Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cooking Casebook: Chicken Parmesan


These days, I've been trying to reduce our red meat intake, and I'm trying to improve on my repertoire of chicken and fish dishes. However, I must admit, I'm not too good in cooking chicken, unless it's in a soup dish. I tend to overcook it (same goes for fish!), and I find it hard to get it tender and moist.

One day though, I was browsing for recipes and ideas for cooking chicken, and came across this one for Chicken Parmesan, which promised a crispier crust. I looked at the ingredients and decided to try it, since it looked like something the kids might enjoy (who can resist all that melted cheese!). It turned out to be a winner, with a yummy crust and tender meat inside, and everyone loved it. So here's sharing our own modified version of the recipe:


CHICKEN PARMESAN
(Serves 4)

Ingredients
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 eggs
2 cups of panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/3 cup olive oil 
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes (not shredded)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil 
Salt and pepper


Method:

1. It is best to season the chicken breasts the night before with salt and pepper. Depending on your preference, you may also want to cut each piece of meat into half or thirds.

2. Preheat oven to 230ºC.

3. Place chicken pieces in a large ziplock bag and seal the bag. Pound the chicken with a meat mallet to a thickness of about 1 cm.

4. Beat eggs in a bowl.

5. Mix bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of Parmesan in another bowl.

6. Sift flour over the chicken pieces, evenly coating both sides.

7. Dip the chicken in the beaten eggs, then transfer the chicken to the bread crumb mixture, coating both sides. Repeat for each piece of chicken, then set aside for about 15 minutes.

8. Heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a large skillet, or buffet casserole (the latter allows you to do all the cooking in one pot) at medium high heat. Fry chicken pieces until golden, which requires a few minutes on each side.

9. Transfer chicken pieces into a baking dish (if you are using the buffet casserole, just drain away the excess oil). Top each piece with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil, then sprinkle a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese as well as a tablespoon of olive oil.

10. Bake in the oven until cheese is browned and bubbly, and chicken is cooked through, which would take approximately 15-20 minutes.

11. Serve on top of pasta, or in our case, fried potato slices.


Tips:

1. If you are cooking this for kids, you may want to chop the chicken breasts into smaller pieces (thirds or quarters) before coating them. In general, I find my kids love this dish because of the crust, so the smaller the pieces, the more crust there is for them!

2. Using a pot that can go from stovetop to oven is helpful. In our case, using the Le Creuset buffet casserole meant I could fry the chicken on the stove, and then pop the pot in the oven directly. This was more convenient, and also meant less washing up to do!


PS: This post is the second in a series of posts written in collaboration with Le Creuset Singapore. We were sponsored products for purpose of these posts, and no monetary compensation was received. Stay tuned for more family friendly recipes to come!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cooking Casebook: Easy BBQ pork ribs


I know, I know, I've been missing from this space for a really long time! Life has been really full, and we've been busy with the regular going-ons of everyday life. And speaking of busy, I've been spending a fair bit of time in the kitchen cooking our meals, and these days I'm very blessed to have the boys help out in the kitchen with the cooking.


Having so many little cooks trying to help means I'm always on the look out for easy to prepare dishes that appeal to everyone's tummies. This recipe for oven-baked ribs happens to be one of them. It's straightforward, doesn't require much preparation or monitoring, and the steps are simple enough for the kids to help (that's them in the photo mixing up the rub for the ribs)! I always get requests for the recipe every time I post a photo of these on Instagram (you can follow our family cooking exploits over @justtey), so I decided I should just write up the recipe here. Our recipe is adapted from this one, and is the main reason why we no longer order baby back ribs when we are dining out (because it's much cheaper to cook your own!).


EASY BBQ PORK RIBS
(Serves 4)


Ingredients
1 kg of baby back ribs
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup of BBQ sauce

Method
1. Preheat oven to 160ºC.

2. Mince the garlic. (We usually use the chopper that comes with our hand-held blender, and the kids love blitzing the garlic!)

3. Mix garlic, sugar, and salt together to make the rub. Apply rub on all sides of the ribs.


4. Place ribs, meaty side down, in a cast-iron pot (we use our Le Creuset buffet casserole, but a French oven should work too).

