Pumpkin Spice Shortbread

Scottish shortbread is one of my favorite cookies, which is super bizarre because I am a card-carrying member of the Soft Cookie Club.  But for some reason, Scottish shortbread makes me forget all soft cookies in favor of shortbread’s buttery sweetness. Top it with strawberry jam or lemon curd and I may just choose shortbread over scones (shocking, I know, but it’s a distinct possibility).

Pumpkin Spice Shortbread

Pumpkin Spice Shortbread

The problem best part about this British cookie is the tradition behind it. Quick history lesson? Scottish shortbread is believed to have come from the medieval “biscuit bread”. Leftover bread dough was left out in a low oven to be twice-baked and covered in sugar and spices. Eventually the biscuit bread’s yeast was replaced by butter and supposedly Scottish shortbread is born. 

Why Is There No Real Clotted Cream in the US?

We all know my obsession with authentic, legitimate clotted cream. It’s well documented on the blog! But usually it shows up in the form of me lamenting during a review about some tea house or another’s makeshift clotted cream just not cutting it compared to the British stuff. Sorry if you get sick of those little cry tests.

But it’s a sad, sad, sad fact that the US is lacking true clotted cream.

Am I saying that clotted cream literally does not exist in the United States? No, obviously. I have found some grocery stores that sell Devonshire or Clotted Cream in their dairy sections and know of a few tea houses that import their clotted cream from England in order to be authentic. There are also millions of recipes that claim to make clotted cream, findable with a simple Google search. Yes, many of these recipes mimic the glory of clotted cream–some even come close to matching it–but there is one simple difference that is extremely difficult to overcome here and without overcoming it you cannot make authentic clotted cream. (If you are looking to make Devonshire cream, there are two.)

You have to use unpasteurized milk. Most technically it’s unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk, but for sake of easy argument let’s call it unpasteurized.

Pasteurizing milk heats it to kill off bacteria and other disease causing microbes. Pasteurizing milk became a federal requirement in 1924, aka The Year Clotted Cream Died. I’m not going to go into the long explanation and history of the Raw Milk Debate, so if you’re curious, there are lots of great articles on the Interwebs. Pasteurizing and homogenizing milk changes the structure of the fat globules, which sound disgusting but are the most amazing thing ever because they form clotted cream.

Now over the last five years, many states are legalizing the sale of raw milk again (thank you advances in medical science) so true clotted cream can make a comeback! Unfortunately most tearooms still use a version of glorified whipped cream and call it clotted. Restaurants are not allowed to use unpasteurized milk for “health and safety reasons” so I guess it isn’t really their fault. But still…

So there you have it: the reason clotted cream at tearooms is not real clotted cream has all to do with Federal regulations prohibiting the use of raw milk, false advertising, and if you are looking for Devonshire cream the lack of cows from Devon living in the United States.

Makes you wish we hadn’t declared independence, hmm?

A tearoom review and more scone recipes are coming soon! Plus some fun new featured recipes and topics, so stay tuned and sign up for email notifications so you don’t miss anything!

Tea Cakes

A couple of the tea houses I’ve reviewed serve a slice of tea cake with their scone course, and it got me thinking (as so many things do) about what exactly is a tea cake. Since it’s a cake and a lot of the mini desserts served at tearooms are little cakes, why is it served in the scone course and not the dessert course? Burning questions!

Well I did some digging. Turns out the answer is as simple as you’d think!


Are they cakes?

Tea cake as a cake (no it's not the scone or the muffin)

Tea cake as a cake (no it’s not the scone or the muffin)

In some parts of the world, yes. When a tea cake is literally a small slice of cake (typical of Australian, North America, and India), it is usually a pound, heavy sponge, or spice cake.  Only a single layer, these tea cakes are not frosted, but instead are topped with a dusting of powdered sugar or a light glaze. The spice cake is more common in North America, while the heavy sponge variety is found in Australia or India. When a tea cake is basically a pound cake, it’s just a tearoom’s variation on the slightly more traditional cake served. Tea cakes—when they are cakes—can also contain fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, or apricots.


Are they bread?

