is a step in the direction of making food for themselves, rather than buying everything premade from the supermarket. Semi-homemade by Sandra Lee and the Food & Family magazine from Kraft are very popular among the people I work with. They can't figure out why I make most of my food from scratch when those recipes are so much simpler. I just don't like putting all of those unpronouncable ingredients in food that I and my family eat.
I always wondered who liked Sandra Lee... I guess there are people who do... wow
I agree Amayda. Chemicals are not food.
A great cookbook for this is "The Phony Gourmet" by Pam Young and Peggy Jones. I live by their belief that any meal (or mistake) can be upgraded by hiding it under a pre-made sheet of puff pastry. If the finished product gets a healthy meal on the table, so we are not eating out, then mission accomplished!
I don't see boxed mixes as cheating, but I do consider them wasteful. I don't think they are convenient or time saving, but they are expensive. All they are is the dry ingredients mixed together in a bag. If you have the staples: flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt, cocoa powder, and corn meal, then you have everything in a boxed mix for a fraction of the price. The same idea applies to spice mixes. Make icing with butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla (+ cocoa for chocolate). Canned beans are high in sodium and other additives. It’s easy to soak beans the night before and cook them in a slow cooker or boil them on the stove with some seasoning.
I work full time and go to school part time, so it’s not a matter of having a lot of time to cook. I stock my kitchen with inexpensive basics.
That's why we don't use pre-mixed/boxed ingredients! Why spend the money on box when we have everything in the pantry? It is also a good way to get family in the kitchen! Everybody gets to help in the gathering of the items and then the measuring!
You are assuming a well stocked pantry. I live with just me and my wife and we don't keep sweets around the house (because we eat them), so baking is something that is done just for special occasions or the odd treat.
I used to bake from scratch, but for just the two of us, we would have to throw out stale ingredients all the time. To stock my pantry I would spend much more than the occasional mix costs.
I hardly think it's cheating if you're doing that much extra to it. And most people I know don't particularly care if it starts boxed as long as it tastes good. In fact you can get some much more interesting results if you haven't just spent an hour doing prep work and don't feel like doing anything more.
The only time I think it would be cheating is if you're entering the food into a contest or otherwise taking credit for creating it from scratch.
You are right – It is cheating if you are entering it at a county fair to win a prize, but not if you are taking it to a family potluck (don't tell my mother-in-law).
I don't understand why mixes are so popular. Either way you put dry ingredients in a bowl, add wet ingredients, and mix. How hard is it to measure flour and sugar? Homemade is always so much tastier!
Not everything is that simple. Some recipes require alternating ingredients, beating or whipping the batter, storing at a specific temperature, etc. Not impossible work, but not fifteen minutes from start to putting into the oven, either. Plus clean up time.
Very true but those types of recipes usually aren't available as a mix anyway.
Where I shop, a boxed cake mix is $1. The frosting is $1.50. The chocolate bars alone in a German Chocolate Cake are right around $5. So, while I would LOVE to bake from scratch, it's simply much more budget-friendly for me to "cheat" with boxed mixes.
Agreed. Budget is often the reason. I don't bake that often, so specific ingredients will be very cost prohibitive. Not to mention things as simple as left-over chocolate won't make it until next time. I have very bad habits with sweets.
Besides, I live in a culinary wasteland where even cake flour is hard to come by.
Please remember, you get what you pay for. Garbage is garbage at any price, despite the convenience. I would rather make everything from scratch and know what's in it, then eat the chemical brew that passes as "food" these days.
Try finding a decent recipe online for high altitude. Its impossible. Adding and subtracting things using a high altitude converter guide doesnt work at all, the recipe has to be specifically made for high altitude or it will come out horrible. For some reason box mixes work in high altitude, probably because of all the chemicals, but they still suck, way too light and airy with no body.
For this reason I only buy prebaked cakes, I believe grocery stores have them shipped in (unfrosted) so they dont have to deal with inferior high altitude baking. Box mix works but it still sucks, and theres no easy solution for scratch, quality high altitude recipes are highly guarded secrets.
I'm the most avid baker/cooker in my family and circle of friends and I "cheat" quite a bit when it's for certain groups of people – co-workers, large family gatherings etc. Adding something to a box mix is what gives it that special personal touch that makes most people think it's homemade. However, say I wanted to make a special cake, pie, or spaghetti sauce for Family dinner or a best friend's special occasion – that's when I roll up the sleeves and prepare to make a mess in my kitchen with every bowl, utensil and ingredient I own. To be honest – homemade doesn't always come out better, but it's the effort that's appreciated most.
FYI... at least 50% of bakeries use boxed mixes of some kind... I speak from first hand knowledge, it's a way to keep product consistent and costs down
I've been known to purchase some prepared foods and serve them when time is of the essence (and my kitchen is too small to make ten things at once), but it's pretty rare. (I do use frozen pie crusts and puff pastry dough; I've just never mastered the art of making a good crust from scratch. My wife and daughters have, though, so if possible I get them to make the crust... or for that matter the whole pie.) That said, I have eaten many items that other folks have made with a boxed mix as a base and I certainly wouldn't have known if they hadn't told me; corn bread in particular is one that lends itself to creative enhancement, and using a good basic mix doesn't compromise the quality of the finished product.
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