5. Bake with the cover on, for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and drain the excess liquid. Increase the oven temperature to 180ºC.


6. Brush on the BBQ sauce on top, then flip the ribs and brush the other side.


7. Return the ribs to the oven, and bake uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the ribs (just keep one eye out to see that they do not get burnt!).

8. And you are done! Serve with pasta or potatoes (in this case we paired the ribs with hasselback potatoes and steamed veggies), and enjoy!

They really love the ribs, and this kid can eat 2 to 3 ribs in one sitting!

Some points/tips to note:

1. On buying ribs: It would be best to use baby back ribs for this recipe, as those are more tender. We used a different cut in the pictures, and we find that the meatier and leaner cuts tend to become dry during the cooking process (you can read more about the different cuts here). We purchase our ribs from the wet market, as we find that the pork ribs from the supermarket tend to have a strong smell. I usually ask our butcher to chop the ribs into individual pieces, as I want the flavour of the rub to go in during the cooking process. However, you can also cook the ribs together as one slab, and cut them into individual pieces later, before brushing on the BBQ sauce.

2. On the cooking process: The original recipe required the ribs to be wrapped in aluminium foil, but I was cautioned by some readers about the use of aluminium foil in cooking. Hence, I adapted this recipe to use our Le Creuset buffet casserole instead, and it does a good job sealing in the moisture and flavour during the cooking process. I have yet to try it, but I think a French/Dutch oven would work as well. For those without, you can use a baking tray and cover the top with aluminium foil, however, do note you would probably need to lower the initial baking temperature to 150ºC.

3. On the use of garlic: The original recipe calls for the use of garlic powder, but we've stopped buying garlic powder, as I find it clumps up quickly in storage due to the humidity in SG. I love how freshly minced garlic gives more flavour to the ribs!

4. On brushing the sauce: If your kids are helping out, a basting brush with a longer handle would be preferred, as the ribs are very hot! Brushes with silicone bristles are also better, for the same reason, and our Venus basting brush is perfect for the job. The boys love brushing on the sauce, saying that it is like "painting with BBQ sauce"!


PS: This post is the first in a series of posts written in collaboration with Le Creuset Singapore. We were sponsored products for purpose of these posts, and no monetary compensation was received. Do stay tuned for more easy recipes to try with your kids!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Making math fun


Hello March, I can't believe you are here! These days, life has been so full, and it's been hard to find time to do any writing. However, amidst the mess and mayhem of each day, we've been making slow, steady progress with regards to homeschooling, and these days both Junior J and Lil J do a certain amount of seat work on weekdays.

For those who have been reading this blog for awhile, you would know that we've been using Math U See for our main curriculum (you can click here to read more about the curriculum). Math U See has been great for helping them to get a good foundation in Math, but I admit it is pretty dry. Junior J more or less just bulldozes through his math work each day, and he's currently learning multiplication (we are at the Gamma level for Math U See now).

Learning multiplication can get pretty boring, and I felt like math these days was starting to feel like a chore. I really wanted to make math more interesting, so I went searching for ways to make multiplication more fun for Junior J. In my search, I came across the concept of multiplication circles (from this post), which lets kids make patterns based on the times tables, using yarn. It seemed like an interesting way to let the kids practice their skip counting and multiplication (the younger kids can just wrap the yarn by counting in 2s/3s/4s etc without having to memorize the actual numbers for skip counting), so I made our own circle using an IKEA cork coaster and small nails. Most DIY multiplication circles are made using a piece of wood or an embroidery hoop, but I thought a coaster would be easier, since this meant I could push the nails in without needing to hammer them. The older two had fun making the patterns, and I loved that it was a kinaesthetic way of learning how to skip count! (And in case someone asks, the multiplication target circle worksheets pictured above are from this site.)


That aside, I introduced the concept of spirolaterals to Junior J (this is probably suitable for older kids from six and up). Spirolaterals basically are spiral patterns that are drawn using the times table, and different times tables yield different patterns (you can get a good guide to drawing them from this post). Junior J was fascinated, and couldn't wait to work out all his times tables so that he could see what kind of patterns would result! It was really interesting to see the different patterns slowly forming, and the boy really loved colouring them.

