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This morning, it wasn’t even 6 yet, I woke up to a strange screeching noise outside our window. At first I thought the stray cats that live around the building are in the middle of another turf war, since it’s a little early for their mating season. A series of whimpers got me confused. Are these quarreling squirrels? Before the sunrise?? They seem too loud and too persistent, unless… they sense an earthquake coming!! That got me out of bed, and with my eyes resenting to open I felt my way to the bathroom.

That’s when Jason’s alarm clock went off and I couldn’t believe it was already 6 AM. I had just fallen asleep, I thought, while those shameless critters are trying to take it away from me. I immediately exchanged notes with Jason on what he thought was making the noise.

“IT’S EITHER SQUIRRELS OR BIRDS. NOT CATS. THEY’RE EITHER FIGHTING OF FUCKING.”

Huh. Birds? How do birds fuck, I wondered, and decided I wasn’t ready to think just yet. Back under the covers I dove, two pillows over my head, and boy, did I try hard to ignore the whinnying and purring that continued outside.

Around 7 o’clock Jason crawled over the bed to kiss me good-bye as he was heading out to work.

Yes, making a hit show that “The Good Wife” is requires both the creative talents of the writers as well as hard work and personal sacrifices of the production and post production team. Jason, being the head of the latter, carries an incredible load of responsibility on his shoulders. And he does not take it lightly.

He headed towards the door, and silence followed. I waited for a few seconds for the sounds of the closing doors behind him. Instead, I heard him tip toe back to the bedroom and whisper:

“BABY, COME. QUICK! SHHH…”

“CAN YOU SEE THEM?” I instantly was on board to find out what was messing with my sleep at this ungodly hour.

“OH, YEAH!”

“ARE THOSE SQUIRRELS?” I breathed out as we approached the wide open door facing our backyard. My eyes scanned the ground, and saw nothing out of ordinary.

“LOOK UP” Jason pointed at the little roof above our neighbor’s Rachel’s front door across the yard from us.

Freezing my half naked self, I glanced in the direction given and was instantly awaken by the view that opened in front of my eyes…

After my initial stupefaction, I collected myself and ran for the camera. The raccoons were fully at it with surprising stamina after about two hours of continuous shagging. They considered us for a moment without losing a beat and went back to their task at hand clearly not impressed by their new audience.

The power of marketing, I thought! When Hallmark announces February The Month of Love, even raccoons comply.

I planned on posting a new recipe today, but suddenly found myself in a pickle. How do I segue from the furry bandits’ forbidden urban loving to my… FORBIDDEN RICE SALAD?  The common ground could be the fact that both myself and the fellow raccoon is an omnivore, and we both find immense pleasure in munching on either berries and greens, or a succulent thigh of a smaller animal, for example.

One of my ever strong guilty pleasures are hearty salads that are obvious for lunch, and brilliant for dinner in the place of heavy meals weighing one down before bed time. Any grain will work here. From quinoa to barley to wheat berries to rice, the sky is the limit. Whether you add greens to the grain, or grain to the greens is up to you. Clearly, the more rice, the more carbs in your plate, but if you’re an active, high-energy creature, you may want to refuel appropriately. We’re all different.

Once in a while I create new dishes from leftovers in my refrigerator. Since, I’ve had a container of cooked wheat berries in my ice-box over the last few days, that’s what I’ve been using in my salads this week. Another time, I pulled out a box of leftover forbidden rice and pondered how to utilize the goods. There was a ripe avocado smiling at me from the counter. Mr. Tomato was no less charming. Skinny cucumber was bored out of its mind in the produce drawer, and spinach threatened to wilt on the spot if not occupied at this instance.

There was no reason to fight, so I gathered the party in a bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzled with good olive oil (the extra virgin kind), and squeezed that sour smile of the lemon’s face all over the bunch. Toss, again, and once more. And get at it.

You’ll love the medley of textures in your mouth. From crunchy rice kernels to creamy avocado bits it all comes together into the most satiating, health-reviving, energy-boosting, and joy-awakening meal. And its simplicity should be encouraging even to the laziest of us. It’s easy to eat right. It’s just a matter of making one’s mind.

Right, Mr. Raccoon?

Bon Appetit!

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!

This was an excellent holiday by my standards.

The weather was perfect with the cold air pinching my butt, bringing the memories of the old country. Four good friends sat around the potluck table heavy with foods. The dog perched by my feet hoping for someone to get sloppy and drop scraps down to his floor. The tradition of the holy trio: turkey+stuffing+gravy was fulfilled. My sweet potatoes embellished with crispy pancetta Heather found “fascinating”. Whip cram whipped on the go topped the pumpkin pie like the dot does an “i”.

And then someone picked up a camera, and things got uncivilized to say the least. However, in order to protect the reputation and innocence of my friends, I am forced to censor the photo-shoot. Before I reveal the images from this weekend, let me just say that I have never seen such ridiculous amount of dirty dishes after a dinner for four. We needed a shovel just to get in the door, and then we had to instal a car wash system inside the kitchen to deal with that mountain of debris. It had to be done, this way or another, as the following morning we were leaving for San Diego.