In some parts of the world, yes. A tea cake is more akin to a bread when served in the United Kingdom. A small, sweet, yeast-based bun often containing dried fruit, a tea cake is typically split, toasted, and buttered to be served with tea. The most famous tea cake is served in Bath, England and is known as a Sally Lunn. Top it with cinnamon butter and be prepared to die from deliciousness overdose.

Bread-like tea cakes are also served in Sweden where they are a sweetened wheat soda bread served with butter and jam.


Are they cookies?

Tea cakes as a cookie (photo credit

Tea cakes as a cookie (photo credit

In some parts of the world, yes.  Cookie tea cakes are dense cookies made with sugar, butter, eggs, flour, milk, and additional flavorings.  Common flavors are nut-based like almond or hazelnut.  They are very dense and crumbly, and can be quite messy as they are usually coated in a layer of powdered sugar.  When they first crumbed into the world, they were an accompaniment to bitter teas; the sugar both in the cookie and the coating were meant to balance the astringency from black tea.

Now a cookie tea cake by any other name is still a cookie tea cake, but they are also commonly known as Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cakes/cookies, polvornes, or butterballs.


Hmmm…with all these different answers for “what is a tea cake” I may have to do a recipe series for you so you can try them all!

Recipe: Strawberry Cream Cheese Scones

So just in case you couldn’t tell from these, and these, I love strawberries. I really love all berries, but strawberries are my favorite. And as strawberry season begins to come to a close and I start to tear up at the prospect of months and months without this delicious berry, I decided to make another few recipes to get our final strawberry fix. Best part, scones can freeze so if you hurry up and make the scones now, you can enjoy them in the fall when everyone else is eating apples. You’ll be eating strawberry scones and gloating to yourself (not out loud since that’s not nice after all, but inside is totally okay!).

Strawberry Cream Cheese Scones

Strawberry Cream Cheese Scones

When I went to my first afternoon tea as a little girl, one of the finger sandwiches served was a strawberry cream cheese sandwich, and since it was pink and I adored pink I had to love it. Ever since, strawberry cream cheese has become one of those things I buy at the store with excitement but then rarely get around to using because I forget to buy bagels. Now, I’ll never have wasted strawberry cream cheese again because I can always make these scones! They are sooooo creamy and moist that I can’t put enough “ooooo” at the end of the “so” to get my point across. Think similar to the scones that use mascarpone cheese like Vanilla Dream scones or the Strawberry Vanilla scones that were my last strawberry creation.Yeah, they rival that level of creamy, mouth-meltingness.

The cream cheese doesn’t overwhelm the strawberries, but instead just adds a delightfully subtle tang and lots of cream. Did I mention they were creamy? Okay good.

But the best part about these scones (besides the giant chunks of strawberries) is the color…BRIGHT PINK!!! Five-year-old Jenna is dancing around in her twirly dresses with joy. These are the perfect scones for a little girl’s afternoon tea party, baby girl baby shower, or just a day that needs a little pink thrown in.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Scones

Strawberry Cream Cheese Scones

strawberry cream cheese scones


  • 200 g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 50 g ultrafine baking sugar
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 200 g strawberry cream cheese
  • up to 6 tbsp water as needed


Preheat oven to 220°C (450°F). Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, strawberries, and cream cheese. Rub together the ingredients until evenly clumped. Add the water a little bit at a time and then knead into the dough until smooth. Do not overwork, but you don’t need to be as overly concerned with being delicate as you do with cream scones.
Place dough on a very floured surface and knead a few more times. Pat out to 1 cm thick. Cut 5 cm rounds from the dough with biscuit cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Reform and continue until there is no more dough.Bake for 8-10 minutes (8) until lightly browned and cooked through.
Strawberry Cream Cheese Scones

Strawberry Cream Cheese Scones

Ooooo, so many fun ideas: cut into flowers or hearts, top with more strawberries, top with a vanilla or lemon glaze….so those might not be traditional (and by traditional I mean British) scone things to do, but when strawberries are involved tradition can go out the window.

What Is Pu-erh?

a pu-erh brick

a pu-erh brick

Tea aficionados have been talking about pu-erh more and more lately. It goes by many names, much like a rose, such as the diet tea or the anti-aging tea. Great, right? Drink a certain kind of tea and you’ll not only stay thin but you’ll stay young forever. Could this tea be the elixir of the fountain of youth?! Let’s examine, shall we?


