Chocolate Protein Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Pumpkin Pie Chocolate SmoothieYes, I’ve fallen into the “pumpkin everything” trap. I told myself I wouldn’t succumb to those sneaky marketing ploys from the big chains and ignore the fact that it’s already September, and we’re supposed to be falling in line (no pun intended) with the fall-themed script: pumpkin, pumpkin and more pumpkin. I wasn’t going to do it. Wasn’t ready. Wasn’t feeling the pumpkin everything vibe.

But then, you know, this funny thing called pregnancy got the best of me. I saw a recipe for a pumpkin smoothie somewhere and suddenly my mind could not stop thinking about making one. Maybe all the stealthy marketing campaigns got to me. But suddenly, my mind was all pumpkin, and there was no stopping me until I had my fix.

But still another thing happened this week to lead to the creation of this smoothie — another thing that I can definitively blame on my pregnancy. I got my results back for my 1-hour glucose screening test — something I thought I would pass with flying colors, given my pre-pregnancy history of actually having low glucose levels on all my blood tests — and the results were not as I planned. My glucose levels were high. Now, I realize that a lot of women actually have this happen and they do end up passing their 3-hour test when all is said and done, without a diagnosis of gestational diabetes (I take my follow-up test next week, just to be sure). But the initial realization that my glucose was fairly high, along with even the possibility of having gestational diabetes looming in my mind, had me really re-thinking my diet and trying to re-imagine a diet plan if a gestational diabetes diagnosis were in my future.

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Tailgating: Crispy Treats & Caramel Corn Remix

caramel corn - sugar free and vegan

Well, while the weather is still warm it’s pretty hard to deny that fall has arrived. Network TV shows are slowly making their way back into the primetime lineup, the days are getting just a bit shorter, and there is a noticeable chill in the air at night.  But what the arrival of fall really means to me is that football season has arrived, and my weekends will consumed with football for the foreseeable future.

Since moving back to Michigan, Gennaro and I have had season tickets for football at the Big House. We met and fell in love as students at Michigan (albeit a few years apart grade-wise) and got married in Ann Arbor. So heading back there has a special significance outside of the fact that we’re returning to our alma matter. And for these reasons and many more, Michigan football Saturdays and all of their surrounding traditions have carved out a special place in my heart.

caramel corn remix

Since we normally spend our time before games as guests at other people’s tailgates, I thought that for this past weekend’s game against Notre Dame — which had an 8 p.m. kickoff and thus a long day of tailgating prior — I would actually contribute something of my own making, rather than just buying pre-packaged food or drinks to share. Not to mention I love an opportunity to make and share vegan-friendly tailgating treats.

I decided to make some well-loved sweets that have been popular among varying taste buds in the past: caramel corn and coconut-almond rice crispy treats. However, I made some (successful) changes to both recipes that I wanted to share here.

While I usually get lots of compliments whenever I bring my rice crispy treats anywhere, the one problem with them is that they do tend to fall apart a bit when left unrefrigerated for long periods of time. Keeping in mind that this recipe would have to survive a day of tailgating in warm weather, I made the following changes to adapt to a tailgating setting (as well as some other minor new touches). Here’s my Rice Crispy Treat Remix (original recipe here):

  • I used a full cup of almond butter instead of half a cup, just to help things stick together a bit more
  • I used a tip from my mom and used Eastwind no salt creamy almond butter, which just seems to have a really nice, sticky texture for making these stay together really well.
  • I toasted the coconut in a dry skillet until golden and fragrant before adding to the mixture, for added flavor.
  • I tasted for sweetness and added just a tiny bit more coconut nectar to balance out the almond butter.

vegan, sugar-free, gluten free rice crispies

As far as the caramel corn goes, when I originally made the recipe it was intended to be an anti-candida diet friendly sweet, as it is sweetened with very low glycemic yacon syrup and zero calorie stevia. However, I’ve found that yacon can be difficult to find, even at many health food stores, and is quite expensive for a small bottle. Stevia, on the other hand, varies in taste and sweetness between brands, making it imperative that only one brand be used in my recipe, as any others would render it way too sweet.

