The little birds...

If you watch little birds you will see they are busy and happy! Using whatever they can find they create the most gorgeous little nest.
I would be the little bird with some glittery thread in her nest!
We can be like this. Happily working away with the things that are available to us to create a beautiful and happy home.
All the while with a little song in our heart.

Banner by Free Pretty Things for You.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Inexpensive Christmas Presents. Part 2. Food gifts.

Last week we started on some easy and inexpensive craft ideas so that we can keep Christmas expenses way down and also be able to give a lot!

This week I am adding food/cooking gifts. These can be beautiful gifts and very inexpensive. And yet if you look in stores they are charging a fortune for some things that are super cheap to make. In fact do look in stores as you will feel more confidant with your baked gifts after you see how popular they are and how expensive as well.

A big help here is making some things well ahead. Realistically we are going to be busy in December. Super busy. So some things made and put away help a lot.
One of my best things to make ahead is Christmas cake. This keeps a year and improves with age so it is ideal.
My friend Ethel saved tuna tins, the larger ones, and made them into mini cake tins. This is how she would cook these up for small gifts.
This time I used some tiny tins I have, plus I did 12 in the larger sized Texas muffin tins. I made a large one for my Dad and a large one for us.

I made up the recipe in a double batch and did this twice over a few days. This gave me 18 cakes all up.

These become gifts for neighbors, Dad, my brother, my Aunt, my Uncle, Cath in the nursing home and a few others.

The recipe is here. Bridge asked me if it matters very much about the dried fruit you buy. I usually buy homebrand mixed dried fruit. That fruit seems dry and not the most fabulous but after it is soaked in sherry (or whatever you use) plus pineapple juice it all plumps up and is beautiful. But the recipe calls for a kilo of dried fruit. You could just buy sultanas and add cherries or anything you like. I add a packet of chopped dried apricot since Andy loves that. It is very flexible! Because I add the apricots I end up with more like 2.2 kilos of fruit. It is fine.  It is absolutlely not necessary to use expensive fruits. Knowing I will be making this I buy the fruits, cherries etc on specials over the months before I make them.  (I hope this helps Bridge.)
(Sorry to the US ladies. I need to convert the recipe for you as well and need to do that but have run out of time today however most of the recipe is in cups).

The other make ahead gift is usually jam. Lots of pretty jams. They keep, look nice and go in well with a foodie gift in a little basket. On Mimi's blog A Tray of Bliss (on my sidebar) she has a heap of make ahead gifts including Limoncello ,  Sticky Balsamic Vinegar and tomato relish. There are so many possibilities.

Nearer to Christmas I usually make Gingerbread biscuits. These are beautiful and easy. this recipe makes a big batch....Gingerbread Biscuits made with honey.

A super easy and fast larger gift is to make a giant shortbread. I get pizza pans from cheap stores so I can use that as the base. You make the recipe and pat it onto the pan. Bake it, cut it through while hot and wrap and present the whole thing. It is beautiful, spectacular and faster than biscuits.
An alternative is to make three or four rounds on a baking tray and do mini versions of this.
This is a non crumbly beautiful shortbread recipe. Here is the recipe.. Shortbread. You can decorate it by using a dusting of icing sugar over a lace cut out, doily or stencil...

Most likely you have your own tried and tested family recipes. Use those. Getting them produced for gifts is easier when you have saved containers to pack you food gifts into. I watch for nice little tins, cellophane bags, pretty trays, nice boxes etc all year. Cellophane is wonderful. Things look crisp and nice in it and it is not expensive. If you need a larger sized cellophane bag than you have use an oven bag, looks the same. If you are in SA Cheap as Chips has the best range of cellophane bags in a range of sizes.
Add ribbon, tags etc and it will look lovely. Often in foodie stores I snoop at both the prices they are charging and the presentation. This gives you lots of ideas!

Making something ahead is a help. Then near Christmas making a couple of things in big batches is far easier than making a lot of different things in small batches. Just less work if time is an issue.

One thing I do every year is  Coconut Ice.. It keeps about two weeks.  This is yum and so pretty. I make it super pale pink and use soft pink ribbons to tie it up. I always times the recipe by four and make a massive amount!

Over the years the girls gave it to teachers, work mates, neighbors... I have cut it into heart shapes for afternoon teas...

