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Today is a good day.

It’s good despite a certain physical discomfort I’m really trying hard to restrain myself from writing about again. But how not to when my high school classmate contacts me via skype earlier today, and when I say I won’t be able to chat long due to the above mentioned experiencing of pain, she bluntly asks:

“Is that perhaps the famous PMS?”

We haven’t spoken in a decade, mind you, minus an email here and there. Dumbfounded I utter:

“But how do you know???”

“From your blog!”

Ah. That. Though I haven’t written about this one yet. YET.

The day is good nonetheless. It’s great. It’s FESTIVE & CELEBRATORY. Here’s why. Something happened today, something unprecedented, at least as of the year two thousand and six…

It was one of those exotically warm days in October, back in 2006. It was exotic to me, as I had just moved to Los Angeles from quite positively four-seasoned New York City. Don’t forget also that I grew up in Poland. Four ever changing seasons was all I knew till then. It must have been one of those summery days of Californian fall in 2006 when my ass was wrapped in a pair of my favorite jeans for the very last time. As never after it was able to fit again. Until this day…

Today I pulled the old buddies out of the closet where they sat in the dark corner forgotten and in disgrace since TWO-THOUSAND-AND-SIX. I dug them out from underneath a pile of all those new guys I collected in the meantime. And just like that, suddenly inspired, four years later I tried to reunite the best of me with the best of the blue jean kind. And it worked!

Truth be told, it did require me to HIP-HOP some, and then to CHA-CHA-CHA a little bit more in order to tuck every last bit of me inside of those pants. Nevertheless it WORKED! Not only was I able to zip and button up, but also I am able to sit in those jeans as I type these words. Initially I tried the desk chair first for it’s adjustable, then the couch as it’s lower thus more challenging. In the end I was rolling on the floor exchanging hugs, tears, kisses and stories with my best buds who have returned home at last.

About this photo… May I inform you that my legs go for inches and inches beyond the frame of this photograph, so don’t be fooled by skewed proportions. Also, Cosmo is a very SMALL dog. A miniature really. What you’re looking at are legs… thin and all-the-way-to-my-tuchas long. Note that at the time of taking this photo my tuchas was sitting at the neighbors’ kitchen table.

Well, then. Now you know WHAT. Time to reveal HOW. Let’s omit the part where I skyrocketed three sizes up in the first place, about four years ago. The first two sizes left me shortly after I met Jason and fell in love. They just packed their stuff and went on their own, leaving no letter good-bye. Not that I ever missed them. But that last little size got stuck. Let me assure you that I didn’t even mind it in the end. I was comfortable in my skin at last, for the very first time in my life really, and it didn’t matter that much what the scale underneath me said. I wouldn’t even step on one, because who cares!

Lately, however, Jason and myself found motivation to get back to the gym, as we do every few months or so. Jason was complaining about a few extra pounds he no longer wished on him. I needed to get my core muscles stronger for those long hours of dancing around the kitchen when at work. Every child knows, however, that no exercise will bear results if the diet ain’t right. Hence, following the wisdom of many trainers that crossed my path (whose secret equation for losing weight is: 70% diet, 30% physical torture), we decided to switch dinners and lunches around.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been sending Jason to work with his lunchbox full of hearty and filling goods so he has enough energy for a jog when off duty. And then, after the gym, instead of stuffing ourselves with a bowl of pasta or rice, we simply enjoy a nutritious salad, full of natural vitamins and metabolism-boosting enzymes along with a touch of protein (nuts, chicken, fish, cheese, beans, etc.) and healthy fats (olive oil or walnut oil, nuts, avocados, and such).

This salad-eating also forces me to keep inventing new dishes and re-inventing what’s known and out worn. Above you see a version of a coleslaw. It’s crunchy like the traditional one with slivers of radishes, ribbons of red cabbage, and thin slices of Green Apple. It’s full of toasted walnuts that take the edge off the apple’s tartness. The dressing is somewhat familiar, though made with a non-fat Greek yogurt (like in my slaw recipe I posted here). However, there’s butter lettuce in the place of white cabbage, sprinkled with poppy seeds and thus turning the mix into a brand new experience. And trust me, a plate full of this salad, where you must work out your jaws on each bite, will keep you satiated till you’re ready for bed.

