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It’s been nearly a decade since I left Poland and started building my life here, in the United States of America. I lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., after which I moved to New York City where I spent almost five years. For the last forty-three months Los Angeles has been my home. I speak English on daily basis. I think English. I dream a combination of languages. My mother tongue, however, is Polish. You can hear it in every word that comes out of my mouth, even though you understand what I’m saying. I say ONION, you hear OHNIOHN. I say ALMOND, and you hear AHLMOHND. Sometimes you can read it between the lines on these pages just as easily.
I am Polish to the core despite the fact I chose a different place on the Earth to settle down, and soon to start a family. Today I am heartbroken.
I woke up to the news of an immense tragedy that touched my home country hours earlier. The plane that carried the Polish president, Mr. Lech Kaczynski, his admirable wife, his advisors along with other Polish notables, crashed as it came in to land in Russia. No one onboard survived the tragedy. 97 people were killed in almost an instant.
At first, I couldn’t comprehend what I was hearing from my mom and what I was reading in the news. How is that possible???
Messages and phone calls poured in from my friends. Thank you all.
I tried to go about my day; there was laundry to be done, groceries to be purchased, the house to be cleaned. Jason left to do some rock climbing with a friend, a thrill he doesn’t get a chance to experience too often despite his Indiana Jones’ sentiments.
I kept my hands busy, but their sense of touch was asleep. Instead, all the feeling was stuffed inside my chest. That cage underneath my breast was the heaviest part of my body, but I did carry it around when stocking up our pantry, shifting wet clothes from a washing machine into a dryer, and when strolling down the sidewalk with Cosmo during our midday walk.
The images of the President and nearly one hundred people that surrounded him on the plane just minutes before it smashed on the ground kept intruding. I looked for comfort in my kitchen, the place where, while alone, I’m the happiest. I had a large turkey breast to roast that I could later slice and use for Jason’s lunch sandwiches. We finally had said NO to the processed, pre-sliced turkey breast one gets from a store, even the one dressed with a low-sodium label. Two red bell peppers jumped with joy knowing they would keep the turkey company in the oven. What a better sandwich combination than a freshly roasted slice of meat with roasted bell peppers enveloped by two crunchy toasts?
Then I found a bunch of leftover arugula, half wilted and sad. Or maybe it was just mirroring my own melancholy. I didn’t want to throw it away into the dumpster. Today’s headlines of all major news broadcasters flashed before my eyes. I hit up a cup of fruity extra virgin olive oil in a small pot. I thought of the families of the killed in the plane crash. I crashed and peeled two garlic cloves. What if it was somebody close to me on that plane? The President’s daughter has just lost both of her parents. The food processor was set on the counter and ready to work. I was oblivious to the greens that went inside. Garlic. Pinch of salt. Put the lid on. Click. Press the button. ON. There were no survivors. The feeling in my chest doubled in size like bread dough. It tripled. Warm oil slowly poured into the feeding tube. Warm, salty drops of my overwhelming sadness dripped into the arugula oil.
Tears well in my eyes as I type these words. Every few minutes I walk to the bathroom to wipe my face and to blow my nose so I can breathe between paragraphs. I would have never thought the death of the Polish president, the president who had not gotten my vote, would have caused such deep grief in me.
He wasn’t alone. Polish military leaders, bishops, deputies, the president of the National Bank, they are all gone. They are… were my fellow Poles. Just like them, I took my first steps on the Polish ground, I mastered my language, I gained education. They were kids once, too. Just like them—I’m sure—I fell off the places I wasn’t supposed to climb and thus collected bruises and bumps on my knees and my head. I read the same books they did. I loved the same great Polish actors they admired. I grew up eating the same pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms they enjoyed most of their lives. And I shared their pride of Fryderyk Chopin, Maria Sklodowska-Curie, Mikolaj Kopernik, Wislawa Szymborska, Czeslaw Milosz and Henryk Sienkiewicz, et al.
I look around and everything seems the same as yesterday. Cosmo lounges by my side, as lazy and happy as can be. Our house is just as cozy and homey as ever. The aroma of roasted meat and vegetables wonders around the apartment and lurks into its every corner. The sun still shines through the windows covered with ubiquitous dust of this polluted city. The squirrels keep chasing each other on the brunches of trees outside our bedroom fighting over whatever nut or other delicacy they find. Our buddy hummingbird stops by and peeks into the kitchen, then BZZZZT and he’s gone. Everything seems unchanged. And yet I know it has.