This year it will be lots of gifts... for Chloe's elderly neighbors, my neighbors, friends, the ladies at the nursing home and many more.

A regular thing I make that is good for the boys is a snack we call Nuts and Bolts. It can be made a few days ahead. Looks good in jars or packets and is a snack and good for parties, watching sports or movies treats type of thing. It is yum and impossible to stop eating! The recipe is here.

Once I have my cooking done some things are given individually ie the whole tray of shortbread or for small gifts a packet of bisucuits or piece of coconut ice. Others make up a little basket of box with one of everything tucked in. A basket of goodies. This looks lovely! All year I buy nice little baskets from op shops. Usually about 50c each. Sometimes I have spray painted them all white or silver. I line them with tissue paper and tie the whole thing up with cellophane or add a ribbon. I did notice lovely little wire baskets in cheap shops this year but I already have a collection ready. I do need a couple of pizza pans for shortbread though.

With just a few cook ups you will have a lot of lovely gifts to give. An hour making a tray of shortbread is still easier than hitting the shops for a gift. The cost is just a few dollars and the end result would be worth at least $40 in a store.

Just get thinking about your best recipes and if you have helpers even better. Kids can roll apricot balls, decorate biscuits, wrap and package, make cards and so many things and will be proud of how they helped! Collect your ingredients and packaging so that on the day you cook you have everything you need. I hope you have great success and this is one more way you will keep Christmas costs down.

Some ladies are up and running with making their presents and sent me some photos! Jane made powder puffs, powder, soap and lavender sachets...

And Fiona is making tea towels (kitchen towels) Look at these gorgeous prints...

I love seeing what you are making! Thank you so much.

Next week in this series I am adding an easier than ever segment. How to restyle gifts so that something you buy inexpensively can be fancied up to be something stylish. It's cheating, basically.

And on Wednesday in our pantry series we are looking at gifts to give our pantry enthusiast girlfriends and family! Yes... us! Also, by accident, these are gifts to encourage someone in their pantry work and help get others started. All part of our cunning plan to help others have food in their pantry when they might need it!

Have a lovely week! And if you have an easy recipes suitable for Christmas gifts please share. Some of us have many recipes we know and others are just getting started. Tried and tested, no fail recipes that are delicious are so handy. Once we have recipes like these we are set! Thanks in advance! xxx


  1. Annabel, this post and my 3rd week of getting ready for the holidays post go hand in hand. We knock out several gifts by doing 'big batch' presents! This year we're doing big batches of fudge, chocolate mix in oversized cups and bug eye pens along with a small notebook. These big batch gifts will take care of all of our non-family gift giving.

    1. Dear Patsy, I agree that making a few big batches is way way easier than many small batches of different things. Production lines work!
      Fudge is a beautiful one! I was working in the kitchen Saturday afternoon. Andy always sees what I am doing and says its the pre industrial revolution kitchen. He means it in a good way!
      Have a great week. I have lots of plans and things to do! With love,

  2. Annabel,
    I love giving gifts of food. Since I know a lot of people who don't bake or can those gifts are usually very appreciated. Now although this is not a food gift when I was digging around in the attic today I found some small wood shutters and I am copy catting some expensive planters from one of my favorite catalogs to give to a few people on my list. I just need some paint!

    1. Dear Vicky,
      I just LOVE the idea of planters from shutters. But I love shutters full stop. Please take before and after photos!
      Have a great week,

  3. Hi Annabel, Have been reading your blog posts, and loving them all. you are so enthusiastic it's wonderful. I love to read what you are doing, I look forward to new posts impatiently. Just a quick question, you said that you colour your own hair, do you use any particular brand of colour. thanks for your advice. Ann

    1. Dear Ann,
      Thank you very much! And thank you for commenting it is a big encouragement to me.
      I use Loreal Preference in Alaska. Then I used a toner (a purple based toner) once a week. I really like it. This gives me heaps more body and shine as I have really fine hair. When I was little my hair was white! It looked like I had none! In my twenties it started to get darker. started to colour it back to what it was earlier and have stuck with it. It is quick and easy. I hope that helps. If you have any other questions about it feel free to ask. With love,

  4. Thank you Annabel for another great blog post , I give my homemade chocolate chip biscuits to neighbours of my parents who are also good friends of our family. last year I was unable to make the biscuits so made rocky road instead . It was well received but one neighbour was very disappointed that I did not make the biscuits . I will be making biscuits this year for sure. I have been inspired to bake more gifts this year. I have also previously made up a rocky road making kit, with all the ingredients for rocky road for the gift recipient to make at their leisure. I buy all my ingredients on special and can afford to make Christmas gifts and other gifts memorable and unique by doing this. Thanks again Annabel.