My mom (again — ah, what would I do without my mother?) told me that she likes to use my original recipe and substitute coconut nectar for the yacon syrup and forego any stevia. I decided to follow her lead, while making some other changes as well. Here’s my Caramel Corn Remix (see previous recipe for reference): 

  • I used coconut nectar instead of yacon in my updated recipe, but basically doubled the coconut nectar to about 1 1/4 cups (versus much less yacon syrup previously) and spread it out over about 10 cups of popcorn (as opposed to about 16 cups in the original recipe). You can add more coconut nectar to taste for a sweeter, well-coated mixture.
  • I opted out of using any stevia.
  • I used about 1/3 cup of buttery spread, which was a bit more than in the original recipe (especially considering I spread it over less popped popcorn).
  • I used whole raw almonds in place of the pecan pieces (though any nut, including cashews or walnuts could be used).
  • I baked the caramel corn at 275 degrees instead of 250, as my mom did say that it took her longer to get the recipe crunchy using the coconut nectar. Just watch it carefully and toss it often to make sure nothing gets too browned.
  • After the caramel corn had cooled slightly after cooking, I added fruit sweetened dried cranberries for a tart and sweet finish.
  • I made sure the caramel corn was completely cool before packaging up for the tailgate (just an added tip).

So, how did everything turn out? Well, unfortunately my efforts proved superfluous and there was SO MUCH food to be had at every tailgate. However, those who did try my contributions gave thumbs-up! And Gennaro ate the entirety of the leftover caramel corn at about 2:30 in the morning, which was when we actually returned home from Ann Arbor following Saturday’s night game. As I told one of my fellow Wolverine friends the next day: next year, I’m going to wear a t-shirt I saw someone else sporting that says “I’m too old for night games”, because that’s how I felt after Saturday. But something tells by next year I’ll be just as excited to spend a day in Ann Arbor, tailgating with old friends and snacking on vegan treats (contrary to popular belief, the two are not mutually exclusive!). Go Blue!

tailgating

No, those aren’t overalls. It’s an apron I was temporarily wearing while pretending to know how to mix drinks. Thankfully, no one asked for one, or they may have been sorely disappointed. And yes, I am wearing shorts underneath! The scene was much less scandalous than this looks…

 

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Sweet Potato-Chocolate Pudding

sweet potato chocolate puddingThis pudding reminds me of a mix between a chocolate pudding and the filling of a sweet potato pie. If that sounds strange to you, let me assure you that it’s surprisingly delicious in some inexplicable way. I first got the idea to do a sweet potato pudding at a seminar I went to at the NAVS Vegetarian Summerfest. I can’t remember how that version was prepared, or whether or not chocolate was added. But over the weekend, I had two large sweet potatoes/yams sitting on my counter and was antsy to get creative. This delicious sweet potato-chocolate fusion pudding was the result.

Since it’s made with really healthy ingredients — whole, plant-based foods with no added oils — this pudding makes not only a guilt-free dessert, but can also be eaten as a healthy snack or even as part of your breakfast. Since I still have to take a number of pills and supplements as part of my ongoing Lyme-related treatment, I do need to eat something in addition to my morning green smoothie that is a bit more substantial to coat my stomach. On the other hand, I try to keep my breakfasts very clean and plant-based, and try to avoid processed or heavy breakfasts that are going to make me feel sluggish in the morning. A sweet potato-based pudding like this one makes a perfect compromise between getting enough substance while still eating very clean.

Not to mention you’re filling your body with amazing vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients while getting your chocolate fix! This pudding will keep you full and fueled while keeping you from craving more processed and unhealthy sweets.

A few notes on this recipe:

  • This is one of those recipes that would be best in a high powered blender such as Vitamix. However, if using a standard blender or even food processor, I think this could work if the chia seeds were replaced with ground chia powder. I have not used this product but have been seeing it recently in stores and imagine it would have the same “thickening” properties as whole chia seeds. So, if anyone wants to experiment with that option, please leave a comment and let me know how it works out!
  • I used stevia in this recipe to keep the sugar content down, but since there is no baking science involved here, I imagine one could play around with different sweeteners. Though more liquid-y sweeteners might make this less “pudding” textured.
  • This recipe refrigerates very well — in fact, the flavors get better after about a day.
  • To cook my sweet potatoes, I used two large yams/sweet potatoes (I can never remember the difference) and placed them on a foil-line baking sheet. I baked for about 45-50 minutes in a 400 degree oven, turning once and piercing with a fork after about 30 minutes. Once they cooled a bit, I removed the skins and mashed in a large glass bowl. This yielded almost exactly 3 cups of cooked sweet potato once mashed (plus a tiny bit extra for Woodley). I would definitely recommend fresh sweet potato over canned for this recipe.
  • Shaved chocolate pieces on top (as seen in the photo) are entirely optional but very delicious.
  • I designate the brand of stevia used in this recipe because, with stevia in particular, I find that different brands yield drastically different levels of sweetness. Plus, I find NuNaturals to be not as bitter as other liquid stevias. Again, I am sure a variety of sweeteners would work well here, but I would use caution in terms of how much you add just to be safe.