Today I’m mourning. My tears, my heart, my prayers go out to my Polish Nation and the families of the deceased.
Hello, have we met? I’m Agi, or better Agnieszka, also known as
This newfound and boosted self-esteem is a result of doing a few simple exercises with my wonderful and so inspiring circle of women-friends. As the New Moon arrived, Missy gathered us in her cozy abode and guided us as we set our intentions for 2010. Camilla got the energy moving with the above-mentioned fun practice. Writing those down really got me all excited about the POWER OF ME, and only then was I able to write down
MY TOP 10 TRIUMPHS OF 2009:
1. I ended my slavery to various employers, which brought on the whole theme of reinventing of self along with so-longed-for sense of freedom.
2. We found and created with Jason our first home together. It’s beautiful, cozy and really does feel like home, at last.
3. Living together only strengthened and enriched our relationship.
4. I unleashed my creative “monster”, as I truly believe that nothing can stop me now from creating whatever I want in my life. I do have a shit load of confidence in myself all of a sudden. Yee-haw!
5. I created “One More Bite” – the blog you’re reading, which was a pretty kick-ass idea and quite a bold move considering the commitment. I love it!
6. I mastered my culinary skills, which is and forever will be a work in progress as it’s nothing like riding a bike, kid yourself not.
7. Hey, I became a PERSONAL CHEF! Hello! Give yourself the gift of being served a homemade, delicious and organic meal that will make your hair shine and a bod so fine – send me an email through facebook or twitter.
8. I chopped off my hair, thus marking the end of my healing process from various pains of my 20s (that manifested with miserable eating disorders and such, now just a vague and sad memory) and embracing my commitment to living in balance with nature and loving myself for I rock my world!
9. I built many new and wonderful friendships, and boosted the existing ones, which is HUGE considering my ALIEN status with a green card. My kinfolks, for the most part, are all on the other side of the BIG POND, a.k.a. Atlantic. Hence, my friends are my immediate family over here.
10. I felt GREAT for the most part of 2009. Let’s see: 365 days – 12 days (PMS) = 353 days of pure, nauseating, daring HAPPINESS.
Yup, it was a good year. Now you go. Stop whatever it is you’re doing, put that doughnut down, stop reading nonsense on the Internet, don’t scratch yourself there!, leave the dishes for later, stop worrying about the bills for a moment, ignore your meowing companion (whoever it is) and take a 10 minute break to write down, hence see with your bare eyes, how successful your 2009 was, how powerful being you are, and feel the energy flowing through your temple of a body.
Done? Feeling MIGHTY? Purrfect. Now take that elevated spirit and translate it into a hearty and comforting meal you deserve right now. Here’s an idea – SPANISH RICE a’la Agi that will punch you in the face with its rich and robust flavor.
Here I used this fancy-shmancy blend of rice grains mixed with black barley that added to the drama of the final look of my dish.
You can use leftover rice that you don’t know what to do with. Or just as well get yourself a pot full of brown rice, or any other unbleached, husk-on variety, and plan on feeding your lovely self and all your neighbors for weeks to come. I don’t care. All I want from you is a batch of cooked rice that you will now flavor to your liking.
Let’s begin with infusing olive oil with yummy flavors. Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a pan; drop in a handful of peeled and crashed garlic cloves, one or two branches of fresh thyme, and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Keep the pan over low heat thus letting everyone get comfy in the warmth of the oil for about 2 minutes.
Next, remove the herb and smash the garlic with a fork, enforcing it even deeper into the oil. Now, instantly add the rice (about 3 cups of cooked grain) and stir and fold it to ensure everything gets coated evenly with your flavored olive oil. Open a small can of tomato paste and empty it into the pan. Season it with a touch of kosher salt and one tablespoon of dry paprika. If you’re going for that smashing HIT in your mouth, feel free to add cayenne pepper as well. Once again, shuffle the rice and spread the paste all over it. When the mass is of a coherent color, spread it evenly over the surface of the pan and let it sit there over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the bottom gets a little crispy.