    1. Dear Barbara,
      Well, that is a compliment to your biscuits anyway! It would be the same here, probably a riot if the coconut ice didnt turn up!
      I think your kits sound like a wonderful idea. And you have reminded me of rocky road. I think I might do that this year.
      You are right. If we make things, watch for specials etc we can make far more of Christmas and have a wonderful time. It blesses everyone!
      With love,

  5. Annabel, you're spot on with saving things to use as packaging. I buy the Laughing Cow cheese spread wedges, and they come in the cutest little round lidded container. This is perfect for packaging home made peanut brittle or toffees or caramels or mints or other things that are quite flat. I just paint the boxes and lids white with acrylic paint, and tie them with lavish ribbons and diamante` buckles or other embellishments. A perfect single little gift. You mentioned about using recycled tins for baking cakes. You can make gorgeous tall cupcakes using them too. A tall cupcake is exactly what it sounds like. You bake the batter in a recycled Baked Beans tin or similar, so that the cake comes out tall and skinny, rather than flatish and fat. Make sure you wash it well first! You remove the cake from the tin, and wrap it in Vellum paper (used most often for invitations and scrapbooking) making the paper even taller than the cake so the whole thing, decorations included is enclosed, leaving the top open. You then tie the vellum in place with ribbon or twine, and pop a fondant rose or any plastic cake decoration on top. Springs of holly, little Santas and sleds, or even balls of coloured fondant dusted with edible pearl dust to represent Christmas baubles, look utterly gorgeous. I'll do a post on my blog on them this week. Your cakes look so lavish and the crown stencil on the shortbread is genius! It just makes you feel wealthy and generous to have such gorgeous gifts sitting there ready to go. Fionas teatowels look fab too, as do Jane's powder puffs, talc and soaps. Everyone is inspired just now, and all thanks to you. Love Mimi xxx

    1. Dear Mimi,
      Thank you for the ideas of tins that are tall and skinny. I never thought of that! I like it! And vellum is gorgeous stuff. I had forgotten about it yet it adds glamour to everything! That is the way I feel about velvet ribbon too!
      I use the pearl dust thanks to you.
      Now out walking I have found two huge Holly bushes! I will be seeing if I am allowed to pick some. Wouldnt that be handy!
      I cant wait for your post! Many thanks Mimi, Love Annabel.xxxx

  6. Such wonderful ideas and I love the way you package everything. So pretty!

  7. Lovely photos and lovely ideas. Homemade biscuits in cellophane bags or glass jars are big hits with my family and friends. I make lots of biscuit dough in November to be ready to bake on the 23rd or 24th December. It doesn't take long to bake.

    1. Wendy, That is a really good idea to have made the dough ahead ready to go. Thank you for this! With love,

  8. Annabel, it looks like my little grandchildren will now be here for Christmas so I will have to start planning as normally Christmas is very quiet for us. Your gifts look just lovely.

    1. Dear Nanna Chel, I loved Christmas things at Nan and Pa's when I was little! One of the most magical things was that every year Father Christmas painted the swing set. Usually metallic gold or silver. Never once did I think wow it is amazing he had time to do that! :) all the little wonderful things I look back that Nan and Pa did.
      I am so excited for you! Lucky you got those chairs.
      Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the planning for an extra special Christmas! With love ,!

  9. Your lovely ideas sparked one in me...I don't have loads of baskets but I do have shoe boxes since my runner girl goes through trail running shoes almost as fast as she goes through sports drinks. Perhaps I can cover those boxes with some of my wrapping paper stash and then do the tissue, cellophane, and ribbon wrap for my "basket" gifts? And a gift of canned (bottled) goods might look rustic and sweet cushioned in raffia or something similar in a box covered in brown paper and tied with twine.

