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Last week I made a salad for my clients. Tuscan Lentil Salad. They asked me for protein-rich, healthy, and low-carb meals.

Since I cook for each client once a week (for the most part), I have to come up with a practical menu where the food is easy to eat straight from the container (on a lunch break at work), and most importantly – easy to reheat later in the week. Usually I put some kind of soup on the menu, like Tomato Bisque with Quinoa, or Creamy Cauliflower Soup with chunks of the veg floating joyfully inside, or another health miracle, my Beet Soup, also known as a liver cleanser. Most of the soups I make are loaded with variety of good stuff while staying very light in the calorie department.

It’s very important that there are fresh vegetables on the menu, but a regular green salad lasts a day. Hence, for my clients I opt for hearty salads that will stay fresh for up to three days. I play with grains like a 6-year old with LEGO blocks. One day it’s Wheat Berry mix, another Quinoa blend, Barley, Farro, you name it. Last week, however, I used a recipe by Julie Daniluk, a Canadian nutritionist and the host of Healthy Gourmet (a TV show) simply because it looked divine.

Photo credit: Julie Daniluk

Click on the photo above to get to the recipe itself.

When I was mixing all the ingredients at my clients’ kitchen, they both peeked over my shoulder and instantly requested a taste of the wonder. Let me just say that it didn’t end on a simple one bite tasting. An entire portion planned for one of the meals later in the week disappeared from the counter. A few minutes later, the husband returned to the kitchen with an empty container in hand, still licking his mouth.

“THAT WAS DELICIOUS.”

The wife only said:

“CAN WE PLEASE HAVE THIS SALAD EVERY WEEK?”

Your wish is my command. The salad became a staple on their menu. I also tested it on Jason and he loved every bite. Well, not the olive bite. I tried so hard to sneak some succulent, delicious olives into his bowl, but his olive detector would not be fooled. There are only few edible things Jason is on non-speaking terms with, and olives just happen to be one of those misfortunate bastards.

Since the Lentil Salad was such a success, I had to give credit where it was due. Julie Daniluk is a walking encyclopedia of food knowledge. Put any type of produce, nut, meat, you name it in front of her eyes and she begins to recite all the attributes of the food like a poem.

I will have you know also that Oprah Winfrey got a whiff of the Healthy Gourmet show, and with no avail had her people load all the goodies up on her new network’s website. Aha, just look at the web address when you visit the show’s web page.

I’ve studied nutrition for my own benefit over the years. However, I never went to school to bring that knowledge up to more comprehensive and organized level. Julie is the reason I started looking into various nutrition programs around the country that offer either the traditional, thus purely scientific approach, or more holistic one that produces life coaches. Keep your fingers crossed!  I’m very excited about this project.

Pst, one more thing. It occurs to me that I have more in common with Julie beyond the affection for healthy and whole foods. Me thinks there’s Polish blood flowing in her veins…

To Be Investigated!

Weeks ago, just a few, I encouraged you to go for the organic chicks when grabbing your meats for the week at the grocery. Organic poultry comes with a price tag, as we know, but there’s a way to get every last penny out of the bird. In that mini series ORGANIC FOR PENNIES I shared my ways of utilizing one chicken for a week worth of dinners for 2 or even 4, if you help stretch that buck.

I buy a whole chicken every couple of weeks, and make my stock, marinate the breast and the legs, and scrape the leftover meat from the cooked carcass into a separate bowl. Every couple of weeks I’m faced with a new challenge to reinvent the wheel.

Last night I made this:

The chicken was mixed with chili peppers, grated garlic and ginger, low sodium soy sauce, and Hoisin sauce. A few scallions thinly sliced at an angle were tossed into the mix. Then I added my medley of cooked grains (brown and wild rice, black barley, red quinoa) and sautéed everything for a minute or two. To serve it, I wrapped the Grain Medley & Chinese Flavored Chicken in quarters of Blanched Bok Choy.

That’s it. The Asian theme is simply accidental. I use my Polish roots for inspiration in the kitchen just as often.

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.

Mr. Lech Kaczynski - The President of Poland

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.