And since we were on the topic of spirals, I decided to introduce the concept of Fibonacci numbers for the fun of it. We mapped out the sequence on graph paper and I showed Junior J the spiral that resulted. He was intrigued and was really excited to see how this spiral is found in so many natural structures in nature, and how frequently Fibonacci numbers appear in nature (eg. the number of petals in a flower). (This is a good read if you would like to find out more.)


All in all, we (myself included) had quite a bit of fun working on these activities, and it made learning math pretty fun as well as more meaningful. I'm hoping to do more of such activities in the future!

PS: These activities aside, we've been supplementing our math learning with the Life of Fred books (you can read more here). Life of Fred has been great, since it introduces math through stories, but do note it cannot be a stand-alone curriculum for teaching math. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

The power of a story: The Snail and the Whale

Painting by Junior J, and writing by Lil J, after watching the production. 
Stories are amazing things. They connect people. They sometimes give hope, or inspiration. They can also let you travel the world, without you having to leave your own room! Which is the case in "The Snail and the Whale", a production by Tall Stories in conjunction with KidsFest 2017.


This production is based on the picture book of the same name by author Julia Donaldson, and in it, we see how a father tells this story to his little girl. He has to go off to sea as he is in the Navy, but the story connects him to his daughter across the waters. He records it while he is out at sea, and sends it to her to listen. The two stories are intertwined together, where the spunky daughter imagines herself to be the snail that is going on adventures, while the father is the whale, brave and reliable. The stories are narrated through the grown-up version of the little girl, which helps to tie up the two stories together.


We had the opportunity to watch "The Snail and the Whale" yesterday evening, and the kids and I throughly enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised by this stage adaptation of the book. I had the impression it would just be a direct adaptation with lots of under the sea props, but I was so wrong! This story within a story was a delightful approach, and it was heartwarming to see the way the father and daughter played and pretended to go on adventures together. In a sense, it was a reminder to me to enjoy my kids' childhood, and learn to play along with them. It was also meaningful to see how stories can connect parents and children together, and in fact, the idea of having the father record the story was based on a real organisation, Storybook Soldiers, which helps British military personnel record bedtime stories for their children to listen to when they are away. 

The kids also enjoyed the production very much. There were many funny parts, and lots of kidding around between the father and daughter, and the jokes and bantering made them laugh so! Junior J, being older, could catch most of the jokes and was chuckling most of the time, while Lil J also caught on most of the time. They were still repeating some of the funny bits during dinner after the play! Small J was a little lost at times, but he was engaged and sat through the entire show. However, because of the "ping-pong-ing" between the two stories, I felt it might be a little confusing for the younger ones. This production would probably be better appreciated by those aged 5 and up, although I think the slightly younger kids would still enjoy it. It would also be great to read the story with the kids first, before watching this.


The cast was stellar. Tim Hibberd, who acted as the father, was engaging, and really funny (Junior J kept repeating his jokes!), and he and Amy Tobias were a great match for the father-daughter pair. But I was most impressed with Charlotte Mafham, who not only did the narration, but also played the viola for the music accompaniment for the production. From what I read, all the music and sound effects (from the blowing of the ships horns to the rumbling of speed boats) were all produced LIVE on stage using a single viola paired with a microphone and repeat pedal. Which meant that Ms. Mafham not only had to act, sing and narrate, but play the viola and produce all the sound effects! Impressive or what?

I remember the warm fuzzy feeling I had the first time I read the book, because it was such a lovely story about friendship, bravery, and daring to venture beyond our comfort zones. I had that same feeling when I walked out of the theatre after watching this production. All in all, I would say go catch this with your kids, especially your older ones! You can book your tickets here, and details are as follows (it's only playing this weekend, so go go go!):

Dates: Thu (9th Feb) - Sun (12th Feb)
Times: Various timeslots (click here from more details and timeslots)
Venue: KC Arts Centre (20 Merbau Road, Robertson Quay, Singapore 239035) 

Disclaimer: We were kindly sponsored tickets to this production for purpose of this review. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are my own. The photos used in this post are courtesy of KidsFest

Friday, January 27, 2017

Goodbye 2016, hello 2017!