    1. I think shoe boxes have a lot of possibilities. I love the "brown paper packages tied up with string" idea though as they would look lovely. And filled with goodies. I love using what we have and turning it into an asset. Also show boxes are great for the Samiritans purse children's gift boxes and that's a wonderful use for them.
      In our house shoe boxes always became Easter nests full of cellophane and magical things.. memories of childhood! Love

  10. Hi Annabelle, Thank you so much for your ideas and inspiration!!! You are the ' wind beneath our wings' and I am sure we all appreciate the wonderful suggestions that you have given us for Christmas gifts and gift presentation.
    I just have one question please..can the Christmas cake recipe be halved successfully???
    Kind regards

    1. Dear Helen,
      Thank you so much!
      Yes you can half it that is fine. Also remember it keeps for months and months. So I could keep on I just made for Andys birthday in April and it would be delicious. This saves me making another cake. Also half the mixture could be used to make in muffin trays... then heat them and serve them as Christmas puddings. But halved will be no problems. I hope you love it! With thanks,

  11. Woohoo go Annabel! More fabulous ideas to add to the list. I had a score at Vinnies yesterday. I picked up three bags if mixed materials and half finished projects plus a large shoe box of country craft patterns. I have now been through the materials and have a full shopping bag of fat quarters and larger pieces for quilting projects. I also have two half finished quilt tops. I am going to cut these up into smaller items such as heat pads, table runners and pot holders. Once these are done my Christmas gifts are complete and there will be excess to become gifts for family and friends for Birthdays next year. We get to see our boy, home from deployment, in a weeks time so for the next couple of weeks present making will be on the back burner. Due to your prompting I started early and don't have to worry about the Christmas rush. Thank you.

    1. Dear Jane,
      You must be so excited to see your son! I would be getting ready for that as well. I am so glad for you.
      What finds! I LOVE the idea to cut up already quilted projects and use to make up smaller ones this is really clever. They all will be gorgeous.
      And getting ahead with presents is wonderful. Thats what I try to do. It avoids the last minute spend too much syndrome entirely!
      You have given me (and others) some really good ideas, thank you. With love

  12. Just remembered Rhonda, Down to Earth blog, has a recipe, Cheap and Easy Biscuits. The dough makes up to 80 biscuits. I use what I need and freeze the rest. You can add anything to these biscuits and they are always a hit.

  13. Annabel your coconut ice looks gorgeous! And there's something really classy about the whole pan of shortbread. I love gingerbread and saw an idea I think my kids would love. Bake a big gingerbread man (probably a template that would fit on an A4 piece of paper), and wrap with some decorations like lollies, sprinkles, chocolate chips etc and a small tub of icing). Then they can decorate it themselves.

    Chocolate freckles are really easy to make, just melt chocolate and pour a little into the bottom of muffin tins (or silicone moulds), and sprinkle with 100's and 1000's. It's neat to make them in Texas muffin tins so they are extra large! I have gingerbread men and Christmas tree moulds that will be cute I think.

    One year I made lemon butter for a few people using a recipe that uses egg yolks only (really need to learn how to make it with whole eggs!). With the egg whites I made meringues, and gifted them in large glass canisters and some cream and strawberries. People often think meringues and pavlovas are a hard to make but they are easy with an electric hand mixer and very cheap to make too.

    A couple of years ago I was out for morning tea just before Christmas and saw some beautiful cupcakes selling for $4.50 each. The person I was with said to me that I could make them myself so I decided to have a go. I used my regular chocolate cake recipe, piped chocolate buttercream icing, and topped with chocolate Christmas tree or foil wrapped chocolate santa and some of those little silver balls. I boxed them up and was really happy with how they looked. I'm not flash with a piping bag, but once they had extra decorations on you wouldn't have know. Not sure how to send you a picture, but can if you like.

    Hope some of those ideas might be helpful to someone :)

    I made onion chutney yesterday and really like how it turned out so might make some more for gifts. Thought if I can make some crackers they would be a nice combo.

    Thanks for these posts Annabel! You are so generous with your ideas and time, especially the way you always respond to comments.