Processing Pu-Erh

Pu-erh is grown in the Yunnan province of China. The tea leaves are piled, dampened, and turned to ensure even fermentation (a lovely and appetizing article compared this process to composting). After about six months to a year, the tea is considered ripened and then dried, weighed, and steamed to prepare it for pressing.

The pressing and aging are the two signature processing elements in pu-erh. The tea is pressed into a brick and aged much like whiskey or Scotch. After years of aging, it is finally ready to enter the market and your teacup.


Preparing Pu-Erh for Drinking

It is possible to buy pu-erh in a loose leaf form (most tearooms that offer pu-erh have loose leaf pu-erh for ease of brewing), but if yours is still in its brick, simply flake off or cut off pieces of the cake in a vertical direction. Technically pu-erh should be brewed at 95°F for 30 seconds for a first brewing and reaching up to 10 minutes for a subsequent brewing, but I’ve brewed mine at 205° for two minutes and it has been perfect.

I treat it much like a black tea. The pu-erh I’ve been drinking is flavored with caramel and vanilla and is strong but decadent with a splash of milk and sugar.


Health Benefits

There hasn’t been any studies done in humans yet, but scientific studies with animals have shown a decrease in body weight following consistent pu-erh consumption. Liver health improved and cholesterol lowered. Overall body fat composition lowered as well, which is why pu-erh is called the slimming tea. The Chinese believe that pu-erh can also help cure a hangover by invigorating the spleen. I think we all need invigorated spleens so we should all drink pu-erh.

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern

IMG_1266One of the best parts of afternoon tea is its link with tradition. You get to indulge in a practice that has been around for hundreds of years, connecting with the past through a simple teacup. And though afternoon tea is mostly considered a British tradition, it has also been an institution in America since the colonial era.

IMG_1265This is where Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg comes into play. Marking the edge of Virginia’s historic colonial town, Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern allows you to step directly into an afternoon tea party held during the Revolution. So get ready to enjoy a splash of history with your tea!


First Impressions and Service

When Colonial Williamsburg claims authentic, they mean authentic. Every employee is dressed in period outfits, and the tavern is no exception. The only daily seating isn’t until 2:00 pm, but while you wait outside on the wraparound porch, Mrs. Christiana Campbell and her friends will come out to keep you company while her slaves and servants ready your dining room. Don’t expect to talk about iPhones or what happened latest on your favorite television show; I was roped into a lecture about why I wasn’t carrying a fan and how carrying a fan was of paramount importance if I ever wished to find a husband.

One of the house staff

One of the house staff

Once inside, you are served by Mrs. Campbell’s small household staff in three courses. Service is pretty limited to taking your tea order and delivering the food, but you are more part of a presentation than a customer. Throughout the meal, Mrs. Campbell and her friends wander through the dining room telling stories of the current events and daily lives of the colonists. One person sings songs about the Boston Tea Party, and you really wish she wouldn’t. Mrs. Campbell instructs you on the proper etiquette of tea including how to properly hold your teacup. I tried her way, and although it is wrong I’ll stick to mine!



Restored to look as exactly like it did in the 18th century as possible, the dining room is all wood paneling and plain paint. Thank goodness the tavern didn’t use the eyesore bright colors you’ll find in the wealthy homes in Williamsburg. Considering you are partaking in a meal, those bright colors might have upset your stomach.  The tea set and other table settings are all accurate recreations of what would’ve been on your table in Revolutionary America.


Tea Selection

The teas are all done in bags, and here is where I’m not sure how authentic the selection is. You get two tea bags (so you can do both the same kind of tea or two different types) at the start of the meal and they bring hot water out again halfway through. Mom chose the Earl Grey as always, but since I had a cold I went with a mango green tea. I really enjoyed mine, but I wish they had brought out more hot water when I asked because I was drinking my tea like there was no tomorrow. You’ll have a few options of black teas, a few green teas, and a few tisanes and herbal teas.