I know we are almost coming to an end of the first month of 2017, but I figured the eve of the Lunar New Year would be as good as any time to look back at 2016! It was a really full year. So full, that I found myself neglecting this space as there was just no time at all to write!


The highlight of the year would have to be the arrival of Baby J. She arrived in the wee hours of Lunar New Year, and she now adds a certain softness to our loud and rowdy household of little boys.


It has been the most amazing year of seeing these four kids growing up together, each so different in their personalities. They teach me lessons every day, and while most days are long and sometimes hard, I thank God for blessing us with them. They are the ones who drive me to my knees, and yet are also the ones who make my heart sing. 2016 has seen Junior J and Lil J growing in maturity, and we've seen so much growth in Lil J in terms of his strong will. This year has taught them how to love and care for each other, and I am so very thankful for them.


2016 also was our first year officially homeschooling. I say officially, because we had a kid who was supposed to be in Primary One, but we successfully applied for exemption. It took quite awhile for us to get into a workable rhythm because of the move, as well as having to care for a newborn, but I am glad things are now moving slowly along. Junior J has been progressing pretty well with regards to learning, and it has been so satisfying learning alongside with him. Lil J has joined us with regards to desk work and has been learning phonics, math and Chinese, and we will be applying for exemption for him later this year. I must say I am really excited about what 2017 has in store for us with regards to homeschooling! (You can read about what a typical day looks like for us here.)


2016 was also the year we bought our new place, survived the renovations and moved. The packing, renovations and move was a huge thing for us. This was our first ever move since getting married, and we had so much stuff to shift! To date, I still have some stuff that isn't unpacked, and the home could do with another good round of decluttering. That aside, we have another round of renovations to complete, as we only did selective renovations at the start due to budget constraints. Whatever the case, I am glad we have settled into our new home, and are slowly doing up the spaces as we go along.


We decided to do away with birthday parties this year, and focused on family traditions such as having pancakes for breakfast, and making a cake for the birthday kid. I am so glad we made that decision, since that really helped to reduce stress (I can't imagine planning for four parties a year!). It has been quite a learning experience too, since I never baked much until after the move.


Since the move, I've been enjoying cooking for the family, and the kids have been joining me more frequently in the kitchen to help out. I am starting to enjoy planning meals and hosting friends, and it now feels like a blessing to be able to feed people! I'm hoping to get the kids even more involved in the year ahead.


2016 was a really stressful year for us, especially for the hubby, since we purchased our new home. I am so thankful for how he has been such a pillar of strength in the family, and how he still manages to help out at home and with the kids even though he can be tired after a long busy day at work. We couldn't have done what we did in 2016 if not for him!

And finally, on the personal front, 2016 has been quite a year of learning and growth. However, it has meant my plate has been so full, and many a times it threatens to overflow. I am so thankful for the hubby and good friends who keep me grounded, and for all the opportunities given to me to explore. But because of that very full plate, something had to give. As such, I cut down on blogging, and made a shift to Instagram (where you'd find most of my updates these days). In a sense, this shift was liberating. Previously I felt the need to blog frequently as a way of remembering things. However, I've found that IG can achieve that same purpose, and yet takes up far less time, and it freed up my time so that I could get my chores or homeschool preparation done. I won't stop blogging just yet, since I realize I still enjoy writing, but I don't think posts here will be as frequent as before. (A big thank you to all of you who still pop by to read this little blog!)

All in all, 2016 has been fruitful, in many sense of the word. I thank God for His faithfulness and for bringing us through such a full year, and I am looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us!


Here's wishing everyone a happy Lunar New Year, and may the Year of the Rooster be a blessed one!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

J3 turns 3


December tends to be a flurry of festivities in our home, because the hubs, myself, as well as J3 celebrate our birthdays in the last month of the year. Add Christmas to the mix, and things do get pretty hectic! (Which is the main reason why I've not blogged for this whole month!)

Anyway, I'm popping in to record down J3's third birthday. I cannot believe this little baby boy is now three!


