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A splitting headache brought Jason back home today around lunchtime. He caught me by surprise as I was reclining on the floor in the living room with a coffee table tucked between my extended legs, and laptop… well, resting where it’s meant to be… on my belly.

Our coffee table is chunky and heavy as stone. It has also lived through and seen things that I refuse to talk about when children are present.

Jason walked in with the most tragic expression painted all over his face and announced: “I have a headache that makes my teeth hurt”. He plunged and sank into a couch like a 140-odd pound sack of potatoes. Cosmo reacted by hopping on top of the sack of potatoes, licking its complexion clean, all the while wiggling his tail like a cow in a meadow shooing flies from around its ass.

The view was so pathetic my heart cringed. I handed Jason a bottle of aspirin, content of which was emptied into his throat at once (all two pills that were left). Like a good hen, I marched to the kitchen, whipped out a Tuna Salad Sandwich, fed the kid, put him to bed, and kissed his chilly forehead and pink nipples goodnight. Cosmo curled up between Jason’s legs (it runs in the family) and minutes later exhaled a loud, man-like snore.

That was my cue. With both boys out and about horsing around in their dreamlands, I was finally able to sit down and shake out the dinner idea mentioned last time.

Let’s take the PESTO DRESSED SALAD from my previous post and introduce it to small PITA POCKETS WITH GRILLED SALMON. It’s as easy as it sounds, but first write down all the stuff you need to get from the grocery store to make the dish, assuming you have already made the salad (otherwise you’ll forget something):

-       1 bag of mini pitas

-       fresh salmon (I say 1-2 lbs package)

-       1 bag of mini pitas. Oh, wait, it’s on the list already!

Yes, you just need those 2 elements (salmon and mini pitas, in case you forgot), plus the salad you prepped earlier.

Roll up your sleeves, darling, and let’s get cooking. I myself have a habit of first washing all fish and meat that comes from a store, no matter how sterile the package. Somebody must have touched it at some point, and I don’t even want to open that door in my head. Otherwise, my imagination takes me places and shows me various nasty scenarios of where my food came from. The more time you spend in my head, the better you understand my love affair with organic foods, fresh produce, and also why Jason ties my toe to the bed frame at night. That’s a story for another time.

The clean fish then goes on a plate or a cutting board and gets patted dry with paper towels. It’s seasoned with salt and pepper and modestly sprinkled with olive oil to help establish the grilling marks everyone is after. Next, a pair of muscular tongs hoists the fillets onto a heated grilling pan, which reacts with violent sizzling, hissing and pissing. You’ve been warned. Be cool, and don’t let the drama queen change your mind. Let the fish sit on the hot surface and get some blush on its cheeks, and then some. Then flip it.

The cooking time on each side will depend on the thickness of your fillets. As the heat penetrates the flesh, you’ll notice a color change along the cut from pink to white-ish. It may take 3 minutes per side, if the guys are skinny. You may also need to step back for 5-6 minutes per turn, if you got yourself chubby chunks of salmon. Keep the heat on medium, don’t walk away, don’t leave your fish unattended (it’s rude), be alert. If you keep them on the pan too long they’ll get dry. Ideally, you want to turn off the heat a few minutes before your meat is done, and let it R.I.P. for 10 minutes or so. It will continue to cook inside becoming that perfect GRILLED SALMON from your misty dreams.

It took me a few packages of fish and a couple of bottles of wine to really nail the technique. Don’t beat yourself up. Be gentle.

Here comes the best part – building your PITA POCKETS. Yay! Onto a large plate scoop some of your salad, set your GRILLED SALMON nearby, and grab a MINI PITA. With a small knife cut it open along the rim, about half way through, creating a POCKET. Using a fork, pack the inside with a little bit of salad, then pieces of crushed salmon, maybe more salad on top if there’s room. Open your mouth wide – you may want to spread your legs for extra support as well – and BITE! Then take just ONE MORE BITE and kill it! Move on to the next one. Continue building and biting until you’re full and salad leaves burst out of your ears.

Pita Pocket 1

Salmon

It’s not only THAT good, but it’s also FUN to build your own food on a plate and enjoy it instantly. Ask Jason. He’s like a kid in a sand box with a plastic bucket and a rake when given a chance to assemble a meal straight from his plate. And I get to watch the spectacle. That’s what I call ENTERTAINMENT.

Good luck with your fishies…

What makes one a writer, I wonder… Having a blog exploiting one’s intimate culinary encounters? I think not.

