Archive for What the kids eat in…

Sounds fancy, actually easy. And yum.

By Thursday nights I am tired. The last commitment of the day is picking up big girl from Junior Guides at 7pm. And then we all pop on our jammies and flop together on the lounge for some quality food TV.

Possibly the kids don’t give a toss about world cuisine, but the chance to stay up until 8.30 means they’ve got a new-found love of SBS travel/cooking shows. Over the past couple of years we’ve watched Adam Liaw tour Japan (I’m hoping to retrace his steps some day), Rachel Khoo relishing France and at the moment we’re enjoying Shane Delia travelling Turkey, which takes me back to my own travels there in the 1990s. I remember how new and exotic the flavours and smells were.

As much as it pains me to contemplate them leaving, I hope my kids grow to be curious about the world and want to head off on their own adventures. To encourage them along, I’ve been enjoying making these burek, which sound fancy, but are actually super-simple family food. Just a savoury mince wrapped in filo pastry, coiled up and baked in the oven. The kids just call them ‘fancy meatpies’, which isn’t so culturally sensitive but is pretty accurate.

meat & vegetable burek

Schmancy meat pies. Sauce optional.

Beef & vegie burek

You can make the mince ahead, to wrap and bake later in the day, or make these up and store in the fridge until it’s time to brush them with butter and bake for dinner.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
500g beef mince
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 finger eggplant, finely diced (peel it first if your kids will fuss about the skin)
1 green capsicum, finely diced
Handful spinach leaves, this stalks removed, leaves finely shredded
2 tbsp parsley (optional)
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Filo pastry
2 tbsp melted butter
1 egg, combined with a splash of milk for glazing.

The key to success with filo is to make sure it is completely thawed (if frozen) and at room temperature. Then it’s pretty easy to work with.

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add the oil and pop in the onion. Cook, stirring often for 4-5 minutes until golden. Carefully place the mince in the pan. Use your spoon to break up lumps and totally brown all the meat (this take about 5 minutes). Add in the garlic and all the vegies for 2-3 minutes before scattering over the spices. Stir well and continue to move everything around regularly for 5 minutes or so. Move the pan off the heat and leave everything to cool for a bit (so that you can handle it easily).

Preheat the oven to 200C. Find whatever round dishes you have – make several small bureks or one large one – totally up to you.

Lay out your block of filo. Brush melted butter over the top sheet. Flip it over and lay it on top of the sheet below. Spoon a line of mince mixture along the length of the filo, about 3-4 cm in from one edge. Lift the top two layers of filo and carefully roll your pastry up into a long snake. Coil it around and squeeze into your round dish. (To make a large burek, just keep adding snakes onto the end until you’ve filled your dish.)

Brush with the combined egg/milk and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

If the filo bit sounds too hard (I promise it’s not), just scoop the mix into a dish, scrunch of some filo sheets and add them to the top, pie-style).

Serves 2 adults & 3 kids

Make a line of mixture along to whole length of pastry.

Make a line of mixture along to whole length of pastry.

Roll into a long cigar.

Roll into a long cigar.

Coil and squeeze into whatever oven-proof dishes you have.

Coil and squeeze into whatever oven-proof dishes you have.


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Oh so cool as you nibble down on those Mexican shacks

It would appear that my eyesight is on the way out. I’d been warned that it would happen after I turned 40, but pompously I dismissed such negative jibber jabber until the other day when I read a crossword clue out loud to my family. “What’s a Mexican shack, four letters, T then A then something then O”?

Mr VS looked at me incredulously. Miss F was perplexed. Not put off, I continued. “You would know, Mr VS, after all that backpacking you did in central America. Is there a fancy name for a Mexican shack?”

But then of course I looked harder at the clue and had to concede that possibly, just maybe, it was asking me the name of a Mexican SNACK. Which made much more sense and caused large amounts of merriment for my nearest and dearests. Miss F patted me comfortingly and reassured me, “it IS very small writing, mama.”

Personally, I think they and their condescending ways can an all go to hell and buggered if I’m ever going to risk the ribbing of serving them tacos ever again. Which is a shame, considering how delicious these fish ones are. They’re easy too – the only hassle being crumbing the nugget-sized bits of fish. But hey, that’s why we have children and their nimble fingers. Line them up at the counter – each in charge of part of the process and you’ll be done in no time. Just make sure you cook these on the night before you plan to mop the floor.

More sea-shanty than shack.

More sea-shanty than shack.