Dearest Small J,
You turned three this month. I think sometimes you feel a little conflicted: you don't enjoy being called a crybaby and being bullied by your older brothers, yet you also like the attention you get for being the "baby" of the family. You've looked forward to your birthday so much, and in particular you were excited about all the food you could get to eat! You had pancakes for breakfast on the day of your birthday, and you had them on a Moomin plate, because those Moomin remind you of hippos. Hippos these days are still one of your favourite animals.


We've stopped throwing parties for all of you for now. Instead, we let you choose a place to visit on the day of your birthday. You chose to go to the Animal Resort, because you absolutely love feeding animals. It is almost impossible to tear you away from the goats at the zoo, because you love feeding them, and all you could talk about after our Melbourne trip was how you got to feed the wallabies and wombats. 


So off we went to the Animal Resort, and you had a field day feeding all the animals, including the horse. You were rather apprehensive about feeding the horse, but you did it!



Your Ah Kong and Ah Ma had come all the way down to visit especially for your birthday, and we had dinner with all four grandparents. You had planned the menu weeks back, asking for satay, and pizza and cake. And as time went by the list grew longer. You wanted watermelon. You added cookies and cream icecream. You kept reminding me that the cake had to be a chocolate cake. We managed to make or buy most of the food on your wish-list, save for the ice-cream, because all the cookies and cream icecream I found had egg in them, which your older brother couldn't eat. But you were content because you got to eat a mini Magnum instead.


Have I told you what a little foodie you are? You are always trying to get out of doing work, by saying you are just a little boy. But when it comes to snacks, you are a big boy who wants a big portion!


And chocolate. Don't get me started about chocolate. You are crazy about chocolate. I think it was because I ate so much chocolate when I was expecting you. These days, you are always flinging open the fridge and standing there with an empty bowl, asking for chocolate. I wish you were so enthusiastic about your main meals, but snacks are your thing. Just the other day you were refusing to help to return your dirty bowl or to set the table. But when Papa's birthday cake came out, you immediately trotted off to the kitchen, got yourself a plate and fork, and sat down to wait for a piece. 


Oh, and the cake. You asked to help make it, so you did. But you ran off halfway, so Lil J helped me to finish making the cheesecake. We used this recipe, and the cake was so rich and good.


However, I think you ate way too much cake. After the cake, you asked to try the durian that we had purchased, and the strong smell made you throw up! But you weren't fazed, since after that you just ate more cake to make up for it.


You are such a affectionate little fellow, and a ray of sunshine in our home. I know it is hard being the youngest of three boys, and being pushed around all the time. Some days you cry until you are hoarse, and complain that your kokos are "dee-turbing me". But though you complain about them, you still love hanging out with your brothers. I love watching the three of you together when you play. Sometimes, Lil J declares he is your Papa and he takes care of you. Sometimes, all of you ride on pillows and sail away on adventures.

I especially love watching you play with your little sister. You love hanging out with her, and though you sometimes pinch her cheeks way too hard, it warms my heart to see how you are so affectionate towards her. You love being in the thick of things, and you would always get really upset when we talk about the times before you were born, because you would insist you were there!

These days, you have been doing a lot more doodling and scribbling, and your older brothers try to teach you to draw various things. You love singing songs and making up your own crazy lyrics ("Super Mario, you are naughty when you throw my paper away!"). You still drop your "S"s and sometimes we have to check with your brothers to understand what you are saying ("I ate bee-keet at yarn-day kool" = I ate biscuits at Sunday School). I secretly love your kiddy intonations, because they remind me that you are still our baby.


We cannot believe you are three, and all grown up! (But no, no more chocolate for you.) Happy Birthday, and may God continue to mold and shape you!

Love,
Your Mama and Papa

Monday, November 28, 2016

And so, 9 months


Dearest Baby J,
Two weeks ago, while everyone was in an uproar about the US elections, you quietly turned 9 months. I keep saying this, but I'll say it again, I cannot believe how fast time has flown, and that you will no longer be a baby in 3 months time. How quickly you've grown, while we've been busy trying to take care of all of you. How beautifully you've grown, into a smiley little ray of sunshine in our home.