Sweet Potato-Chocolate Pudding:

Serves: about 4

Ingredients:

3 cups cooked mashed sweet potato (skins removed)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon NuNaturals clear liquid stevia (plus 5-10 more drops to taste)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground clove

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender such as Vitamix and blend well, until very smooth. Taste for sweetness and add more stevia  to liking.

2. Scrape out ingredients into a glass bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 2-3 hours, before serving.

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Chocolate Coconut Clusters

chocolate coconut clusters (vegan, gluten-free, oil free)

This recipe was derived out of a total craving-meets-empty fridge situation. What do you do when you want an after dinner sweet, but when the sweetest thing in your cupboard is a bag of freeze dried raspberries? Well, you raid the freezer, cupboards and pantry, throw something together that resembles something “normal” people would call dessert, and hope it works.

And, thankfully, it did!

Since making these last Saturday, I’ve been snacking on them throughout the week. They’re like a somewhat healthy marriage between a coconut macaroon and a chocolate truffle. They’re just sweet enough — not too sweet. Just crunchy enough from the coconut. Just soft enough with the addition of some chopped dates. And in keeping with my recent trend on this blog, they’re oil-free.

I frequently receive questions about substitutions and omissions — especially in dessert recipes. While I can’t usually speak to most of them unless I’ve tried it myself, I will say that I STRONGLY feel that the dates, in this recipe, are non-negotiable. No, these won’t fall apart or cook weird without them. So as far as baking goes, they’re not essential. But taste and texture-wise, for me, they make this recipe really special. The dates make these both chewy and sweet — I don’t think these would have been nearly as good without them. On the other hand, I ran out of vanilla extract so I didn’t use any here. But I’m sure a teaspoon or two would work well mixed in with the wet ingredients.

Finally, I found these to be great slightly cooled out of the oven, but they also kept at room temperature for about 24 hours and I refrigerated the remaining ones for 3-4 days and they kept fine, if a bit different texturally from the room temperature ones.

Hope you enjoy as much as I did — and don’t forget the dates!!

Chocolate Coconut Clusters:

Yield: 17-18 Clusters

Ingredients:

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup brown rice flour

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup coconut nectar

1 tablespoon sesame tahini

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped dates (I used Deglet Noor)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add dry ingredients (cocoa powder through salt) to a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (applesauce through tahini) and add to dry ingredients. Mix until combined. Fold in chopped dates and nuts until well distributed throughout.

3. Roll pieces of “dough” (will be slightly more wet than a typical cookie dough) into golf-ball sized pieces (about 2 tablespoons each) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until bottoms are just browned. Remove and let cool slightly before eating.

 

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Chickpea-Collard Wraps

In my view, the world can be divided up into 3 kinds of people: those who love tuna salad, those who hate it, and those who used to love it before going vegan. I am in that last category — the kind of tuna salad lover who enjoyed it hot, cold, in casseroles and all of the other gross-sounding yet nostalgic concoctions one could imagine. Tuna melts made me swoon with pleasure, while I could have eaten cold tuna salad over crackers, salad, bread — you name it!*

* Incidentally, I have a theory that there is a direct correlation between tuna lovers and mayo lovers, as I happened to love mayo as well (and still consider Vegenaise a staple in my diet). My dad, on the other hand, always found both of these food items gag-worthy — and I can say with all of the confidence in the world that the thing he misses the LEAST since going vegan is ever having to worry about someone trying to serve him tuna salad with mayo ever again.

Anyways, not only does the whole idea of tuna salad not comport in any way ethically with my diet now, but it’s pretty nasty when one thinks about the health implications of what I was eating. Mercury is the first, and obvious, health pitfall to come to mind. But even when one thinks about the canning process and amount of other toxins in fish in general, tuna was probably the least healthy choice when it came to creatures of the sea. Then there was the white bread it was usually served with, and the gobs of cheese if that tuna was made into a melt. Ick!

packaged collard wraps

This refreshing salad-collard combo was designed to satisfy my nostalgia for tuna salads while not making me feel too full or giving me that “ick” factor that comes with eating fatty and unhealthy meals, however satisfying they may be in the moment. This one is satisfying, yet will allow you to go on with your day without needing a post-meal digestion nap (i.e. food coma). It is a great lunch idea, as these can easily be wrapped in cling wrap or foil or packed in tupperware, as they hold together nicely and do not risk getting soggy like bread or a normal wrap would. In fact, collard wraps of a various nature are my go-to lunch source (I also love collard hummus wraps with veggies).