In the end, add a touch of Mother Nature in the form of fresh parlsey and/or dill, roughly chopped and sprinkled like snowflakes over the tip of Mount Everest.
I love my SPANISH RICE on its own, however for Jason I stir-fry a few chicken tenders that later tend to his six-pack, biceps, and those delicious cheek muscles (my favorite cut).
ushanka – a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or tied at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold.
We’re talking California cold. The temperatures dropped to maybe 50˚ (during evening hours) and it’s kind of chilly in the house. I swear, I’m not even kidding you, I love it. It was a long and hot summer, even for us, those lucky bustards of South California. Don’t throw things at me envious Missourians and indignant Californians, for I have sinned much worse in my short life than utter these words: screw all-year-round summer weather. I’m so bored with the toned arm-bearing top-tanks and tanned thigh-revealing shorts. I’ve missed having some cloths on.
Luckily, my prayers have been answered, and I’ve noticed a shift in the weather pattern. We still get to enjoy sunny and warm days, but those now get framed by chilly mornings and cold evenings. All of a sudden we’ve realized the furnace is broken (Mike, I hope you’re reading this!), and that our windows really do close. Also, the comforter’s life has been filled with meaning again. It’s confidence grew overnight.
Hell, I got to wear socks today! I also restored my favorite tea mug that was on a sabbatical for all these months. I’ve just brewed myself a perfectly hot cup of organic twig tea…Oh. Nothing’s more soothing and comforting than a potion of soaked up branches and bushes.
Today I’m celebrating winter. And I don’t give a flying monkey what you say about autumn. Autumn-shmotumn. In California it’s not going to get any better than what I’ve got right now. At least I get to wear fuzzy socks and a furry mitt with the bikini that goes swimmingly with my new ushanka. I’m going all the way! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will sit in front of my imaginary fireplace, hold a cup of intensely fragrant and rich hot chocolate (as real as it comes – see below), listen to the non-existent crackle of fire, and feel its heat on my rosy cheeks. In the state of utmost relaxation, high on serotonin, I won’t even reject the straight jacket Jason will surely dress me up in upon entering the site.
In order to fulfill the fantasy, I need to follow these steps (read carefully and take notes):
- take a small sauce pan and set over a medium heat
- pour about 3/4 cup of organic almond milk (unsweetened) into the pan
- let the milk heat, but not boil
- pick The Most Favorite Cup In The World and position it on a kitchen counter
- open a sachet of organic FIRESIDE ALMOND HOT CHOCOLATE MIX bought from Whole Foods last Christmas
- measure 2 tbsp of the powder and add to The Most Favorite Cup In The World
- add 1/4 tsp of instant coffee (for that intense chocolate flavor, trust me)
- take the milk off the heat and pour over the hot chocolate powder in the cup
- mix all together
- put on a bikini, fuzzy socks, and ushanka
- sit in front of an imaginary fireplace
- hold the cup with the Hot Chocolate in both hands
- say Hi to the White Rabbit
- when I count to 3, you’ll open your eyes…
Oops, sorry. Was I daydreaming? Again?
Keep your fuzzy socks handy, everybody. It’s the ushanka season.
I farted around all day today. I did nothing. I sat on the couch and watched Cosmo snore. He sleeps with his head resting on a pillow and the rest of his body curled up in a fetal position. I mean, is he a person? Frankly, I’m convinced my dog is an incarnation of my future child. The thought is just as terrifying as it is thrilling.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a few dreams with Cosmo as my son… sort of. Once, he came to me as a young boy with angel-like curly hair and blue eyes. I knew I was about to go through this ultra scary transition into a new world. Suddenly, I got a phone call and it was Cosmo ringing from THE OTHER SIDE. He explained to me that he wasn’t able to make the transition for me despite how much he wanted to. However, he assured me that he was there waiting for me on the other side with his unconditional love, trust, and comfort. Don’t say a word, I know…!