What do you do with the left over cabbage, you ask. It’s a good question. Let me also applaud you for purchasing the whole head in its natural form versus already shredded one and packed in plastic. Use those crunchy ribbons as a color-booster on all the different types of salads. Not only does it add esthetic value, but also texture and anti-oxidants, calcium, potassium, and loads of vitamin C, K and A.

Here’s another variation on a salad that served as post-work out dinner for Jason and moi. As seen above, its an abundance of sautéed kale with shallots, garlic, and tomato over roasted young potatoes, with added crunch of red cabbage, persian cucumber slices and paper-thin slivers of radishes. Needless to say, it is a warm, comforting, and filling plate of … vegetables. Yet it won’t weigh you down just hours before saying sayonara to your day.

The bottom line is this: exercising is undoubtedly good for keeping my butt cheeks closer together, tighter I mean, less jiggly and more bouncy. It also allows my back to stay firm and strong during those 8-10 hour shifts in the kitchen when on my feet at all times. However, it’s those hearty SALADS FOR DINNER that let my bottom jewel shrink enough to fit in my old blue jeans and wiggle woogie-boogie.

I think I won’t be parting with these for a while… My ass can’t be trusted.

Monday-shmonday. Someone once told me, and this could just as easily be one of those Polish superstitions that stalk me all the way across the Big Pond, that… like Monday like the Rest of the Week. So far, I’ve cleaned the house, passed a few words of wisdom to my less than 2-years old niece in Poland via Skype, got cranky due to caffeine deficit, made lunch for Jason and sent him off to work, treated myself to Peet’s Americano with a side of Cappuccino Muffin, and struggled settling down at last in order to work.

The biggest challenge was finding a place for my office for the day. While Cosmo got himself comfortable in front of his Doggy TV and started flipping the channels…

… I finally landed back on the bed, laptop tucked right beneath my armpit and Jamie Oliver’s cook book in hand.

Last week, I left off writing about utilizing your organic chicken to the last bit. One of such “byproducts” was an organic chicken broth that we can now turn into a satisfying, delectable, rustic, and very cheap to make soup.

I love soups and cook them ALL THE TIME, which I have mentioned plenty a time before. From velvety BEET SOUP, to hearty MUSHROOM/BARLEY SOUP, to elegant CARROT/GINGER SOUP, to my Polish sentiment of SAUERKRAUT SOUP, to Italian RIBOLLITA, to refreshing HONEY-DEW MELON SOUP W/MASCARPONE (recipe from my business partner Alina that I made for the LA Food Bloggers’ meeting last week), to nutritious LENTIL SOUP, to Mexican classic–chilled GAZPACHO. The list seems never-ending, and that’s why SOUPS play such an important role on our LUNCH MENU.

Since the theme of the cooking today is ORGANIC FOR PENNIES, I chose Jamie Oliver’s ENGLISH ONION SOUP to share with you. All you need to enhance your already made stock are:

- about 2 lbs of onions variety (leeks, shallots, sweet onions, red onions, scallions, etc.)

- fresh sage

- a handful of garlic cloves

- a few slices of rustic bread, ideally 2-3 days old

- Cheddar cheese, freshly grated

- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

- 1-2 tbsp of butter

- olive oil

See, nothing expensive. Add those extra few bucks to your skinny budget, and you come out with a giant pot of filing and yummy soup. People you’ll feed with it will fall to their knees and kiss your ankles in gratitude. That’s granted.

Making the soup itself is somewhat emotional, if not dramatic. Think about it–all those onions must be peeled and chopped. If you can go through the task without uttering a single tear, I say you’re not a human.