The server reviews with the room as a whole what is served in each of the three courses. Unless there is an allergy the menu is pretty set. Instead of a tiered stand, each course is brought out one at a time and once the room has finished eating, it is cleared away and the next course is brought out. This takes pacing almost completely out of your hands, making you feel a bit rushed if you aren’t quite ready for the next course (I eat slow at tea time). But as it is more of a meal and a show, pacing is kind of determined based on the performance and less of your own stomach.


Since only one of the offerings is really a sandwich, it’s almost incorrect to label the savory course as sandwiches, but I am always one for consistency. Only one of the four pieces is a vegetarian option, but since no one in our sitting was a vegetarian I have no idea what they do to accommodate vegetarianism.

Asparagus Tart

Asparagus Tart

There was an asparagus tart with some sort of mayonnaise or mustardy cream and a few pieces of yellow carrot. Not the most appetizing option, the creamy filling overpowered any vegetable taste and the crust was a simple butter and flour pastry.

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Next was smoked ham salad on a puff pastry. Between the smokiness of the ham and the relish and pickles, this one really reminded me of BBQ. Did they have BBQ in the colonial era?

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

It almost seems a requirement that there be a chicken salad on a croissant. I have the usual complaints (mayo) but the croissant was nice and buttery and the chicken was in chunks not pureed which is always a plus.

Salmon on Cucumber

Salmon on Cucumber

The salmon was less of a sandwich and more of a piece of salmon rolled on top of a cucumber slice with some dill. When salmon is involved, bread is superfluous anyway right?


The scone course had more than just a little scone on it; there was also a berry muffin and a cranberry tea cake. A dollop of TRUE clotted cream (you go Mrs. Campbell!) and red fruit jam rounded off the plate. The scone was small but had a perfect scone texture. The flavor was a but reminiscent of a buttermilk pancake, so I think they made the scones with buttermilk, but buttermilk pancakes are preferable to sugar cookies any day.

Scone Course

Scone Course

In the usual contradiction: Mom liked the muffin while I liked the tea cake. The muffin tastes like a cupcake with some fruit mixed in the batter and a sugary streusel topping. It is very moist but definitely sweet as a cupcake. I love how there were actual chunks of the fruit and not just fruit jam stirred in. The tea cake is your requisite pound cake; it was also moist and fresh. Not as sweet as the muffin, the cake had pieces of dried cranberry in it.


Lavender Shortbread

Lavender Shortbread, Cake, Truffle

It would seem like you just had a dessert course, but apparently cupcake-muffins and pound cake didn’t qualify as dessert back in the days. Instead you get a lavender shortbread cookie with a delicious dipping of white chocolate, another cake topped with almonds and glaze and with a hint of marzipan flavor, and an absolutely decadent chocolate truffle that you will try not to eat the whole thing but won’t be able to stop yourself. None of the portions are unreasonable, so you can totally clean your plates and still be hungry for dinner by 8.



As I said, this is basically tea and a show, so be prepared for a history lesson along with your cup. But that is kind of the entirety of Colonial Williamsburg, and that is definitely part of its charm.  You’ll kind of wish that you were in colonial attire too, so luckily if you’ve bought tickets for entry in the main street of Williamsburg, you can rent some costumes for the little ones at least.


Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern is a must experience for anyone in Virginia, but particularly if you are at Colonial Williamsburg. You won’t find another afternoon tea like this one!


Christiana Campbell’s Tavern 101 South Waller St., Williamsburg, VA, 23185. (757) 229-2141. Reservations required. Cost per person $23.95 tax and gratuity included.


Another Story of Milk: Does Order Matter?

Turns out the debate over the order of doing adding things to afternoon tea doesn’t stop at clotted cream, jam, and scones; the proper sequence for pouring milk into a teacup is also hotly contested. It may be a relaxing pastime, but who said afternoon tea didn’t have its complexities?


Nice Tea Has Milk First

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

We already know that milk made its emergence into the tea world partly to temper the hot water so porcelain cups didn’t shatter. The Milk-In-First camp believes that adding tea to milk instead of the other way around makes for a better mixing of the fluids. Also adding cold tea to hot water can caramelize the fat in milk and possibly alter the flavor of the brew. Of course bringing the milk to room temperature or heating it up may fix that. It’s a lot like tempering your eggs before making a custard.