Another time, I dreamt that Cosmo was … a horse … stunning … a true stallion. We walked together through a field of grass where a group of youngsters was playing soccer. You ought to know that Cosmo in my waking life is an excellent soccer player. You must see it to believe it. Tens of hundreds have been amazed thus far, and news of his talents keeps spreading across the land. In the dream, my HORSE went after the soccer ball and started playing the game! The guys were getting irritated, as he was chasing their ball. I yelled “Please, stop playing for a second so I can get him and take him off the field!” I kept calling “Cosmo! Cosmo! Come here!” When I finally fetched him, he lay down on his back clearly making his belly available for scratching! I’m still talking about a horse here, pay attention; it was a BIG HORSE BELLY. After we got up, we walked side by side, and again I felt his love, like of a son for his mother. I asked him to carry me. He stood up on his hind legs, the beautiful horse that he was, took me in his ARMS and carried me with the utmost care and tenderness. It was AMA-A-Ziiiing. I felt his “arms” shake gently, which I instantly addressed asking if I wasn’t too heavy (the true woman in me spoke!). He simply replied “No”.
If you haven’t yet, you should call the authorities now. My straightjacket size is 8, but if you can fit me in a 6 you’ll really make my day! When I think about it all, I’m torn whether I should see a psychiatrist, go through a series of parenting classes or check myself into Cesar Millan’s Dog Psychology Center. I CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH! Bring it on.
I don’t mean to get sentimental, but all that talk of Cosmo and being a mom, and then Jason falling asleep with his head on my belly makes me think of family, of home. HOME is the place I’ve always longed for, since I flew away from my childhood house when still just a chick with ruffled feathers and hay filling the space between my ears. For over a decade, I lived the life of a gypsy, scared of committing to one place. I broke into a cold sweat and my voice instantaneously rose three octaves when asked to sign a THREE-YEAR car lease.
Then I met Jason, and from DAY ONE we’ve been inseparable… uhhhh … sort of. Right off the bat, Guatemala kept us apart for two weeks. Then a Texas wedding got in the way, followed by more Texas interruptions that summer. Next, a Polish wedding across the ocean kept us high and dry for a week. And last but not least, Berlin rose like a WALL between us. It’s not the time apart, however, but the moments together that made us realize early on that I’m his PEA and he’s my CARROT.
For the first time in my adult life was I able to understand what HOME meant. Carried on memories wings, I traveled over the mountains and plains, over the ocean and back through time to my childhood days, back to the homeland in Europe, with all its customs and traditions, textures and fragrances, joys and sorrows. I finally appreciated my roots, my heritage, my own family. Suddenly, HOME wasn’t just the future house that My Love and I were to build together and the children we were to conceive. It all came together then, and my definition of HOME finally embraced where I come from along with what I bring into my future.
Hence, my urge to bring back the flavors I learned as a child into my life here in the US of A. It’s not an every day desire, but here and there I crave me some POTATO PANCAKES, or BARLEY AND MUSHROOM SOUP, or OPEN SANDWICHES just like granny used to make, and then the simple and delicious KOGEL-MOGEL to cure my sweet tooth. Nothing, however, and I mean nothing brings me back home faster than a fresh and deeply fragrant link of KIELBASA (or Polish sausage as you know it). Nooo, I do not make it myself. Are you crazy? I’m lucky enough to live in a multicultural city where there exists a Polish Grocery Store with Polish Kielbasa among other VERY YUMMY POLISH THINGS.
When I first discovered the store in Santa Monica, I immediately packed Jason in the car and drove there to present him with the tastes of my youth. As soon as we walked in, we were enveloped by the strong and tantalizing fragrance of kielbasa. There were many kinds to choose from, and boy did we try them all. After that Polish overindulgence, we never went back.
Many months went by, we moved to a new home, and befriended our neighbors. Peter turned out to be Polish. Of course, we talked food and even fed each other many Polish meals that we tried to recreate. Today, however, Peter did more than just run over for a bowl of Sauerkraut Soup. He stopped by the Polish Grocery and brought back a few pounds of KIELBASA. When he walked into my kitchen, the whole room filled with the aroma of smoked meat. Cosmo lost his mind. He forgot he was a dog, stood up on his hind legs (sounds familiar?) and danced around Peter as if it was the only way he knew to walk, his nose glued to the plastic bag in Peter’s hand. Any minute now, I thought, he’ll speak up “WOMAN, GIVE ME A PIECE OF THIS THING THAT SMELLS SO GOOD I DON’T EVEN KNOW MY NAME ANYMORE!”. As soon as my dear neighbor left, I put my head inside the bag, got down on my knees, inhaled deep, and …lost consciousness. The next thing I remember, Jason was scraping my kielbasa-stoned body off the floor, the plastic bag the meat came in still stuck to my face…
It took a day or two to recover my senses, and only then was I able to slice the links in a civilized manner to arrange them on top of toasted bread, and embellish the sandwich with cheese, tomatoes, and pickles. My tongue, once again, afforded me a trip back home for a quick but delicious visit.