Fish Tacos

This is a perfect meal to serve friends and family – you can make the coleslaw a few hours ahead, and the fish can be crumbed and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to cook.

500g firm white fish fillets (cheaper fish like ling or even flake will do – obviously if you have more money, barramundi is delicious!)
1/4 cup plain flour
1 egg
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (they give much more crunch, but if you can’t find them regular breadcrumbs will do)
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cumin powder
Spray oil


1/4 white cabbage (about 4 cups), thinly shredded
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise then sliced into half moons (scrape the seeds out first if you can be bothered)
3/4 cup Greek yoghurt (about a 200g tub)
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup each coriander & parsley (add these after you’ve served the kids if green flecks will cause too much grief).


1 large (or 2 small) avocadoes
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 small tomato, finely diced
Juice of 1 lime

To serve: tortillas, pickled jalapenos

For the fish:
Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with baking paper and spray with oil spray.

Slice the fish fillets into evenly sized pieces (about chicken nugget size is good)

Grab three bowls. Pop the flour into one, whisk the egg into another and mix the panko, herbs and spices in the third.

Drop the fish into the flour. Shake off any excess and dip into the egg (coat thoroughly), then drop into the breadcrumb mixture and press on a nice even coating. Place onto your oven tray.

Spray with oil spray. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and cooked through.

For the coleslaw:
Mix the vegies in a salad bowl. Whisk together the yoghurt, juice and oil and pour over. Toss the herbs in now or leave them on the side for adults to mix in once the kids have been served.

For the guacamole:
Mash the avocado in a bowl and mix in the other ingredients.

Prepare the tortillas according to packet directions. Smear over some guacamole; add some coleslaw and fish pieces. Adults might like some jalapenos. Enjoy!

Feeds 2 adults & 3 kids

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What the kids eat in… Japan

We love a bit of Japanese food here at VSHQ, whether it’s the okonomiyaki or the sushi slice or a variation on a noodle soup.

For this basic broth recipe, I’ve chosen to include udon noodles since they’re so damn FUN, but soba is also delicious. And just because I recommend tofu or salmon, don’t think for a second that you need listen to me – it would also be great with super thin slices of rump or shredded BBQ chicken. We’ve made it with the pork wontons and they went so well with these flavours that I’m expecting an invitation to the wedding any day now.

And that’s it for this week – I’m keeping it short & sweet, I’ve got a lot on my mind – one of which is the new VS cookbook which has just hit the shop. Check it out here!

Use the basic broth and add whatever suits your family.

Use the basic broth and add whatever suits your family.

Japanese udon soup

4 cups water
4 tbsp miso paste (use any, but at the moment I’m using a tub of organic brown rice miso- read all about the different types here)
2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed (leave them large enough so that you can fish them out later)
4 medium-sized mushrooms, sliced (again, if your family won’t eat them, leave the pieces large enough to flavour the soup but fish them out before serving).
3 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 star anise (optional, but recommended)

Serve with…
Udon noodles (prepare according to packet directions)
Add a protein… choose from either tofu or slices of salmon fillet
And add your choice of vegies… green beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, carrots, spring onions, brocollini.
Optional extras…. top it off with dried wakame and/or sesame seeds.

Combine all the soup ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes. If you have time, turn off the heat and leave it all to sit for an hour or so to infuse.

When you’re ready to eat, bring the soup back to boiling, remove the garlic and star anise chunks (and mushrooms if your kids won’t tolerate it).

Add in the thicker vegies and the tofu/salmon for a couple of minutes, before adding in the quick cook items like snow peas.

Serve over the noodles and top with wakame and sesame seeds. Eat it with chopsticks and a big, slurpy Asian spoon.



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I’d like to thank the world

I’d like to thank the academy for giving me this EVERYDAY LIFE award. Of course, I’m the one standing here receiving the award, but really it wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of a wonderful team of behind-the-scenes people.

I’d like to begin by saying thank you Japanese people for giving me sushi. And thanks to Italian people for pizza. I love you Korean people for bibimbap and the entire Indian subcontinent – I’d like to thank you all for every curry ever invented. Then there are the Thai folks – a heartfelt thanks to you for showing me the joys of tom yum goong and the Danish peeps, thank you for gravalax. Thanks to the Caribbean natives for jerking that chicken, and to the Mexicans, a huge thanks for all the things you do with beans and avocado. And a huge thanks to you all for making the effort to travel and meet me in Australia, making this such a fabulous, delicious place.