In various social circumstances, upon meeting a new person, I am often asked what it is that I do. Since I’ve been experimentally unemployed for the last couple of months (the first time in my life), I usually simply reply:

“I’ve been writing…”

“Oh, you’re a writer!” The human somehow gathers from my ambivalent response.

And I say nothing more, as what more should I add? That I’ve been working on my knifing skills? That I’ve chopped a few onions and even made a steak in our little toaster oven? Or that I’ve been testing my neighbors’ patience with loud music, and my dog’s tolerance level with the dirty dancing that I perform to get out of my head? I don’t lie, but neither do I go into further detail.

When I finally filed my taxes a few weeks ago (I had applied for an extension, worry not), my accountant chatted me up while filling out the forms. He asked about Jason (his client as well) and how long we’ve been dating, what’s our dog’s name, and how life was in general. When he asked:

“So what do you do?”…I thought he also meant… in general, in my free time.

“I’ve been writing.” I said. “I just don’t get paid for it …yet.”

“That’s how it usually goes in this town, doesn’t it?” He concluded, the smart ass that he is.

Later, when I looked at the paper work, I noticed “WRITER” under my occupation. Now, does this make me a writer? What better proof of my trade than an IRS statement?

I heard that writers exhibit strange behaviors while experiencing creative flow. Someone told me once about this guy who could only write when sitting on top of an armoire in his tiny New York apartment. Imagine? How inconvenient! I also used to know this other guy, a writer as well, who’d store his journal in a freezer. He even told me that he tried to pull money out of his shower knob one night as if it were an ATM. Actually he may have just sleepwalked that night, in all fairness. And I’m not sure the incident had anything to do with his writing.

I have a few quirks of my own – come to think of it – when in the creative mode, like perching on my bed, laptop in front, and wearing nothing more than a pair of dangling earrings and matching panties (not the dangling part, I’m talking colors). And I also have a dog that takes in a few new words a day with his morning coffee. Does that count? Because if this doesn’t make me a writer, I don’t know what does!

Thesaurus

If you’re here for the recipes, you must be in a real pickle thinking “How will she ever get to food after this intro???” Well, my friend, I’ll tell you a secret… Sit down, breathe and relax. I’ll be gentle… The truth is that FOOD is just an excuse to write. It’s a side effect. It’s a symptom, and not a cause. Luckily, I really do truly and fully, passionately and madly love to play in my kitchen. I’m keen to use various toys – or cooking utensils if you must – with those kinky names like a cooling rack, an egg separator, a whip whisk, not to mention a meat tenderizer, and a piping bag… I could go on, but you get the idea.

Today I’ll write about PESTO: how I make it without cheese, and how I then mix it with a salad in the place of a dressing. And the only toy tool I need for this is a food processor, well, and a toaster oven. Now, if you don’t have one of those smart ones that can also broil and sweep floors (There she goes again!), a frying pan makes for a capable ersatz. I only ask you to bear with me when I get to the amounts and measurements. It really is my Achilles Heel, my pet peeve if you will. I chronically forget to use my measuring cups and spoons when fixing a new dish, and later, when I try to retrace my own steps to tell you all about it, I’m fucked.

FROM WIKIPEDIA: “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, or interjection and can logically be used as virtually any word in a sentence (e.g. “Fuck the fucking fuckers”). It hence has various metaphorical meanings. The verb “to be fucked” can mean “to be cheated” (e.g. “I got fucked by a scam artist”). As a noun “a fuck” or “a fucker” may describe a contemptible person. “A fuck” may mean an act of copulation. The word can be used as an interjection, and its participle is sometimes used as a strong emphatic. The verb to fuck may be used transitively or intransitively, and it appears in compounds, including fuck off, fuck up, and fuck with. In less explicit usages, “fuck” or “fuck with” can mean to mess around, or to deal with unfairly or harshly. In a phrase such as “don’t give a fuck”, the word is the equivalent of “damn”, in the sense of something having little value. In “what the fuck”, it serves merely as an intensive.

ALSO, YOUTUBE OFFERS ITS OWN DEFINITION OF THE WORD “FUCK”.

To make pesto sans cheese, first you want to toast some nuts. Traditionally pesto is made with pignoli, or pine nuts in English. However, recently I made pesto with walnuts due to lack of the other kind. It came out perfectly awesome. Hence, today, be my guest and use either one – pine or walnuts! And if you feel adventurous and end up experimenting with another type of nuts, come back here and do tell!

Back to PESTO: take ABOUT a 1/2 cup of raw, organic if available, pine nuts and spread them flat on a baking sheet. Then set the pan in a toaster oven and toast for about 5 minutes. If you’re going for the frying pan, or even a conventional oven (at 375 to 400˚), it will take 3 to 7 minutes (depending on which appliance you choose) before the nuts are done. You’ll know they are when you can smell them. You must then instantly remove the kernels from the oven or off the heat. Otherwise, due to the fat content, they will burn in a New York minute.

