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I can’t believe I haven’t been here in so long. I can’t believe you’ve been coming back and checking in all this time. I can’t believe you haven’t given up on me. I bow to you in gratitude while applauding your clearly divine patience.

What’s been going on is delicious and note worthy. December was cooked into a gourmet month in its entirety. Suddenly my name was passed from mouth to mouth and I landed catering gigs and other fun events of sorts that kept me tied to my stove.

To keep the long story short, I’m attaching a few photos from the above mentioned moments of what later turned out to be a great success:

Beef skewers with sweet potato, grape and chimichurri sauce.

Coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate and polished for the party.

One of my brilliant helpers, Molly, working my Goat Cheese Tarts like she means it.

The #1 Crowd Pleaser: Beef Sliders w/ Balsamic Shallots

One bites: Cherry Tomatoes with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Glaze

Those are just the few snapshots I was able to take in the midst of the festivities. As soon as all the parties were over with, I was home in a bath tub filled with hot waters and enhanced with silky oils. The bath was mandatory if I were to get up early the following morning and pack for our trip East.

There, as in Texas, we entered virgin (to me) territories of disc golfing. Having successfully scattered all my discs all over the four adjacent fields, and that’s not what I were to aim for, I decided at last to let the others do the work while I laid in the grass to contemplate. Things seemed to look more interesting from that angle.

Three Musketeers of disc golfing at it.

Also, it was cold. Cold it was. Have I mentioned it was really, really cold out there?

The more so we enjoyed getting back into the warmth of the Harkins’ family’s house right in time for Christmas celebrations. Santa lost his marbles this year, clearly, as the mountain of presents that built up around the tree was making me dizzy just by looking at it. It could only be compared, I imagine, to the impression Uluru Mountain in Australia made on Oprah on her recent trip to Australia. All we wanted to do at the sight of our holy hill of presents was to close our eyes and meditate over its natural beauty.

Not for long. The children soon arrived and the mass destruction began. Neatly wrapped boxes proceeded to fly across the room, ribbons got ripped impatiently, and the wrapping paper torn into confetti.

Don’t be fooled by the innocent faces of those two little munchkins. They know their game, trust me.

It all stil looks neat and sane, doesn’t it? Just wait.

Heavy duty trash bags and oxygen masks were required to bring this war zone back to civilized conditions.

Then, suddenly I realized Cosmo went missing. How could he have not really? My instant reaction was to scream:

FREEZE! NOBODY MOVES. EMPTY THE TRASH BAG RIGHT NOW.

I did it with my inside voice, thank god. I had put that family through enough already with my shopping cart rides across their local Walmart, and then again by asking for vibrators at their local BEST BUY when the nice salesman offered to help us with any electronics we may be in need of. It’s a small town, by the way. I’ll say no more.

At the peak of my panic, I glanced just below my feet (the monkey in me climbed up the couch to take a few shots of the surrounding madness) and saw Cosmo tucked between the cushions… those of the sofa itself and those belonging to Jason’s mom…

I feel like I should end this ramble-o-thon right about now, but then it wouldn’t be complete without Paula Dean, would it?

The Queen of Southern Coking opened the Rose Bowl Parade herself, and Jason and I were there on the crisp morning of the New Year in Pasadena, and our asses we froze, and off the bucket list we took part taking in the thing forever. Alleluia.

Though we also snapped a big bucket of photos, I think I’ve exhausted my audience, my blog space, and my own self with this vomit of stories. Please, forgive my erratic behavior on these pages. I’m just a girl… who likes to cook and then write about it. I can’t control everything else that falls in between.

Happy New Year, Everybody. I’m excited to go through it with you again. Cheers!

Belated, I know. Mea culpa.

Or, I could blame it on Christmas.

First, I was hired (yoohoo!) to cater several Christmas parties in December, which kept me occupied twenty-four-seven till the minute the celebrations were over. Shortly after that we packed and left for East Texas, where Santa tossed truck-loads of gifts under the tree and the surrounding it floor, thus creating an obstacle the size of the Chinese Wall and consequently making it impossible for me to get through to my computer. Then, a fleet of overjoyed kids went through the house like a tornado, and I was forced to put all my efforts into trying to stay alive. Next, you wouldn’t believe it but Jason and I went through a dust storm, followed by tumble weed attack of massive proportions, then rain, sleet, and eventually a full on snow blizzard on our way back to Los Angeles.

I’m sure you’ll agree the circumstances I found myself in offered anything but piece and quiet for me and my laptop. Hence, the promised snapshots of the culinary extravaganza by widely popular eco-lifestylist and raw food chef Ani Phyo are only now lining up into a slide show for your enjoyment.

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There’s more information about the food and bites from behind the scene on Ani’s blog. You should click and take a peek.