Apologies if I’ve forgetten anyone, but lastly, I’d like to thank our Middle Eastern friends, whose spice combination is the star of my favourite lamb kebabs.

A hint of the Middle East, to make your top-Aussie dinner, delicious.

A hint of the Middle East, to make your top-Aussie dinner, delicious.

Lamb mince kebabs

This is a great recipe to make now, before the good eggplants disappear and as promised, it’s another recipe that uses Allspice.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, finely diced
500g lamb mince
2 cloves garlic
1 eggplant, finely diced (peeled first if your kids will object to the skin)
1 red capsicum, finely diced
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp mild chilli powder (I use a mild Mexican one)


Flat bread or tortillas

Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat. Heat the oil then add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes until browning. Toss in the mince, stirring constantly, breaking up lumps as you go. Continue until it is all well browned.

Don’t worry about excess fat, because you’re now going to chuck all of the eggplant into it (YUM). Mix it through really well, then also toss in the capsicum.

Finally, scatter over your spices. Keep mixing until it all gets deliciously fragrant. Lower the heat and let everything simmer for 10-15 minutes until the eggplant has melded into the mince and your kids will be none the wiser.

This is a supposed to be fairly dry mince mix so that your wraps aren’t soggy. Spoon some into a flat bread or tortilla. Top with cucumber, tomato and parsley. I won’t tell if you want to also pop on some cheese or a drizzle of yoghurt.



If this looks good to you, try out my beef & lentil fajitas, or these beef & peanut rice paper rolls.

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What the kids eat in… Russia

Perhaps it’s my frozen feet, but I’m back thinking about world food and looking for inspiring ways to warm my cockles. I’m figuring that a country with large chunks of permafrost might be able to give me some good guidance.

So what do the Russians feed their kids in those early years before Vodka becomes the staple diet? Well, the freezing climate and general poverty makes for a fairly grim culinary history (of course, this is just my opinion), but a fish pie or ‘kulebyaka’ is a bit of a bright spot. Traditionally it’s made with a thicker pastry, but I’ve got a great filo version that is so nice and crunchy that the kids are guaranteed not to notice the range of vegies which combine with the rice and boiled eggs to provide a complete nutritional shot.

Now, fearers of filo, I hear your pain. It can be a nuisance to work with. But if you give it plenty of time to defrost you’ll have a better chance of success. Once thawed, open it out, cover it with a clean, damp tea towel and be a bit patient. Your first one or two might not be quite so gorgeous, but they’ll still be yummy and that’s the main thing.

Crunch, yum. Crunch, YUM. Feet still cold though.

Filo ‘kulebyaka’ cigars

1 packet filo pastry
250g packet microwave rice
415g can red salmon (pink will do, but red is much nicer in this recipe)
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 small carrot, peeled, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, diced
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp dill

Leave the pastry out to thaw – read packet for product specific instructions.

Preheat the oven to 190C, line two trays with baking paper.

Cook the rice according to packet instructions. Set aside leave to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine all of the vegies, salmon (crush any bones), eggs, zest, dill and pepper. Add in the rice and mix well.

Open the (well defrosted) filo out. Spray a sheet then fold it in half, so that it’s almost a square. Dollop ¼ cup amounts of mixture in a line parallel to the fold line. Allow about 3 centimetres free at either end. Roll the pastry around the mix. Don’t worry if you get a tear. Just keep gently rolling until you have a nice cigar shape. Squeeze the ends closed.

You can make these to this point then refridgerate until you want to cook them. Just give them a spray of oil and store them between layers of baking paper.

When you’re ready to cook them, pop them on the trays. Spray with oil and bake for 20 minutes until golden and crunchy.

Makes about 16.

128 pages, 40 projects, 85 pages of printables…

Did you see that I’ve birthed the latest Vegie Smugglers product? It’s a ‘Craft for non-crafty’ e-book. I’ve collated up all of my favourite projects and added a bunch more, covering food, fun & learning. It’s available now at the shop…

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What the kids eat in… Italy

On the surface my kids are coping with moving quite well. They’re saying goodbyes and being philosophical, but I can tell from the way that their behaviour has skewed that the stress of it is taking its toll. They are both quite moody and irritable. Miss F is channelling Veruca Salt with “I want an oompa-loompa” quality turns over the colour of paint for her new bedroom. Mr M&P, who has a tendency to grumpiness, is using moving as a bit of an explain-all over his continuing outbursts.

I’m breathing deeply and understanding that they’re coping with quite a lot of loss.