The rest is a piece of cake. Melt the butter in a hot heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan, add a bit of olive oil, chopped garlic and a few sage leaves. Let the guys saute for a minute (and no longer, so the garlic does not burn) and toss all your onions into the pot. Season with salt and pepper, stir, cover with a lid (90% closed), and let it all cook very slowly for about an hour. Next, remove the lid and now you have another 20 minutes or so to add color to your veg. Cooking the onions slowly is the key to achieving that irresistible sweetness that onions offer.

Time to add your organic chicken stock. Bring everything to a quick boil and reduce the heat, allowing the soup to simmer for another quarter of an hour. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

In the meantime, turn the oven on a full whack. Toast your bread on both sides and set aside. When the soup is ready, pour some into individual heatproof bowls and cover with your toasts, as tight as possible. Sprinkle your grated cheddar all over the bread, garnish with an extra sage leaf, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and set the bowls on a baking sheet. Such arranged, place the sheet in the hot oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and serve immediately.

Jamie also suggests planting a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce (pause… let me untangle my tongue) over the servings, but you follow your own instincts.

Eating Organic, delicious, homemade food on a budget? Totally doable! So… let’s eat better, everybody.

Bon Appetit!

Today marks two weeks since we returned from Europe, the continent where people eat whatever they want (for the most part) and seldom exercise the idea of a dietary restriction. Mother Nature is still the biggest supplier of food there, and no one questions that order. I choose to believe that based on the quality of ingredients that had built our meals while in Poland, and then in France.

When we first arrived back in Los Angeles, Jason and myself decided we needed a break from eating meat, as it was such a fundamental part of our diet when still on the Old Continent. The first week went swimmingly well. I whistled cheerfully as I cooked away quinoa, made meals with a variety of beans, various grains (e.g. barley), then lentils, and greens rich in protein (like broccoli). Last but not least nuts were all around us, all day long. And I don’t mean just because we live in Hollywood. Each morning I began with a whole-grain toasted muffin, topped with a layer of almond butter and slices of fresh strawberries. Jason snacked on a mixture of raw nuts and dried fruits in between the meals. Roasted pine nuts or walnuts ended up in fresh salads. Toasted pepitas served as a base for my vinaigrette.

About three days ago I realized I was …hungry. Sixty minutes after I finished breakfast I was ready to eat again. The first craving hit me right between the eyes leaving a black-eye the size of a fist.  No matter how versatile menu I prepared for the day and how much flavor I incorporated into each dish, it all began to taste …boring. Every time I inserted a fresh bite of food into my mouth, from the start I knew it was missing one ingredient–meat. It didn’t matter what I was eating. If I could I would sprinkle pancetta bits into my whole-grain cereal with blueberries and a sliced banana. A temporary comfort I found in hard-boiled eggs, and cheese sandwiches.

Now, I know that all protein is equal. It doesn’t matter, from a scientific point of view, whether you get your amino acids (which are the molecules of the protein) from an animal or a plant, as our bodies are dexterous engineers and can put together a complete protein out of those building blocks. As long as you provide your system with those standard 22 amino acids it requires to form the protein we need. That’s the reason all nutritionists of the world emphasize the need for a versatile diet, in particular for the vegetarians walking amongst us.

Enough with the lecturing. I know that I had enough protein in my diet over the last two weeks not to NEED any meat. Though I realize now the source of my misery. It is all in my head. My cravings for a juicy steak, and beef stew, or a tender chicken thigh have everything to do with the fact that I can’t have it right now, for I do not appreciate restriction. It goes deeper than that. I refuse to be pressured. If there is a movie coming out that the entire planet can’t shut up about, and 70 million people go see it on the opening night, you can be sure Agi won’t participate in the mass hysteria. For example, I have never seen “Titanic” nor “The Da Vinci Code”. I wasn’t interested in the slightest. You know what else I have not watched, nor read? The entire “Harry Potter” series. Sure, we can argue whether I am better or worse for that, but it is not the point of this discourse.