Once the nuts cool off, dump them into the food processor along with a BUNCH of fresh basil (maybe a cup?…or two? sorry!), 1-2 cloves of garlic (However much you LOVE garlic?), a SOLID PINCH of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and you can close the lid. Now pulse a couple of times to break down the nuts and greens and bring them closer together.

By the way, basil is not your only choice. You can also use arugula, and even mix it with other fresh herbs like dill, Italian parsley and cilantro.

Turn the machine back on and start pouring GOOD olive oil s l o w l y  through the feeding tube. For pesto, I use the brands from a higher shelf, good quality, organic oils. You can use extra virgin olive oil on its own, or mix it with flaxseed oil, or even walnut oil for a different spin. How much, you ask. Ekhm. I say pour until all ingredients are incorporated into a coherent green mass. Be gentle, go slow with a small stream. If you like it chunkier and thicker, back off with that bottle earlier. Better be safe than sorry. Test it, and then add some more oil, if needed.

No matter what I tell you about measurements (as long as I’m not selling you a baking recipe) it’s essential, no, it is your duty to taste whatever you make as you go. Remember, YOU are going to eat it. YOU are the one that needs to enjoy what you make. And the more you taste during the process, the more familiar you become with certain spices, their flavors and properties. Hence, you train your tongue to tell you when something doesn’t tickle it the right way, directing you to add more of this or that. The more you sample, the better cook you become.

When done adding the oil, your pesto is ready. However, if you don’t mind the cheese, and those few extra calories mean nothing to you, go ahead and add half a cup or grated Parmesan. Pulse a few more times and mix it with the green paste – make it feel good. Store it in a tight container in the refrigerator. You can also add a tablespoon of oil to cover the surface of the pesto, thus preventing it from turning dark.

I use it on sandwiches, wraps, with pasta (duh), and in salads as a dressing. Simply, mix soft lettuce leaves with diced tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, chopped dill and scallions, add a tablespoon or so of the pesto, and unite everybody with a few circular motions of your salad forks. Don’t forget to season it with salt and pepper, if your pesto doesn’t do the trick. It’s all about sampling, thus learning how to please your own palette.

Here is a good spot for a photograph representing the PESTO described above.

Oops, no picture on file. In the state of utmost confusion and discombobulation, I forgot to snap one while the PESTO was still in the fridge. However, know that this article leads to a complimenting installment, which will talk about PITA POCKETS WITH GRILLED SALMON AND PESTO DRESSED SALAD. There will be photos!

See you then?

I have every reason to believe that the BEET SOUP I’m making will bring my culinary machismo to a new level.

I just couldn’t resist. My smart and utterly eloquent screen saver suggested a word of the day: machismo. I had to smuggle it into this post. I had to!

I digress.

The Beet Soup is one of those Polish adaptations I have introduced into our home. Jason, being the white boy from Texas that he is, had barely even encountered a beet before Agi came along. When I insinuated making the soup for his parents while they were visiting, they only looked at me with eyes wide and said: “We love you, Agi. You are so cute!” That was the end of the Beet Soup conversation.

Half of a garden went into making the soup du jour, beets including. All you vegetarians out there don’t get too excited, as I “ruined” it for you with a handful of diced pancetta. Once again, my resistance mechanism didn’t kick in… but it was so worth it!

As the aromatic whiff of the Beet Soup tickled my nostrils, I was forced to pause this soup tirade. My nose disengaged from my body and mindlessly led me to the kitchen. I had to take a taste. GOD! It was slightly sweet but with a lemony bite to it. All vegetables perfectly cooked and soft. Each bite just melted in my mouth. Then I heard the angels’ choir burst forth in song: Alleluia!

Toast

I know it’s very douche-baggy of me, but today I will only BRAG about the soup, and not so much share it with you. That’s only because there are other important things that deserve my attention. Trust me, it is for a cause. Good or bad… we’ll see.

A few days ago I wrote about our grocery shopping routine, that heavily involved the local Trader Joe’s. The truth is, our pantry and the refrigerator are predominantly supplied with TJ’s goods. The $100 that we usually drop at the register is exchanged for 4 (four) bulging bags of food sundries (many, and I mean many of which are organic). Our love for the store is unquestionable and apparent.

We’re not alone. There’s a fan club and a huge following of Trader Joe’s groupies out there. We met them. We heard them. They even made films with their phones. You must SEE it for yourself to understand.