High on the list of ‘Things we will miss’, are our amazingly fantastic upstairs neighbours. A retired Italian couple, when not flitting overseas they are hosting exuberant lunch parties. As the afternoons wear on and the wine and spirits flow, the Italian gets louder and more jovial and laughter booms out.

What’s not to love about a culture that rains chocolate on children? My kids have quickly learned that if they stand out in the courtyard and smile and wave endearingly, all sorts of goodies get dropped over the balcony. One time I even caught a tissue full of homemade biscuits being lowered down on string.

Italian food is such a seductive cuisine. It’s an easy-fix meal that is quick to cook and usually appeals to everyone. I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like pasta and you can use it to hide all sorts of good stuff in sauces, layered in lasagnes and tucked into tubes.

And then at the end, you can scoff a cannolli, sip amaretti and then best if you potter off for a bit of a lie down.

Cheese, pasta (and tomatoes, onions, fennel, spinach & carrot). Shhhhh.

Beef cannelloni

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves
500g lean beef mince
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 cup finely diced fennel
1 cup spinach leaves (silverbeet or English), finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 cup beef stock
1 tsp sugar
700g bottle tomato passata
250g cannelloni tubes (buy the instant ones that don’t need to be boiled)
125g ricotta cheese
Grated pizza cheese
Salad and garlic bread, to serve

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic then the mince, breaking up lumps as you go. When the beef is just browned, add the carrot, fennel and spinach and stir well.

Mix through the tomatoes, herbs and sugar. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for
15 minutes. Taste and add salt and black pepper. (I LOVE heaps of pepper.)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Choose either individual gratin dishes or one 12–cup lasagne dish.
Pour a thin layer of tomato passata over the bottom of the dish. Use a small spoon to fill the cannelloni tubes with your meat mixture and line them up in the dish. Evenly pour over remaining passata and any leftover meat mixture. Dollop the ricotta about and sprinkle over as much pizza cheese as you like.

Individual portions will need to bake about 20 minutes – a larger dish for 30–35 – until the pasta is soft and the cheese is golden.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.


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What the kids eat in… Malaysia

Lucky children in Malaysia grow up eating these delicious prawn fritters called Cucur Udang.

Super easy to make, they’re a good way to get the kids eating a new protein. Not that I desperately need them to grow fond of expensive seafood, but sometimes my best friend and I like a bit of adult gourmet, and this recipe is a way to deliver both a kid-friendly and adult-tasty dinner in one dish (just sprinkle over some chilli, spring onions and coriander for the adults).

And they’re cooked in no time at all, completing the recipe golden triangle of interesting, easy and delicious.

Makanan ini enak!

Cucur Udang

1 cup self-raising flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
(for colour, optional)
250g cooked prawns
4 spring onions,
thinly sliced
125g can corn kernels, drained
Handful of bean sprouts
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
2 eggs, whisked
Canola oil, for frying
White pepper

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and turmeric (if using).

Peel and devein the prawns then chop them into a texture to suit your family (I need to nearly mince mine). Add to the bowl with the spring onion, corn and bean sprouts.

Mix it all together and add the chilli sauce, egg and pepper. Add 1 cup water, a little at a time, until you have a good batter consistency.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium–high heat. Spoon in ¼ cup amounts of the mixture and cook for a couple of minutes. Turn over and cook the other side until golden and cooked through. Drain on paper towel.

Serve the fritters with salad and bean sprouts.



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What the kids eat in… Mexico (part 2)

Recently we were having all sorts of discussions about quick summer dinners and the challenges of vegie smuggling in salads. Hiding vegies in salads is much harder and these dishes are best for kids further along on the smuggling scale (ie, they’ll tackle vaguely identifiable stuff).

If you’re lucky enough to have herbivorous kids like that, then you’ve got a great range of tasty dishes awaiting you. Including these Mexican-inspired side dishes. They’re perfect in tortillas (jumbled together, with or without some grilled chicken or fish) or dollop small amounts on crackers for pre-dinner snacks. They’re even good on burgers and on top of hotdogs.

Adults can top theirs with some pickled jalapenos or fresh chilli and before you know it, dinner is served. Quickly, freshly and packed full of nutrition.

I’m giving you my guacamole recipe here. For the salsa and mexi-beans recipes…. well you’ll find them on page 121 of the cookbook.

guacamole salsa recipe

Margaritas, sombreros and a bit of goodness on the side


1 avocado, peeled, diced
2 spring onions, finely diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 garlic clove, crushed (optional, but recommended)
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander (optional)
Salt & pepper

Combine everything in a small bowl. Season to taste.