Despite that fact that my diet over the last two weeks was nutritionally dense, I began to notice feeling weaker and weaker. I was no longer able to lift words and put them down on paper. At the gym, when requested by Jason to do abdominal crunches, I didn’t even stomp my foot on the ground anymore. I fought him just for a moment when he made me get down on the ground and throw my legs in the air, but only because resistance to a voluntary pain application is a part of my psychological make-up. Then I got a hair cut, as those two extra inches of hair made a whole lot of difference when washing it. Saving energy became my motto.

Agi in Poland, by the Baltic Sea, all happy and joyful knowing she can eat whatever the hell she wants!

I am facing another two meatless weeks, which in my head translates into a form of mind slavery. It is my brain that has to make an effort to relax and breathe knowing it will be OK.

Agi, let me introduce you to DISCIPLINE. I hope you shall become fast friends.

Amen.

Remember that scene in MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING where the aunt learns that the groom is a vegetarian? No? Here you go, refresh your memory and realize that a carnivorous diet is not only a Greek sentiment.

I grew up eating meat, all kinds of meat, from kielbasa, to ham, to pork chops, to beef goulash. In fact, as a child meat was my favorite type of candy. I was quite proud of my affection towards cooked animal flesh, and many a time I showed off in front of family members by sinking my teeth into a chicken thigh like a hungry Barbarian. I saw approval and joy in my mother’s eyes as between her two kids I was the one who loved to eat. My older brother apparently was on a hunger strike till the day I was born (five years of his life). Then he saw me glued to my mother’s tit like a roll of adhesive tape, and then to anything else that happened to get too close to my mouth, and realized he had to follow the laws of a jungle in order to survive. He learnt to not only chew, but actually to swallow his food.

Later in life, when I began to carve my own judgment about the surrounding world and my position in it, I decided I didn’t like myself, from the way I looked to the way I felt. One thing led to another and suddenly I spent my entire 20s battling eating disorders and fighting my own demons. The struggle was extreme, painful beyond verbal expression, acutely lonely, but also purposeful. I have no regrets for I have found my answers, peace, and balance in life.

It was during that decade when I progressively started to eliminate certain foods from my diet, beginning with sweets and bread, then meat, followed by dairy, and eventually going completely raw.  Traveling to Poland was a torture, as I craved all the foods of my childhood with the intensity of a concentration camp’s survivor. My body was starved for years. And yet my brain would stand guard in front of the plate and forbid me from stealing even a bite. The physical torture I had put upon myself was meant to cover the emotional pains I dealt with. I get that now. It was for me to discover, however, and no one could have done the homework for me.

It is quite clear I was a vegetarian, and then a vegan for all the wrong reasons. My healthy self enjoys meat as much as a leafy vegetable.

Now imagine my enthusiasm and childish joy when I come home to my mom’s culinary fireworks, a fraction of which I described in my previous entry. I forget myself in the pleasure that fills my mouth upon each nibble. I don’t OVER DO it either. I get just enough.

One thing, Jason and I both felt we OD-ed, was meat while traveling through Europe. While such a meat-heavy diet makes a perfect sense in Poland, and other European lands due to their cooler climate, it does not feel natural in Southern California (where we live), which by definition is warm, sunny and abundant with fresh produce. Hence, in order to bring our digestive tracks back to the summer schedule, we chose to go meat free for a month upon returning to Los Angeles.

It’s been almost a week, and thus far I have not had a single meat craving. For a few days we munched on a quinoa salad with orange lentils, peppers, and scallions for lunch. I made a gigantic pot of hearty vegetable soup with white beans and whole-wheat fussily pasta, which is just as satiating as if it contained chunks of chicken. Between the meals, we graze on the grass from the outside lawn and fight over nuts with local squirrels. Then, one rainy morning, I thought of making STUFFED PEPPERS, a novelty in my repertoire.

Before I tell you what and how I did it, I must plug in a disclaimer: I was totally and utterly IMPROVISING. If you decide to follow me, you’re doing it at your own risk.