Second the Best

Photo Credit Mark Harris

Photo Credit Mark Harris

Tea originated as a beverage for the genteel, so it is only natural that there be considered a “proper” way to add milk to this drink. Etiquette supports adding milk to the tea as it allows better control of the color and strength of the cup. The Victorian upper circle tea parties involved the hostess or servants handing filled teacups to guests who were then directed to help themselves to milk, cream, or sugar to their taste.

Also, by adding the milk to the tea, you have the opportunity to try the drink first to determine if it even needs any milk. There is nothing worse than wasting or ruining a perfectly delightful cuppa.


No Milk Is the Best Milk

IMG_3725Now most of this debate centers around black tea. It is an understood rule of tea aficionados that you do NOT add milk to green, oolong, or white tea. Pu-erh is close to black tea so that is acceptable. Why? Because it ruins the delicate taste of the leaves and added flavorings. Black tea is the strongest type of tea and can withstand the flavor dilution of milk. Tisanes are also a big no-no when it comes to adding milk. As most tisanes have fruit in their mix, the milk can actually curdle if poured into a too tart tisane. Curdled milk is just gross.


Science Says

Science is no help here. Half the scientists point to the possibility of caramelized milk fat ruining the flavor of the tea as reason for milk first; the other half of the scientists cite the laws of thermal gradients supporting milk in last.


The verdict? Just like the arguments over clotted cream first or jam first and whether or not to even add milk at all, The Great Milk Order Debate will have to be determined by your own personal preferences!


What is your milk-order preference? I pour my milk in second because I can have the most control over the strength of my tea, and I am a little bit of a control freak. But many of my British friends insist on milk first!

To Milk or Not To Milk?

The question of whether or not to add milk to your tea can get quite contentious. It seems a simple matter of taste and preference—if you like tea with milk add it and if not leave it out—but as with the proper order of clotted cream and jam topping a scone, the milk or no milk debaters believe it goes far beyond the taste buds.

History of Adding Milk

Painting by Alexander Rossi

Painting by Alexander Rossi

Milk tea or taking tea with a dairy product has a history that stretches back to the Asian origins of tea (apparently some Asian cultures used to add butter to tea), but milk tea is considered different than adding milk to tea.  When tea first came to Europe, it was sipped with no dairy additions. It wasn’t until the 17th century that adding milk to tea was first being mentioned by upperclass tea drinkers.

Tea historians (what an awesome job) have given two reasons for milk’s emergence. The most common theory is that milk and cream were found to soften the bitter taste of black teas. The second theory has nothing to do with flavor or health, but rather with china. Porcelain (you thought I meant the country China! Made you double-take J) can crack when boiling water is poured into the bottom of a cup, so Madame de La Sabliére of France introduced pouring milk into the cup before the hot tea to prevent her fine porcelain from cracking or breaking during her literary salon meetings. Doing so also allowed the tea to be drunk more comfortably.

Adding Milk Subtracts Health Benefits

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

The anti-milk tea league points to scientific studies that suggest that milk takes away from the health benefits of drinking tea. A 2006 study by the Germans showed that adding milk to tea prevents its ability to protect one from heart disease. Black tea has been found to help heart functioning and long term artery health, but milk may bind with the catechin in tea and stop the benefits. The no-milkers also believe that adding milk to tea increases insulin activity (in lab rat studies) and degrades its antioxidant potential.

But adding milk to black tea is more common than adding milk to green tea, and green tea is the kind associated with more health benefits including higher levels of catechins and antioxidants.

No Harm, No Cow

IMG_0479Adding milk has shown some positive health benefits for those pro-dairy tea drinkers. The proteins in milk may line the stomach enough to help prevent some of the acids in tea from contributing to stomach ulcers. And we always need more calcium for healthy bones, hair, and nails! What good is a pinky out from a tea cup if it doesn’t look nice?

People who support adding milk to tea say that the decrease in health benefits are not all that significant or that it doesn’t do as much damage as some scientists would have us believe. For them, it comes down to a matter of taste. If black teas taste better with milk, why not indulge in a little splash? After all, teatime is all about allowing yourself the finer things in life.