While this chickpea salad is not exactly like tuna, that’s the point! It’s supposed to taste fresh and healthy, while still satisfying those lingering cravings for all you former tuna salad lovers out there who have either given up animal products, or those of you who are trying something much more healthy, low-carb or lighter in general. I love that collards are one of nature’s foods that are “accidentally” gluten-free. So often we’re spending time or money trying to make or buy gluten-free foods with all sorts of ingredients, while collards are so easy and simple. It’s easy to forget about them!

Note: for a more burrito-like wrap, add more filling and fold one side first, then fold the leafy end in, and roll. There’s really no wrong way to roll a collard. OK, maybe there is. But depending on the amount of filling I’m using, and the size and texture of my collards, I go between a more “flat” wrap, a burrito wrap, or more of an open-faced lettuce wrap type concoction. You can also add additions like as sprouts, spinach, avocado other other veggies of choice.

rolled wraps

Burrito-style wrap with more dulse added to taste. Tomato omitted.

Chickpea-Collard Wraps:

A few notes: I am not sure how many this would typically serve, as it probably depends on how much filling you use and what else you’re eating with these. Using large collards, the filling, divided among 4 wraps, makes wraps the size of the top picture. Also, I designed this recipe to be light on the salt content, as the dulse, scallion and aminos add a salty flavor without tons of sodium. However, if you wish to add more salt, adjust to taste. You can also easily add more dulse to taste, as I did in the last picture. 

4 collard greens, thick stems on end removed

sliced tomato

Filling:

1 15-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons reduced-fat Vegenaise (or soy-free Vegenaise to make this soy-free)

1 teaspoon Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s

1 teaspoon dulse flakes (found in sea vegetable section of most health food stores)

2 scallions, finely chopped

1/4 cup pickle, drained and minced (I always use Bubbie’s brand, which is raw fermented)

sea salt to taste (optional)

Directions:

1. Divide filling among 4 collard wraps and spread around the rib of the collard. Place 3 tomato slices over filling of each wrap.

2. Fold leaves of collard over the rib, and then fold over leafy end, leaving other end open. Place fold down on plate to serve.

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Fudgy Black Bean Brownies

I know I said I would lay off the brownie recipes for awhile.  Well, I lied.

I am choosing this recipe to be my inaugural submission over at Ricki’s Blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs for her Wellness Weekend. I always get such amazing ideas and find new blogs though her Wellness Weekend but have not submitted anything of my own. Mostly because….I always forget! I am ending that trend today.

Yield: approximately 12 brownies

Ingredients:

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup hot water

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1/4 cup coconut oil (liquefied)

2 packets stevia

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 medium banana (no brown spots)

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon instant coffee or coffee substitute

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons coconut flour

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a high-powered blender, blend together black beans, hot water, vanilla extract, coconut nectar, coconut oil, stevia and banana.

3. Add remaining ingredients and blend until just combined, stirring if necessary.Pour batter into a pre-greased 8×8″ pan. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40minutes, or until middle bounces back when pressed. Brownies will harden more as they cool. Allow to cool nearly completely before cutting.

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Sweet Cinnamon Crisps

Today was a snow day. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had one of those.

I can tell you first hand that nothing makes you appreciate being snowed in as having a full-time job. Not that I don’t love my job. It’s just that all those little things that usually fall by the wayside — paying bills, returning phone calls, doing laundry, testing recipes — suddenly have your full attention; your to-do list is suddenly dwindled to a less anxiety-inducing size. Wait, did I say, testing recipes? Yes, that is always on my “to-do” list. It’s my favorite “chore.”

That said, my offering in this post is one that’s been in my queue for quite some time. Today’s baked goods shall have to wait for a later date. You see, it occurred to me today, as I marveled at the time I had to really bake a real dessert, that I normally (as of last month, when I got a job) don’t have the time for such endeavors. Still, that doesn’t seem to stop me from pining for some sweetness after a meal (seriously, I have no idea where this newfound sweet tooth came from). I started making these chips a few years ago to satisfy those cravings when a real baked treat was unavailable. I guess it’s about time to share my super simple secret with all of you.

Oh, and there’s this little event called the Super Bowl coming up this weekend. While I already did my due blogger diligence and shared the compulsatory Super Bowl recipe, I do think this would be a very appropriate, mindless snacking option for watching a game. Make this in batches for a crowd. Not into stevia? Try mixing cinnamon with some agave and drizzle it over the unbaked chips.