Also, I owe you a couple of corrections to my previous article that Ani herself said were not a big deal. Hobo Oil she uses on her skin is made of jojoba, the plant. Also, she suggested using spirulina powder itself for an eye shadow, since it is dark green color. As for her make up, Ani uses the ones mineral based.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday break. I shall reveal some intimate details from mine in the upcoming entries along with delicious food teasers, as customary.

Today’s article was sponsored by the color PURPLE.

(Go Frogs!)

Suddenly the air is different around here. The sun lays its rays at a new angle now. Its warming arms take longer to wrap themselves around my shivering shoulders. My bones feel denser, my brain heavier. I feel the change in my tummy even without the weather forecast bloke warning me of an upcoming winter storm.

WINTER STORM?? Aren’t we getting a tad dramatic? It’s still Southern California we’re talking about. Mother Nature came, coughed once or twice, and spat a few drops of rain on the ground. So much for the vicious and nut-cringing cold front, Mr. Weather Man.

Nevertheless, I can see the change of season in my kitchen as well. All the golden and ruby leaves fell and went. New vegetables arrived. Crimson cuts of beef begged to be braised in red wine with a harem of root vegetables, ending their poetic orgy as a hearty and gut-warming stew on a bed of toasted pearl barley…

Three days later a bowl of hot, mildly spicy, yet with a hint of sweet innocence BIGOS turned up on our table bringing bliss and comfort just like a Swedish massage followed by a plunge into a hot tub would.

WAIT, WHAT DID YOU CALL IT?

Repeat after me: BEE-GOHS. You got it. Bigos is a Polish staple, at least in my family. There isn’t a holiday, or any family gathering without a giant pot full of this steaming hot sauerkraut stew. Every cook has his/her method and thus certain details of its preparation differ. My mother always mixes white cabbage and sauerkraut in almost equal proportions along with a myriad of spices and a whole animal. I swear, she adds half a pig and anther half of a milking cow into her stew and cooks it all together for hours, or days if possible. What we end up with at the dinner table is pure magic.

When I first moved to California, I moved into a house shared with two other girls. The place was furnished, set, and very homey. I got homesick. I was still eating only vegan foods back then, and in order to cure my nostalgia I was reinventing my mama’s dishes sans any products having lived with a face. My Vegan Bigos was born, and it rocked the worlds of many. I substituted meat with tofu and tempeh, added a bunch of wild mushrooms, and let the goodness cook for hours and hours and hours.

The version I make today is even simpler. On average I use:

- about a quart of store-bought sauerkraut, rinsed under cold water, wrenched and then chopped

- 2 small leaks, washed properly as leeks should be washed, then chopped

- 1 large onion, cut into small to medium dice

- a few garlic cloves, finely chopped

- 2-3 half inch rings of uncured pancetta, diced

- 3 small carrots, peeled and grated

- 4 oz tomato paste (But seriously, I never measure anything, so who knows…)

- handful of dried wild mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water for min. 1 hour prior

- seasoning: salt, pepper, lots of paprika, chili pepper, nutmeg, 2-3 bay leaves, dry marjoram, even thyme if lying around

- vegetable oil (I use sunflower).

I start with heating up the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, then add my pancetta and let the chunks render. When the bits get crispier, I take them out, and toss in the onions and the leeks. I let them sauté for a couple of minutes before I add garlic. Right off the bat, into the mix there goes about a tablespoon of dried marjoram and a touch of salt to help the veg sweat. Now you’re ready to add the sauerkraut, carrots, mushrooms along with the water they soaked in (Watch for any dirt and sand on the bottom of the cup though!), tomato paste and all spices but the black pepper. You’ll finish seasoning your stew with pepper (and more salt if needed) in the very end.

Bring back the pancetta bits and mix all your ingredients together. Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and let cook for 1.5 – 2 hours. Check on the guys every so often and add a touch of water if it gets too dry. Also, you don’t want to burn the stuff. It’s too good to waste! Mark my words.

Rustic simplicity: a bowl of steamy hot, comforting Polish Stew with a slice of bread, or better a few hot potatoes. Bigos (if cooked with minimal amount or no meat) is an excellent accompaniment to pork loin or even a steak. You can dress it with fresh dill or parsley. Cilantro works just as well. Some Poles like it sweeter and add prunes and/or plum preserves. Some like it on a sour side and avoid such nonsense. You’re the artist, it’s your dish. Go ahead, cook and make potfuls of mouthwatering art poached in love and seasoned with fairy dust. Fear not the winter frost any longer!

What happened? Where am I? What day is it? Sunday? How did that happen???

We were just packing for our two-day road trip to east Texas, and leaving LA to drive right along thousands of other Holiday commuters, when suddenly I saw a cop right behind me blinding me with those scary blue and red lights. The Police officer pulled us over, asked for my driving papers and warned us of the upcoming snow blizzard. He also suggested we stop in the nearby town over night to wait it out. The next thing I knew I was holding a citation ticket for speeding worth almost $300. Merry Christmas!