I personally add milk to my teas that are not fruit flavored: Earl Grey (yes I know bergamot is a citrus), Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride at Christmas, chai, and some rooibos teas. But unless the flavoring in a fruit tea includes vanilla, I keep my milk jug to the side.


How do you take your tea and why? Is it all about the health benefits for you, or do you care more about taste than antioxidant levels?

Which Comes First? The Jam or the Cream?

It’s a variation on the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? But of course, since it concerns scones and clotted cream and jam, it is a way more important question than that concerning poultry.

When topping a scone, do you layer cream and then jam, or jam and then cream? Does it truly matter? Which way is the traditional or correct way to top a scone?

Well, there is actual an old rivalry that is still raging today over the proper way to top a scone with clotted cream and jam (though everyone does agree that the jam should be a homemade strawberry for the most authentic delight). And the two epicenters are the same places that battle over their superiority in clotted cream.

The Cornish Way. Photo credit

The Cornish Way.
Photo credit

In Cornwall, they believe that the scone should be topped with the jam first followed by the clotted cream. Some cheeky reasons from the Cornish? “Because we are proud of it, Devonians are slightly ashamed of theirs so they cover it up with jam” says one grandfather. Whether or not that’s true, the Cornish all agree that the jam goes on first and is then topped with a dollop of Rodda’s Cornish cream. If it isn’t Rodda’s, it’s not Cornish.

The Devonshire Way Photo credit

The Devonshire Way
Photo credit

Devon, on the other hand, tells the Cornish to stick with their pasties because the jam definitely goes on top of the cream. Otherwise, they insist, clotted cream will end up on your nose and they also compare it to bread. In their logic no one puts jam on top of bread and then butter on top of the jam, so why would one do that with cream and scones? Both sides make a fair point, but neither side is going to budge their position any time soon.

I personally follow the Devonshire way of cream and then jam, but I don’t pretend that this is some statement on authenticity or tradition. It’s more of habit and I think it looks prettier than anything else. What about you? Are you a Devonian or a Cornish person?

Origin of the Word “Scones”

I love scones. Read almost every blog on this site, can you not tell? They are my favorite part about afternoon tea, and also the part I’m harshest on. But when I think about the power of an amazing scone to make you feel comforted and content with life, I accept my scone obsession and invite everyone to join me.

But how did the name come around? Scone sounds like kind of a funny word, and like many funny words there are debates on its origin and even on how to pronounce it. Does it rhyme with gone as in “skahn” or like own as in “scoan”? Will we ever agree on the pronunciation? Probably not, but it’s interesting to learn that the word for this common British delight may not even be British in origin!

Here are the leading theories on the base of the word scone:

1. The Scottish claim that scones were named after a stone that Scottish kings sat upon once they were crowned. This stone is called the Stone of Destiny, but apparently the word stone was once scone and the Scots confused a rock with a pastry. Maybe back then they overbaked their scones. This is why I say 8 minutes my dear Scots!

Stone of Destiny

Stone of Destiny

2. A derivation of the Gaelic word “sgonn”, which would make the pronunciation of scone rhyme with gone. Sgonn means a shapeless mass or large mouthful. Obviously the Gaelic didn’t have 5 cm scone cutters.

A cut in half shapeless mass or mouthful

A cut in half shapeless mass or mouthful

3. One of the two claims that the Oxford English Dictionary supports is that of the Dutch “schoonbrut”, meaning fine white bread. The first scones were made mostly of oat though, so I wonder why the OED thinks this claim is so likely.

I would call this a fine, white bread

I would call this a fine, white bread

4. The second OED supported theory is that the origin is the German word “sconbrut”, in English meaning a fine, beautiful bread. At least the OED acknowledges that the German sconbrut is so obviously related to the Dutch schoonbrut as to make them nearly identical that supporting these two theories is more like supporting only one.

A fine, beautiful bread with chocolate, almonds, and dried cherries?

A fine, beautiful bread with chocolate, almonds, and dried cherries?

So which answer is the truth? Which root word gave rise to our favorite risen pastry for afternoon tea? We may never really know…and yes insert ominous tone of voice right there for some fun.

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