My balls are shrinking. Age, like cold water, morphs my GUTS into small and shivering little nuts.

I was an adventurous and stupidly brave kid who would climb trees and roofs of garages with my older brother’s friends, despite an ever-growing collection of bruises and boo-boos all over my limbs. I was the one whose back all the girly girls would use for shelter hiding from the boys who wanted to pinch their arms and pull their plaits when we were all in second grade. I was the one to stand up to a teacher when the whole class felt mistreated and no one would rise to speak for themselves. I was also the one to scratch my Russian teacher’s car (she was an old and grumpy Pole who taught Russian) with my house keys at the age of 11 when the woman called me a STINKY BUM in front of my entire class for not having memorized new vocabulary SHE HAD NEVER TOLD US TO!

No, I’m not so proud of the latter. At least now I’ll know what to teach my kids NOT to do, specifically. Scratching your Russian teacher’s car with your keys will lead to everlasting shame and will potentially ruin your only chance to enter your own house. At least until parents come home. I can always prevent this from happening by NOT enrolling my kid in Russian classes. Instead, let’s focus on mastering your mama’s native tongue my child  – Polish.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the FEAR. The fear that has emerged out of a thick fog as I entered my thirties. Flying has never made me feel like being on top of the world. There used to be a thrill associated with that activity, but frankly, when younger I would get excited just as much when riding a shopping cart across a super market. Ok, that still is a source of a massive glee. In order to fly, however, without breaking into a showering sweat I need a sedative.

Last weekend, when we were flying to San Francisco, one shot of Patron helped me loosen up enough to cheerfully enter the tunnel leading up to the plane. Right at the door of the machine there were standing two police officers and chatting with an older couple. Apparently they were escorting a passenger who got warped in a loop of time and was not sure where he was anymore. However, as I walked up to the group, all I heard was:

HE WAS IN TOKYO TWO DAYS AGO, THEN HE WAS ON TWO OTHER FLIGHTS SINCE AND NOW SUFFERES FROM INSOMNIA. HE HASN’T SLEPT IN THREE DAYS AND IS AWFULLY CONFUSED.

I looked at the police officer TERRIFIED and asked with crawling panic in my chest:

I HOPE YOU’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT OUR PILOT!

An explosive of laughter tore the air around and strangely enough that sound instantly comforted my shaken insides, a loud sigh escaped my wide-open mouth.

After a wonderful and unintentionally romantic weekend in Napa we found ourselves at the airport all over again. Our flight was delayed two hours due to the weather. The only way I knew how to keep my composure was to hit a bar next to our gate and sip on a perfectly chilled Blue Moon with a slice of an orange tucked on the rim of the glass, while I read through Michael Pollan’s food rules he had recently put into a book by the same title. Thirty-two ounces of the golden nectar later I was perfectly joyful and frankly could not stop laughing, for any reason and at anything. I was ready to board.

Before I knew it, Tuesday rolled in and we quietly dispersed back to our offices. Since lunch wasn’t provided at my work that day, as all the big shots (a.k.a. producers) were absent, I drove back home to let Cosmo out and had about fifteen minutes to feed myself. I opened the fridge and heard the wheels turning in my head. It only took seconds and I had the plan.

Two slices of bread with a thin layer of butter, a few slices of Fontina and a tomato went into a toaster oven. Two eggs were cracked, one after another, yolks separated, and then dropped gently onto a hot skilled greased with butter and olive oil. I seasoned the eggs with chili powder, sea salt, black pepper, and let them set. As soon as the bread was ready, I slid one SUNNY-SIDE-UP on top of each toast, garnished it with a fresh basil leaf and a few slices of fresh avocado. A handful of baby carrots completed that landscape art on my plate.

The bread with melted cheese and toasted tomato was embedded within the frames of the perfectly crunchy crust. I broke the egg yolk with the tip of my knife and let it ooze all over that open sandwich like a warm mist on my face during a facial treatment.

Oh, the delectable bliss.

Fifteen minutes on the dot. Prepared and consumed. Done. Haul my arse back to work.

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