    1. Dear Jen,
      I dont think you could do better than make Lemon Butter plus meringues actually. I do have an easy lemon butter using whole eggs and you make it fast in the microwave (if you need it its in recipes or Google BBAN Lemon Butter) but seriously what you did is awesome.
      I would love to see your photos. One way is on FB as you comment click the photo icon and that is an easy way. Alternatively you are welcome to email me
      Cup cakes are expensive and look amazing.A wonderful gift.
      You are doing so well! You know the onion chutney... try it over a pizza base and add cooked chicken and a light amount of cheese and top with greens when it is cooked. This is really good!
      Thanks so much for your ideas! With love,

  14. Dear Annabel, Wow!! Thank you for a great post, wonderful ideas and beautiful pictures! You have been so busy. :)

    Besides cakes and cookies, I always make a cereal mix (some savory, some sweet) that would be similar to your nuts and bolts. In fact, my mom called it nuts and bolts but I had forgotten. lol

    I love to give food gifts. Today, I met up with a friend and gave her a small jar of dried tomatoes and some jam. I wrapped it up in a lace bag with pretty ribbon, all thanks to your wonderful ideas!! :)

    Have a lovely week! Love, Teri

    1. Dear Teri,
      What a nice gift for your friend. That was lovely.
      I bet Mums Nuts and Bolts recipe is just an Australian adaptation of your Mums recipe since we probably have different named cereals. Anyway it is a really good one!
      I hope you are having a great week! With lots of love,

  15. Well that's very exciting seeing some of my tea towels up in print Annabel.

    You have written a lovely post and I say that if there is anyone who would not be able to get any ideas from that then I'd be stonkered!

    Went to a local restaurant for lunch today and $40 for one main and one drink later, I was thinking how much I could have got for that money. Mind you I had a lovely catch up with a dear friend but that could do a lot of pantry filling.

    Love Fi xx

    1. Dear Fiona,
      Your tea towels are really lovely. Way better than bought ones. I wish they made nice patterns and colours but that is rare! And if they do they want $20 each or more for them. They are a great gift.
      I hope you are having a good week. Its lovely and springy here which I am loving. With love, Annabel.xxxx

  16. Fantastic ideas Annabel. I have almost got everything ready to make your Christmas cakes, I am so excited. You have put down such great ideas. I love gifts that can be used or consumed. I love how you have something for everyone and that packaging is just delightful. Love, Bridge

    1. Dear Bridge,
      I am madly hoping the cakes turn out well! Crossing my fingers and toes!
      Truly once you have done them once you are set. You will have so many gifts lined up! With love,

  17. Thank you for the fantastic ideas. Such lovely presentation! I too plan to give cutting boards that my husband and I will make together. Of course we'll add some tasty goodies and kitchen towels. These will be mailed to out of town family. Keep up the good work!

    1. Dear Leslie,
      the cutting boards are really a great gift and useful "tray" to give things on. I googled to get ideas for the shapes. I would like to do a large round antique french style one. In the stores they are VERY expensive too.
      It is great to have plans underway! Many thanks,

  18. Hi Annabel,

    I haven't ever commented before, but I've been reading your blog for months! Your ideas are wonderful and inspiring, and your enthusiasm and kindness shine thru your words.

    I often make up a dry pancake mix (buckwheat and dried cranberries) and gift it with a lemon (the zest is used to mix up the pancakes) and a jar of homemade fruit syrup to drizzle over the pancakes. In a nice thrift store bowl, this makes a great breakfast gift, and I sometimes give this to newly married couples, along with a whisk.

    Another favorite here for Christmas gifts is chocolate bark: 4-6 oz. bittersweet choc. melted, 4-6 oz. white choc. melted...stir a bit of dried fruit into the white (dried cranberries or mixed peel, or whatever), and a few whole almonds or other nuts into the bittersweet...drop alternate spoonfuls on a waxed- or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Tap sheet on counter a couple of times to flatten out all the spoonfuls and then take a butter knife and swirl the edges of the spoonfuls together, blending the edges into nice swirls of the chocolates and giving a beautiful marbled effect. Chill until firm and then break into pieces. Better than any gourmet chocolate! This can be divided up into portions for a few gifts and looks and tastes heavenly!

    Thanks so much for all your ideas, Annabel!