TJ Store

However, as in life, once you get to know someone, the veil of awe and perfection slowly fades, and you begin to notice the wrinkles, grey hairs, and even that crooked tooth. Over the course of the last year, we’ve come to know a substantial number of TJ products. Some of them we fell in love with. Others led to addiction. Every weekend we would head to the store, our hearts filled with hope. We would park and walk into the chambers of our local Hawaiian themed Trader Joe’s drooling in anticipation of the flavors we’ve come to cherish.

And then, one sunny Saturday, disaster struck.

As we circled across the isles, loading stuff into our cart, we at last arrived at the booze section. A quick scan of the shelves, followed by a thorough search between six-packs resulted in an anxious interrogation of the nearest store employee who confirmed what we already suspected – the Blueberry Beer that we had discovered just weeks earlier and enjoyed so deeply was gone… forever! It was DISCONTINUED.

We mourned the loss of the perfect, not too sweet, not too bitter Blueberry Beer, and moved on with our lives. Several months have gone by, when one day we found ourselves startled again. As we stood in front of the shelf where the Red Pepper Spread used to sit and wait for us week after week, there was nothing. A black hole of emptiness. We stayed cool and decided to give Trader Joe’s the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe they’re out?” – we thought. Oh, naivety! It took us three subsequent visits to bring ourselves to realize the inevitable – the spread that we used on most of our sandwiches, the spread we ate by the spoonfuls with cheese and crackers, the spread we sent to Jason’s parents in Texas (!) was… DISCONTINUED.

Around the same time, we started hearing similar stories from friends, coworkers, neighbors, and whole communities. There were laments and loud protests. There was sadness and anger. I heard birds chirping the gossip that some people had even left Trader Joe’s for another discount organic food giant in the hood called Fresh & Easy.

One day I decided to take action and get to the bottom of this misfortune. I asked around to gain a better understanding of how serious the problem had become. And the people have spoken:

Jen said: “Blueberry beer sounds awesome! My favorite thing they discontinued was a spice-rubbed tamarind in the dried fruits section. Soooo tasty, sweet, almost like candy, and yet still good for you!

Heidi: “I love their artichokes in glass jar & lavender body scrub – but don’t think those products are still on the market.

Cate: “I really miss the butternut squash ravioli and the hot/sweet mustard they used to have. Both great, both now gone. Sniff.

DonnaAnn: “OMG yes! Trader Joseph’s Granola bagels. Three layer dip: cream, sun dried tomato, pesto. Goji Berry Trail Mix. The list goes on and on.

Andre: “I would have to say that I miss the Organic Ginger Snaps the most. I was shopping there the other day and I was craving the sweet snappy ginger taste with some cold milk. Alas, the ginger snaps were no longer. I asked the Manager and he said they had been discontinued. Other ginger snaps just don’t have the same “bite”. :(

Jason: “I miss those little peanut butter cluster desert thingies. They tasted like a nestle crunch bar that tripped and fell head first into a jar of peanut butter…. yum.

Melissa: “The rice flour to make pancakes! It was sweet and made crispy thin little flapjacks!!

Karen: “YES!!! I miss the rice flour too Missy!!!!!!!

Chantel: “Ok… I know it’s so un-trainer of me, (again… got my fingers in the cookie jar), but the Chocolate Covered Toggee Squares… just like See’s molasses chips, but so much cheaper! Yes, the Blueberry beer was the bomb too!

Leanne: “It’s not vegan & it’s not organic but the egg sandwiches I used to love are gone! So is the raw goat feta.

Jeffrey: “Loved their chopped ginger which came and went. Was so useful in many dishes.

I’m getting short of space to let all the voices be heard. I hope these few are loud enough to echo all the way to the Trader Joe’s headquarters causing them to take pause. I understand the whole national preference thing, but it is so unfair!

Oh, Beloved Trader Joe’s, you are ALL about customer service. The courtesy and smile that you so graciously provide in every corner of the store makes our shopping chore so un-chore-like. And yet, Trader Joe’s, you keep taking FOOD away from us. You pull the goodies out of our mouth! That is so NOT cool.

The funny part is that Trader Joe’s is now following me on Twitter. That’s right! I even got a direct message from them just yesterday.

TJ Twit

I’m so happy they LOVE my blog. I love them right back. But I also want my Red Pepper Spread right back… Pretty please?

Dear Trader Joe’s, please feel the love, and hear our cries each time you pull an item from your shelves.  You giveth but you also taketh away.  Not cool.  Can’t something be done?

Sincerely,

The People

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