Yield: about 40-50 crisps per batch

Sweet Cinnamon Crisps:

3 gluten-free brown rice tortillas

2 tablespoons melted vegan buttery spread for brushing

1 teaspoon Sweetleaf Stevia Plus Powder (about 4 packets)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Brush tops of tortillas with melted buttery spread. You will probably not use all of it. Very lightly grease baking sheet with buttery spread as well and set aside. Cut tortillas into triangles roughly the size of tortilla chips. Lay flat on baking sheet and do not overlap.

3. Mix cinnamon and stevia. Lightly sprinkle over tortillas. You will probably have some of the cinnamon mixture left over as well. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, until crisp. Remove to a paper towel to cool. Chips will become crispier as they cool.

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Chili Sweet Potato Fries

When my friend Krystal told me she was excited to eat sweet potatoes over the holiday because they’re “not something (she) eats normally,” I knew I had to remedy this situation. Don’t normally eat sweet potatoes? I couldn’t think of a shopping trip where I hadn’t brought at least a pound of them home from the market, mostly to make my favorite dish: baked sweet potato fries (though I think the type she was looking forward to over the holidays was more of the sweet, buttery, marshmallowly variety). I told Krystal how I made these healthy alternatives to fries at home all the time — baked in the oven, making them not only healthy but also oh-so-easy. Then when I considered how often I made them, actually, it struck me as odd that I’d never posted the recipe here. In all honesty, it might have something to do with my pervasive fear that such a simple recipe will at best not impress and at worst insult my readers’ culinary abilities. Then again, I know many people (cough ***my husband*** cough) who need consultation on even the most basic kitchen tasks, and who could use a little gentle coaxing into some easy recipes in the kithen (cough*** my husband*** cough). On top of that, I’ve made it a New Years resolution to showcase more naturally gluten-free, low-maintenance recipes here. Even I, the self-proclaimed cooking enthusiast, could use a break at times from any complication in the kitchen. And to make things less comlicated for all of you, I present to you this recipe — one of my all-time faves — in picture.

Baked Chili Sweet Potato Fries:

1. Start by washing and drying 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes. Then slice them one at a time like this:

2. Make sure to tuck your fingers in like this when slicing, so as not to cut yourself if your knife slips:

3. Then cut your slices into fries by stacking your potato slices (you may want to remove the rounded bottom and slice that separately for better support) and cutting them into sticks like this:

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with remaining sweet potatoes. When you’re done slicing, toss your sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt until evenly coated. Lay flat on a baking sheet.

5. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Toss and lay flat again, then bake for another 15 minutes. If a really crispy fry is desired, you can turn your oven to a high broil for the last five minutes and broil, with your oven door slightly ajar, until sweet potatoes are crispy on top. Watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn.

ENJOY!

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Caramel Corn

I based this recipe off of a “crazy corn” recipe my aunt made over the holidays. Hers was sticky and sweet and utterly addicting — this version is crisp and crunchy, but just as dangerously good. Seriously, don’t make this unless you have loads of friends over to help you finish it off, or serious willpower (alas, I most definitely do not possess the latter).

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Ours was spent in Michigan, where Woodley spent the first extended period of his life outside of New York since he was born, and was thoroughly excited to play in a real backyard and run through an actual home (not an apartment). We hosted Christmas Eve at my parents’ house. It was as all-vegetarian affair (vegan if not for a Greek salad with feta, which I admittedly cheated on). I took a picture of my cousin’s plate at her request, which only includes about half of what we had to offer. There was also crushed lentil soup, quinoa tabbouli, and vegan spinach dip.

I could really go on all night about our Christmas Eve menu (seriously, I could…) but we are heading back to New York tomorrow and have 10 hours of driving ahead of us, which means I should probably sleep at some point tonight. Therefore, without further ado, here’s the recipe for my new favorite addicting treat. This recipe is anti-candida diet friendly, if you’re on a diet that allows corn products. While the yacon can be quite expensive, I think it’s worth it here in terms of taste and texture.

Caramel Corn:

2/3 cup yacon syrup

4 1/2 tablespoons Sweetleaf Stevia Plus powder*

5 tablespoons soy-free Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 quarts popped popcorn

3/4 cup pecan pieces (optional)

Directions:

1. Bring first 5 ingredients to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Drizzle over popcorn and pecans and toss to combine until popcorn is evenly coated.

2. Lay popcorn flat on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 250 degree oven for 1 hour, tossing every 15 minutes. Let cool for about 20-30 minutes before serving, or until popcorn is crisp.

* Note that this amount will need to be adjusted if you’re using a different brand. See comments.

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