Here’s what happened. I cooked a cup of wild rice, adding some frozen organic corn towards the end, a whole can of pinto beans (washed and rinsed off), a whole bunch of freshly chopped herbs (dill, parsley, what-have-you), and maybe a half-a-cup of grated Gruyere cheese. I made sure there was enough salt and pepper in it, and then I twisted the flavor with a touch of cayenne, sweet paprika, and ground nutmeg. Why not?

In the meantime, I washed my bell peppers, cut off the tops, emptied their bellies, and turned the oven on at 400°.

You know what happened next. I stuffed the peppers with my rice filling, drizzled the tops with a little bit of olive oil, and shoved the guys into my hot oven. They baked for about 30 minutes until the peppers got slightly wrinkled and softened. However, they were not overcooked and thus kept their shapes.

Two stuffed beauties per capita were MORE than enough for us, and not once did we think of getting a burger for dinner the following day. Also, since it was my virgin STUFFED PEPPER, now I also know that the red one is THE ONE. The best complement to your dish would be a bowl of mixed greens with a lemony dressing, bringing healthy freshness and balancing the heavier tones of the meal.

Bon appétit!

This morning, as Jason and I sat at the breakfast table and slurped the last drops of hot coffee, we went over our options for today.

We’ve been challenged by the weather–it’s been raining a lot, and the sun has been rather a rare visitor over the last couple of days, which has greatly affected our sightseeing schedule. I felt a tad resigned , but Jason had a plan:

AFTER BREAKFAST, IF IT DOESN’T STOP RAINING, WE SHOULD GO TO THE PHARMACY AND GET…HM… THE…MMM… Here Jason raised his hands in the air, both positioned as if they were holding a thick pipe-sized object, and quickly moved his hands back and forth in opposite directions as if he was… loading a weapon.

A GUN? I suggested flabbergasted by his train of thoughts.

AN UMBRELLA! Jason found what he’s been looking for in every corner of his mind.

We’re taking it easy this morning due to the drip-drip situation outside, which at least allowed me to sit down and report about our whereabouts here in Poland. Don’t get too excited as we still have The Wawel Castle to visit before we leave this gorgeous city, hence for now I’ll just use my crutch–photographs–to catch you up with the latest and greatest.

It wasn’t raining when we first landed in Poland. On the contrary, the spring welcomed us with its saturated colors bearing new life on the Earth. My mother’s garden, her pride and joy, showed off the strength of a new life that Mother Nature gives year after year.

Mama and her husband of 11 years took us to Goluchow where the Czartoryski’s Castle is open to visitors. The Czartoryski Family is Polish aristocracy whose heirs are still spread around the world today.

 

The King Of The Castle

 

 

Jason vs the Knight

 

Jason, my hero, fought the guardian of the castle and cleared our way in.

If you’re in the mood for some royal hanky-panky, here’s your chamber–the Royal Bedroom.

 

The Royal Play Room (if you know what I mean)

 

The Castle is surrounded by a vast and luscious park, spotted by crystal clear lakes and wild animal quarters.

This blog centers mostly around food, hence I cannot omit the details of our diet while on the road.

 

Polish Little Horses

 

Hunger makes us fast learners and so we didn’t waste any time:

 

The Royal Dears (hello!)

 

At last we escaped from under my mother’s wings and we met up with my cousin Kinga who lives in the region of Great Lakes–Warmia and Mazury. She took us to the countryside, where soon she’ll reside, and we later drove along with her 1.5 year old happiness named Kalina to Gdansk, one of the oldest Polish cities resting by the Baltic Sea.

 

Horsing around in the country. Kalina's expression--priceless.

 

 

Three Joys in Gdansk, in Old Town.

 

 

May-shmay. It was freezing by the Baltic Sea. Lovely nonetheless.

 

We arrived in Krakow in the PM hours last Wednesday after a 10-day long marathon across Poland. I shall leave it at that for now and come back later with the images we’ll have captured in here and descriptions of the actual foods we’ve been enjoying throughout the trip.

I hope you had fun during this leg of our journey.

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