Once we got over the 300 bucks assault, we chose to keep on driving for as long as we could. We did reach the southern tip of the blizzard and were faced with only two options: to either stay over night in a motel off the highway, or to change the route while adding minimum 5 hours to our journey. We chose the latter despite horrible driving conditions and directly related skyrocketing stress level. After a close to 20-hour day on the road, we finally arrived at Jason’s parents house at 1 am.

Then the fun part began!

Among the MILLION of Christmas gifts laying under the tree at  Dr. Jimmy and Linda Harkins’ house, Cosmo instantly found the one meant for him. His nose never fails. He started sniffing a little box containing his brand new balls and sat by its side ever since like the Queen’s Guard in front of Buckingham Palace.

Minutes before we destroyed the boxes so neatly dressed in seasonal colors, Dr. Jimmy Harkins set the mood with a few Christmas songs he played on the piano. What he really did, unbeknownst to him, he saved his family from going deaf when Agi decided to try her dubious and long forgotten skills when trying to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (or something) on the piano. Yes, I sat down on the bench, stretched my arms, cracked my fingers, cleared my throat, and hit the first note. It was instantly apparent I had no clue how to operate the instrument in front of me. Jason’s father took over, bless his heart, in an attempt to show me a few things. Everyone present sighed with relief.

Jason’s 3-year old nephew, Connor, along with his younger brother are both going through the Spiderman phase. Everything in their world, and I mean EVERYTHING, is about Spiderman. You should see Connor’s underpants he’s wearing under those cute jeans.

The box with the new balls is right behind that fuzzy white ass. “I ain’t moving ANYWHERE until somebody opens that damn box already!”

It took many hours and lots of stamina to go through all the packages stuck under the tree. Despite how generous and well informed Santa Claus was, I could be distracted for only so long. My stomach wanted food!  Starved and exhausted by RECEIVING PRESENTS, we sat at the dining table at last and stuffed our faces with Christmas delicacies. There was Smoked Turkey with Dressing and Gravy, a Strawberry Jello Salad, Green Beans, Devil Eggs, Cajun Chicken, Pasta Salad, Biscuits, and my Polish contribution – Mushroom Soup.

Food coma prevented me from taking photos of the commotion around the kitchen counter that served as a buffet and consequently the Christmas feast. Additionally, I only have so much time this morning to report on the events of the last few days before the rest of the gang wakes up and the circus starts all over again. To give you an idea of the energy level in the house let me just say that last night, after sniffing all the new people and places around, then guarding his gift under the tree, then chasing his new balls, then being chased by two munchkins, then chasing his new balls again, and responding to everyone calling his name, finally Cosmo crashed and burned like I’ve never seen him before. He snored louder then Jason and his mother together. Jason’s mom slept at the lake house some 10 miles away mind you.

I hope to be back here with the Mushroom Soup recipe tomorrow.

Ho-ho-ho!

Don’t be hatin’, but I’m here only for a minute. This pre-Christmas bustle is not a relaxing time, oh no. Not only is there a list of people to be gifted, and consequently a list of gifts to be found, packed, shipped, sneaked and hidden, delivered and stored under that Christmas Tree, but also there are parties to attend, parties to be thrown, delicacies to be baked, Ho Ho Ho’s to be wished, cards to be sent…. Oh, brother!

That’s the closest I’ve ever been to Santa, or His helper. Only when I squeezed myself into that naughty costume did I feel the magic! It’s a photo from a Halloween Party we held a couple of years ago that I dug out for your entertainment today.

Now back to business. In the continued series of light and balanced dinner ideas for the time between all the diet-busting holidays, I propose a fillet of GRILLED SALMON OVER A BED OF SPINACH. Not only is this obviously healthy, but also it’s highly satisfying on multiple levels. It’s a surprisingly filling dinner, that fills your mouth with bliss and – to quote Mick Jagger himself – SATISFACTION!

Grab yourself a bag of baby spinach and empty it into a bowl. Drizzle with a DRESSING of your choice, por exemplo:

- 1 part of red wine vinegar

- 3 parts of walnut oil

- 1 tsp of Dijon mustard

- 1 finely chopped shallot

- 1 tbsp of honey

- big pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Whisk it together, until the mixture is emulsified into a delicious VINAIGRETTE. Drizzle the nectar over the green, now crumble small pieces of goat cheese all over. Feel free to add dried cranberries and chopped and toasted pecans or simply diced beet (previously cooked). Mix the salad together while your fillet of salmon is grilling cheerfully on a hot grilling pan or an outdoor grill (if you’re blessed with one). Remember to season your fish evenly on both sides with kosher salt and pepper. It’s OK to sprinkle some dry herbs over the flesh, like thyme or marjoram for that extra layer of flavor.

When ready, place the salmon over the bed of spinach salad, and wait no longer for the first satisfying bite.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must retire to the kitchen to fix a treat for the  Christmas Tea Party I’m attending this afternoon. Good Day Everybody!

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