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Down, in San Diego, we roamed the paths of Balboa Park, poking our noses into gardens and exhibitions. Friday night Jason took me out on a date with the view of the landing planes. We dined at chef Bertrand Hug’s Mister A’s, apparently the top restaurant in San Diego. Everything was splendid minus the temperature of certain foods. A glass of superb Zinfandel helped me forget that minor detail fairly quickly nonetheless.

We did have fun times at the ZOO horsing around with the donkeys and wild monkeys. We rode a bus and took photos of a polar bear playing with a plastic blue ball in the pool, or a camel standing still, foam on his mouth and empty gaze in his eyes. We did enjoy ourselves, and yet a sense of sadness lingered as we strolled from one cage to another. Is that right that we keep the animals imprisoned for our viewing pleasure?

BABY, I DON’T WANT TO GO TO A ZOO AGAIN…

…Jason said this morning as he recapped the events of our holiday weekend in an email to a close friend.

Too often I feel so helpless in the face of injustice, lack of common sense, or mere stupidity in the surrounding me world. I’m learning that my strength lays in knowing when to actively support a cause, and when not to participate even though the masses do.

Something to think about. Thanks for reading!

Months of anticipation, weeks of preparation, two days of hard work, and now it’s all over with. My two days at Test Kitchen with chefs Jason Fullilove and Seth Caro were not only educational, thrilling and satisfying on so many levels, but also those two days in the freezing kitchen (an oxymoron, true nonetheless!) turned simply into a big family event.

There was an army of us helping chef Fullilove present his big guns, his culinary creations. Despite the stress and long hours with no food (the cobbler’s children walk barefoot) there was a sense of camaraderie and thrill among all of us. When I first saw the menu penned by Jason Fullilove I thought out loud:

HE’S SUCH A SHOWOFF!

…only to hide my intimidation with the dishes he had put together for his Test Kitchen stint. Take a glance at what we served and drool with compassion:

Black Rice Beignets w/ Goeduck & Sea Urchin Crudo, Cherignola Olive Powder, Salmorigio Aoili, Lemon Confit
Pear Ravioli, Telaggio Cheese, Marcona Almonds and Fresh Cardamom
Barramundi, Black Octopus Sausage, Smoked Lobster Nage, Aerated Sorghum Seeds
Ras Al Hanuot Spiced Lamb Belly, Fresh Chick Pea Puree, Heirloom Carrots, Salsify
Warm Gianduja Cake, Butternut Squash Pudding, Pear Yokan and Fenugreek Ice Cream

Black Rice Beignets w/ Goeduck & Sea Urchin Crudo, Cherignola Olive Powder, Salmorigio Aoili, Lemon Confit

Pear Ravioli, Telaggio Cheese, Marcona Almonds and Fresh Cardamom

Barramundi, Black Octopus Sausage, Smoked Lobster Nage, Aerated Sorghum Seeds

Knowing the Los Angeles market and its ever growing demand for vegan options Chef Fullilove also served such bites ala carte. One of the biggest hits of the night was vegan pink pasta, cutting which was a floury task just hours prior:

Tagliatelle, butternut squash, tuscan kale & olive oil poached tear drop tomatoes

Roast Forest Mushroom and Leek terrine w/ Chestnut & Lambrusco Espuma

The desserts, conceptualized and executed by chef Seth Caro (a recent contestant of Bravo’s “Top Chef Pastry”), were an artistic exposition in their own right. I was lucky to observe and participate in the process of their creation, never anticipating the final result to be that electrifying to my palette.

Warm Gianduja Cake, Butternut Squash Pudding, Pear Yokan and Fenugreek Ice Cream

Jason, my better half, came to the restaurant for the tasting along with our good friend Dana. When I stepped out from the kitchen to check on them, Dana was squealing and squeaking with a mouthful of the above delight, wiggling her tiny butt across the chair she was sitting on. When she saw me approaching, she exclaimed:

WTF? THIS IS UNREAL! HERE, YOU MUST TRY IT.

…and a spoonful of the cake with the oozing hot chocolate entered my mouth at once.

Dana couldn’t help herself. Her joyful exuberance caused by the explosion of flavors in her mouth urgently needed an outlet. Born entertainer, not only was she the perfect companion for Jason, who celebrates the culinary arts with similar passion to mine, but also she befriended everyone in her vicinity from the patrons at adjacent tables to all the wait staff swiftly sweeping across the room.

Dana, with her expressive nature, was a perfect example of the satisfaction all our guests experienced on both nights. All the food was impeccably paired with wine by the Test Kitchen co-owner and sommelier, bringing each dish to a new level. We served close to 200 people, and smiles were ever present, emails and comments of gratitude still pouring into chef Fullilove’s inbox.

I forgot how much fun I had by his side at that other restaurant in Beverly Hills some months ago. After those two 14-hour days I was ready to play again. Hence, as of this week I’m sharing my restaurant time between Animal and Desert Rose in Los Feliz, a Mediterranean kitchen Jason took over last month. I’ll be reporting more. Stay tuned.

 

When my brain shuts down on me, and no sensible sentence comes to mind no matter how hard I push, and how long I knead my grey cells, at some point I just say SCREW IT and reach for my camera instead.

The study subject for today: EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL AT SUNSET.

PROFILE

 

BIRD'S VIEW

 

EN FACE

It’s ORGANIC of course. Have I mentioned?

Also, no flash. Jason will be proud.

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