If you live in Los Angeles, or only pass through at any moment in your life, make a point of stopping by J & T European Gourmet Food – the Polish Grocery in Santa Monica. They are located at 1128 Wilshire Boulevard. It will take care of your KIELBASA CRAVING good! That’s a promise.
All conceivable circumstances considered, this is the most important article I have and ever will write. And if I were never to write again (Although, I really hope I will!), I would be content knowing this piece was my last. The significance of the matter is stupendous, and -frankly – intimidates me. Who am I to tell you how to live your life? How to go about your days? How to evaluate your priorities? How to step out of your comfort zone and see past the conveniences of every day living? And yet, here I am…
Last night, we took Cosmo for a long walk down Sunset Boulevard. The night was warm, and traffic slowed down. While treading back to our nest, we decided to stop by Blockbuster and pick up a movie since we had nothing else planned for the evening. While I counted cracks in the pavement outside of the movie gallery and kept Cosmo company, Jason rummaged through the countless shelves inside the labyrinth of isles until he suddenly stumbled upon a movie called “Home”.
It’s creator – Yann Arthus-Bertrand – first became a household name, I think, when his photographic exhibition “Earth from Above” traveled around the world and was seen in over 100 countries. Jason was one of the millions awed by his magnificent art, and has been a fan ever since. Hence, choosing a movie became a no-brainer for my man.
The description on the back cover didn’t reveal much, and so all we expected to see was some spectacular footage of Earth seen from a bird’s eye view. And indeed we did.
The photographer took us on a whirlwind tour of the globe, showcasing its most beautiful areas – the magnificent patchwork of the blue and green and orange and yellow and red – the marvelous painting that is, Earth. The music score was brilliant – moody and taunting tunes interlaced, followed by ethnic pride and elegance all captured in one woman’s voice. The combination of the breathtaking images with the accompanying music was a concert on viewers’ emotions. It was a concert that the director played as skillfully as a virtuoso operates his Stradivarius. Our chests filled with awe; our eyes – overwhelmed by the beauty – glossed over with tears.
Glenn Close narrated. Led by her calm voice, we traveled back to the origins of life, to the beginnings of evolution. We were reminded of the most tedious work committed by Earth over 4 billion years. It took baby steps, millions of years apart, to have eventually allowed for the birth of Homo sapiens, circa 200,000 years ago. (And really just a wink, when you grasp the Earth’s perspective of time.)
While images of ever moving blue waters, and sky-reaching green tree tops, and herds of wild animals pressing through dry savannas, and the earliest human villages flashed in front of our eyes, Glen Close retold the story of the human genius. Over those 200,000 years, we humans learnt how to hunt and gather, then plant and collect crop. Next we built cities around organized agriculture, and thus we became civilized.
Flash forward to the 20th century that marked the technological revolution in our history. The images kept coming, more familiar, more recent, but the music changed forecasting severe weather, and hinted pain and sorrow. Suddenly, Jason and I were bombarded with numbers that terrified us and dropped such weight on our shoulders that we fell short of breath.
In only six decades since 1950, the world population has nearly tripled. Mass food production has been taken to a new level, and yet nearly 1 billion people around the world goes hungry every day. In the US, a population of 300 million, there are only 3 million farmers left, but collectively they produce enough food to feed 2 billion people. Over 50% of it, however, goes into the creation of bio-fuels and meat production. (To get a better understanding of the food industry in the USA you should watch the recently released “Food, Inc”.)
“Home” took the whole of humanity under a microscope and pointed out the hasty exploitation of non-renewable resources and their reckless expenditure.