    Jen in Nova Scotia

    1. Dear Jen,
      Thank you so much for commenting and welcome! I am so glad to have you here.
      I love the gift of the pancake mix and things to go with it. In my mind I immediately image a lovely morning or brunch where the person is enjoying pancakes. So its a gift of an experience as well. Its a great idea.
      Thank you for explaining the chocolate bark. I love the idea that anyone can do it and without fancy equipment or anything. I will try it. The marbled effect sounds divine. Thank you!
      With love, Annabel.xxxx

  19. Thank you for all the ideas. I can't believe the holidays will be upon us:)
    Curious as to whether you ever heard from Laine? Miss her terrible.

    1. Dear Becky,
      Thank you! I hadnt heard from Laine for a long time and I got an email from her last week! There is no news of blogging though. I did write back to ask her... They have been happy and busy with marriages and Abbie had a baby just after Lucy did. So that is lovely. That is all I can help you with but it is nice to know they are all happy and well. With love

  20. Hi Annabel, I haven't commented in a fair while, but have still been reading along when I can. I just LOVE your gift making posts! Thank you for sharing so many wonderful ideas. I love sewing and have a bit of a stash of quilting fabrics I have collected over the last couple of years, since being bitten by the quilting bug! So I have been trying to think what I could make for my extended family for Christmas using my fabric, that would be nice and useful for them, and that is not too time consuming to sew, as I have young kids and sewing time is not overly abundant. I was thinking maybe shoe bags for the adults (big drawstring pouches) they can use to pack a pair of shoes in when travelling. Not sure if its a good idea though. Or there's always table runners, or placemats... Not sure what to make my kids & nieces & nephews. Do you have any good fabric gift ideas Annabel, for kids or adults? Also, just wanted to share a free crochet cherry tutorial I came across with you - as soon as I saw it, I thought 'Annabel would love this!!' Here is the link Hope its ok to put the link here in my comment, I couldn't see how I could email you through your website. You could crochet these up and add them to your beautiful cards, or gift tags, or hanging off your jam jars... I'm sure you'll have lots of good ideas of how you could use them. Wish I could crochet!! Anyway, thanks again for all of your inspiration and amazing ideas. Kelly xo

    1. Thanks Kelly and thank you also for the link! I will be watching and trying it as I love cherry motifs. Helen loves cherries too.
      When you have time use you tube to learn how to chain (which you might know already) then single and double crochet. Practice those. Most crochet is just those stitches, once you can do them it is the patterns you do them in. You tube will have you up and going really fast!
      Now the fabric! Fabric gives you so many possibilities. And I will keep it fast sewing as I understand with children you do not need complicated.
      With larger bits personalized pillowcases are lovely. You know, tractors for a little boy who loves tractors and so on. I have used several fabrics in one pillowcase too, that coordinate together. A pillowcase is nice for older ladies also. You can add trim if you want.
      Napkins. sets of napkins (serviettes) are lovely all tied up in a bundle. Tea towels/kitchen towels... as Fiona did above. Jam toppers, good for small left overs. shopping bags instead of plastic shopping bags. Smaller bits that are lovely can be used to cover books to make journals and diaries for gifts.
      These are some of the easy things I like to do. Oh I forgot hankies. Beautiful soft cotton hankies. A lady on A Working Pantry fb page posted some she made recently. They were florals and BEAUTIFUL and drew lots of oohs and ahhs. That is my next project, Im saving voiles for these.
      I hope that helps. Use pinterest also ie type in "what to sew with fat quarters" and various searches. Very helpful.
      Thanks so much for commenting, with love (let me know how you go!)

  21. So many fantastic doable ideas...Thank you Annabel xxx

  22. Thanks for sharing these great ideas for food gifts for the holidays. I co-host every Monday a blog party called Cooking and Crafting with J & J. I would love to have you join and share this at the blog party. Thanks and I hope you have a wonderful Friday and weekend.
    Julie at Julie's Lifestyle

  23. Dear Julie, thank you! And thank you for the invitation, Ill be there! I will write this in my diary, many thanks,

  24. I love those ideas!! It's always nice to bless someone with something that they will enjoy, and not just store in a closet! Thank you for sharing with us at the #HomeMattersParty

  25. Hello Annabel,
    Thanks for sharing these great ideas at our Monday party Cooking and Crafting with J & J.
    We hope to see you again!
    Julie at Julie's Lifestyle

  26. A good one to share at Five Star Frou-Frou Annabel. Thankyou. Love, Mimi xxx

  27. Such neat ideas! :)

    Thanks for joining Cooking and Crafting with J & J!


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