The past month has seen you becoming a whole lot more clingy. You only want Mama at certain times of the day, and you will scream and wail if anyone else carries you. You are also very attached to Papa and your brothers, and you enjoy just crawling around while your brothers play near you. Nothing makes you happier than to be on the floor, meddling with your brothers' trucks, and trying to press the pedals on the piano. You love sitting in when your brother practices his cello, and he likes playing "Twinkle Twinkle" for you to hear.

You've started babbling a whole lot more, and will demand for "mum mum" when you are hungry. And boy do you love your food! You enjoy your porridge, and you love tofu and pumpkin and baby biscuits (which your brothers are always trying to steal from you). You let out an occasional "Papa" (much to Papa's delight), but you certainly know your way to Mama's heart, because you are the first kid in the family to call "Mama" before "Papa". All your brothers did the "Papapapa" thing first, but you, it's always Mama.


You've been pulling up to stand, and are starting to cruise a little. You are one really wriggly worm, and diaper changes are a huge challenge because you are the fastest escapee of the family! You'd think we'd be so accustomed to these milestones since you are the fourth kid, but I think I'll never tire of seeing all of you grow and hit your milestones.

Speaking of milestones, your teeth were pretty slow in coming, and about one month ago you still only had four little teeth. Then all of a sudden, you started sprouting 5 teeth at one shot! You've been biting everyone, and chewing everything, and you're also at the clawing stage, so my arms bear the brunt of your little nails and teeth.


It's been  fun dressing you up in all those little dresses, and you've been blessed with so many pretty hand-me-downs that we've hardly had to buy any clothes for you. You are a bead addict, and love chewing on silicone bead necklaces. I've given up trying to put hairbands on you, since I've never figured out how to wear them properly so that you don't look like a lion, and you're always trying to pull them off.

Seeing you grow each day has been such a blessing. Please slow down, little girl, and we love you so!

Love,
Your Mama and Papa.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Weekend Wanderings: Charlotte's Web


Last weekend we brought the boys to watch Charlotte's Web, while my dad helped me to babysit Baby J. I had really looked forward to catching the play with the kids, since Charlotte's Web is one of my favourite books (but one that never fails to make me cry every time I read it!). This stage adaptation of the book by E.B. White didn't disappoint, and managed to bring to life the story of Wilbur the pig and his unlikely friendship with Charlotte the spider. Wilbur is saved from going under the butcher's knife by the ingenuity of Charlotte, who spins messages on her web to praise Wilbur. The story is a wonderful reminder of how true friendship transcends any of our differences, and always protects and seeks to serve, and I really enjoyed the play by The Little Company.


The cast was stellar, and I was quite amazed at how effortlessly they juggled all the characters in the story between the six of them. Sharda Harrison was wonderful as Charlotte, with her acrobatics and acting (although I found her striped get-up a little distracting).


The hubby especially liked the character of Templeton, who was played by Dwayne Lau. He brought to life the rat's calculative and greedy nature perfectly!


The kids and I loved the farm animals: Wilbur the pig (by Ann Lek), Gander (by Ivan Atienza), Goose (by Ethel Yap) and Sheep (by Matheus Ting). Each played their role so well, and the geese especially made me smile with their quirky characters!


Junior J and Lil J enjoyed the play tremendously, since they were familiar with the story (I had previously read the book to them). Small J, though quiet throughout the play, got rather restless nearing the last twenty minutes. I would say that this play is more suited for those five and up, since the humour and dialogue are more complex, and there is no singing and dancing involved. Also, I think it would be great to read the book with the kids before attending the play, to allow the kids to have a better appreciation of the story.


All in all, I'd say get those tickets if you have kids five and above!

Details for the play are as follows:
Date: Fri, 28 Oct - Sun, 11 Dec 2016
Time: Weekends & Public Holiday : 11am & 2pm
Weekdays : 10am, 1.30pm, 2pm, 2.30pm, 3pm
Venue: KC Art Centre - Home of SRT

You can purchase your tickets here on Sistic. Do note that discounts apply for family packages as well as Three Little Pigs ticket stub holders.

Disclaimer: We were kindly sponsored tickets for purpose of this review. All production photos were obtained from the Singapore Repertory Theatre's FB page. No monetary compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

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