Dubai was profiled in the movie as the most visible example of that waste – a city with artificially created islands and skyscrapers highest in the whole world, all paid for with oil money, the city with such abundance of sunlight and not a single solar panel. Las Vegas, with its millions of inhabitants, is one of the largest consumers of water in the world. It all screams EXCESS!
The air pollution is catastrophic. Ice cap is thinner by 40% than it was 40 years ago. Three quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted. 13 million hectares of forests are cut down every year. 40% of the total arable soil of the planet is damaged.
As Glen Close continued to list the scars we caused to the Earth, Yann Arthus-Bertrand fed us images of eroded hills of Madagascar that looked as if they were bleeding.
Next, we were taken to cities like Shengzhen that just within just 40 years grew from a small fishing village to a multi-million population. In Shanghai there were 3000 towers and skyscrapers built in 20 years. Hundreds more are under construction today.
Lands depleted of water, plants, and animals forced their farmers away in search of food and survival. Over 2 billion people have migrated from villages and countryside to urbanized world. In consequence, the overcrowded megacities became plagued with poverty, more hunger, and diseases.
The natural balance between humanity and the planet has been disrupted. It’s been estimated we have only 10 years left to reverse the trend causing the climate change before we enter the darkest era for the humanity. We have the knowledge and solutions. We know what to do. Now it’s just the matter of doing it.
Those of you familiar with Godfrey Reggio’s “Koyaanisqatsi” (which in Hopi Indian language means “Life out of balance”) will probably agree with my Jason that “Home” is the same cry for help on behalf of Earth, another plea to our consciousness to stop the greedy madness and destructive exploitation of the planet. “Home” is just more vocal and armed with most recent numbers and statistics.
We thought we’d picked up a movie highlighting a talent of our favorite artist. We hoped for a little creative stimulus before bed and food for the soul in the form of photographic exhibition on film. It turned out the movie we chose, by pure chance, was a story about us – you, me, our siblings, neighbors, your children, my grandkids, and all people within any degree of separation.
When the movie was over, I was so overwhelmed by sadness I cried. I couldn’t sleep feeling as if I was wasting time.
Al Gore’s “The Inconvenient Truth” may have shaken millions of people. And it wasn’t the first time we heard about global warming and pollution, hunger and poverty, and the overall devastating effects on the planet our oil-dependent society has wrought. But how many of us still remember to turn the lights off behind us, and to shut the water off while brushing our teeth, and unplug chargers that continue to eat up the energy while not in use?
Please, allow yourself to be moved again! Watch “Home” and be reminded once more, if that’s what it takes, that you are part of the BIG PICTURE. What you do matters. Please watch it and then tell all of your friends. Talk to your neighbor about it. Spread the word. Lets not go back to our comfort zone and be complacent with the status quo.
It is NOT that big of a deal to adjust some of our daily habits in order to help the Earth breathe.
Do I feel like I sacrifice anything by bringing my own totes to a grocery store, instead of having my goods packed in 20 plastic bags that will be trashed 5 minutes later? Do I feel like I sacrifice anything when instead of in zip-locks I store leftover food in plastic containers that I can later wash and reuse? Is it a sacrifice to turn off electronics when we don’t use them? No! It was so easy to replace extension cords in our house for the smart ones. And we certainly can have a meatless day once or twice a week, while still getting a full, satiating and healthy meal. Let’s cut down on the meat consumption to reduce the demand. As consumers let’s ask for more of the healthy, organic choices. Let’s support local farmers to not only cut down on transportation costs, but also to encourage competitive pricing.
Those are small adjustments, and easy to accommodate in our daily lives when we become mindful of the ENORMOUS impact our little actions make. Remember, we all have the power to change. When one becomes ten, and ten becomes a thousand, and that turns into a million we are a force of Nature.
Please, join me on the quest of bringing the awareness BACK to everyone’s minds. Let’s be compassionate for our planet, and mindful of our actions and their affects on the surrounding us NATURE. Let us recognize and cherish its Beauty. Let us selfishly fight for its preservation – for ourselves, for our kids, for the future genius of humanity. LET US BE PASSIONATE ABOUT LIFE.
You can watch “Home” right HERE.
However, if your Internet connection is slow you may want to just rent a DVD for an undisrupted viewing experience.