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What the kids eat in… China

Actually, I suspect more folks outside of China might actually eat this dish. But let’s not worry about pesky facts and just enjoy this delicious messy mass of tasty goodness. I did try to research the origins, but perhaps it’s one of those ‘from everywhere’ dishes with no particular source, although I did see claims of origin from Thai to Cantonese to the good ol’ USA. One cute internet fact (and maybe even true) is that the name translates as ‘lettuce delights’, which sounds so lovely!

I got thinking about this dish after my 14-year-old niece whipped up a version at a recent family get-together. At 14 I could melt cheese onto corn chips in the microwave, she can whip up a meal for 12 people. Very impressive stuff. The kids LOVED having her cook for them and ate up every little morsel. So I’m naming this dish in her honour.

Apparently teenagers aren’t necessarily too fussed on vegies either, so I’ve built on her recipe quite a bit, smuggling in a stack load more vegies. Use iceberg lettuce to wrap the mixture up as tightly as possible. The result is hot/cold/crunchy and absolutely delicious. Just keep a washer handy and lettuce delight indeed…

Chicken mince in sang choy bow

Lettuce delights for your munching pleasure

Sarah’s sang choy bao

2 tbsp shao hsing wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp corn flour

Lettuce leaves (iceberg or cos both work well)
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 onion, finely diced
500g chicken mince
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
4 green onions, finely sliced
225g tin water chestnuts, drained, finely diced
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
125g can corn kernels

Combine all of the sauce ingredients together and set aside. Carefully remove whole lettuce leaves, wash and drain on clean tea towels.

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add the onion and stirfry for 3-4 minutes until translucent and turning golden.

Add the chicken mince and stirfry until it changes from pink to white. Break up lumps as you go to ensure there are no hidden raw bits.

Add the garlic, ginger, green onions, water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrot and corn. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the green onions are tender and the mushrooms are nice and soft. Pour the sauce over the top and stir-fry for another minute or two until everything is piping hot and cooked thoroughly. (NOTE: if you are making this to reheat later, leave everything slightly undercooked)

Spoon -1 cup quantities of mixture into the lettuce leaves, wrap up carefully and enjoy!

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What the kids eat in… Mexico

Rest assured Victorians, I’m not talking about you, but that colourful, warm territory to the south of that big scary country (the bossy one that cruises the world picking fights with little countries, pushing freedom and the right to eat donuts for breakfast, get morbidly obese then craned out of our house by emergency services). The territory of Dora and Frida Kahlo, where there’s a fantastic cuisine that stars in the Vegie Smuggling atlas. It’s healthy, with lots of legumes and salad, often served snugly in tortillas that hide the worst of the healthy stuff and leave the kids seduced by cheese and guacamole.

This Australian/Mexican quesadilla recipe warms my heart for many reasons – 1. It’s quick to make. 2. It’s fun to eat. 3. You can pretty much keep everything you need long term in the pantry, which makes it a perfect last minute/after work meal.

Another factor which makes it a VS winner is that it can be easily adapted to suit various members of the family which means you can get everyone eating the same meal with a minimum of fuss (add chillis or bottled jalapenos, leave out the coriander or add extra cheese).

Here’s a tip – the first time you make it, the flipping can be a bit nerve wracking. Mini tortillas make it much more manageable.

Tuna quesadillas

Dora eats these tuna quesadillas, and so should you!

Tuna Quesadillas

185g can tuna in springwater
185g can tuna in olive oil
125g can corn kernels, drained
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
125g can four bean mix, rinsed, drained
¼ red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
Black pepper
1 cup grated cheddar or mozzarella
10 ready-made tortillas

Drain the tuna in springwater and place in a mixing bowl. Add the undrained tin of tuna in olive oil and the rest of the ingredients except for the tortillas. Mix until combined.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat.

Carefully separate the tortillas (heat for a few seconds in the microwave if they are sticking). Place one on a chopping board, cover generously with the tuna mix and top with another tortilla.

Slide the tortilla sandwich carefully into the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula, ease out of the pan onto a large plate, hold the top with your hand and flip over. Carefully place back in the pan to cook for 3-4 minutes on the other side until the tortillas are crisp and the cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining mix and tortillas.



Like this recipe? Check out my cookbooks to find a bunch more meals that your family will love.

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